I'm taking a break from all things Jesus here on the blog in order to observe that, folks, the great state of Kentucky might explode this week with the upcoming UofL versus UK Sweet 16 matchup in the Big Dance. In the very least, the call-in shows are bound to be fun. I am sometimes asked by people not from Kentucky whether I cheer for UofL and UK since I am from, well, Louisville the city and Kentucky the state. Much has changed for me as my life took several turns I never expected. I've learned to appreciate things that I laughed at when I was younger, like foreign languages, Pearl Jam, and The Cure. My accent, though still very noticeably Southern, has softened considerably from having married a Northerner and having not lived in Kentucky for the past 15 years. And I've even learned to like guacamole. I know. It's been a wild trip.
One thing has never, ever changed: I love the University of Louisville Cardinals and I hate the University of Kentucky Wildcats (not genuine hate, of course, just sports-rivalry hate). Now I have many, many good friends who are UK fans and we get along fine. I even have some family members who cheer for UK and have degrees from there. I love them, because I have to love them. And what's more, I lived in Lexington for a brief stint. But the question of whether I cheer for UK because I'm from Kentucky is absolutely absurd and a question that only an outsider would ask, and my UK-cheering friends and family would agree with this, I think. I can speak confidently for both groups when I say that UofL and UK fans do not cheer for the other team . . . AS A RULE. My friends from North Carolina tell me that something of the same goes on between UNC and Duke fans. I'm sure they don't like each other, but it's scientific fact that UofL versus UK is the most intense rivalry in college sports, and by "scientific fact" I of course mean at least one journalist's opinion. My favorite sportswriter Pat Forde is currently writing a history of the rivalry (at least that's what he told me when I approached him about writing a book together a couple years ago), and I'm sure it will document just how heated the rivalry has been and is. There are many layers, including urban/rural socio-economic factors, the 1983 Dream Game, Pitino having coached both teams, annual heated games that go down to last-second shots (2004 and 2009 for a sample), the Pitino/Calipari rivalry, and now the difference between the one-and-dones and multi-year player development coaching styles, including the 2012 Final Four game. The rivalry spills over into all other sports, the general attitude of Louisvillians and Lexingtonians toward each other, and even cancer research.
What? You still don't believe me that the rivalry is intense? Ok, let me give you categorical proof. The last time that UofL and UK met in March Madness was the 2012 Final Four. Kentucky won that game and went on to win the National Championship. Louisville then won the National Championship last year. (Let me just throw that in.) In the run-up to the 2012 game, however, in Georgetown, KY, a beautiful town geographically between Louisville and Lexington, but closer to Lexington, and whose police once gave me a speeding ticket for going a mere 10 over, a 71-year old UofL fan punched a 68-year old UK fan in the face, all over who would win the game and . . . while both were hooked up to dialysis machines!!!!!
Some say that's crazy. I call it dedication. Go CARDS!!
(OK, full disclosure: I loved the Unforgettables.)