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By JIM BOYERS
This Fall I was lucky enough to get season tickets for UK basketball. I have been sitting in the highest point of Rupp Arena for every game this season (Except one, when I got a lower arena seat and gave my tickets to my son and his friend). Luckily, there is no such thing as a bad seat in Rupp. I have been witness to some really amazing moments and some that are flat out frustrating. However, on the whole, I would say that the good have far outweighed the bad.
There are a lot of familiar faces at each game. The same fans faithfully traveling to Rupp, climbing the enormous mountain of stairs and putting their fanny on the hard bench, way up in what I like to call “God’s Country”. There are always a lot of new faces in my section as well. I am able to attend every game, but others apparently aren’t so lucky. A lot of people give their tickets to family and friends or sell them. This makes for a lot of turnover each game, but also allows one to see a wider variety of fans reacting to the on-court action. Though the faces may change, the overall feeling seems to carry through: This team is very talented, but very far from realizing their potential. I don’t claim to speak for others, but that is the feeling I get, based on reactions and comments made during the game.
This hasn’t been the “typical” Coach Cal team and that has seemed to frustrate a lot of people. I attended 6 games last season and don’t think I heard one negative word about the play of that team. This year has been a slightly different story. In my section (230), the overall feeling seems to be positive, but there is a lot of grumbling when things aren’t going well. Fans seem to realize that this team is not as far along as we expected them to be. Comments fly fast and furious, during the game. You will hear everything from “Aw, come on (insert player name here)”, to “Way to go (player)”. There is also a lot of “You suck ref”, coming from row KK, seat 14, which just so happens to be mine.
I have heard a lot of booing towards certain calls, but never directed at the team. No matter how frustrating they are, the fans never turn on the players. For the majority of time, everyone calls out things to urge the team on, instead of tearing them down. Fans are generally positive and have nothing but hope for this team. However, after the two losses, I heard a litany of negative comments as we walked down the steps and out of the arena. But that didn’t stop some of those same fans from coming to the next game. As a whole, Big Blue Nation is resilient and seems to be a firm believer in “Everything will be better tomorrow”. “We forget the bad and move on to the next opponent and the next opportunity to enter the greatest venue in the sport of college basketball and watch the greatest team in the history of said sport.
At the start of the season, I said that watching a game from so high up takes a lot of the human element out of it and makes it almost clinical. I haven’t changed that opinion, now that we are 2/3 of the way through the home schedule. Looking down at the action, from such a high angle, allows you to see every play develop. You can see open lanes and players moving into position for passes, lobs, etc. You can see missed opportunities, player created opportunities and everything in between. You can’t hear verbal player interactions or Cal yelling at the team (except on rare occasions). You can see Cal stomping his feet, but don’t hear it. All of this puts you in a sort of vacuum, where you can concentrate strictly on the action of the game. This is both a good and bad thing. On the one hand, it allows you to really appreciate how awesome some of this team’s plays are. On the other hand, it allows you to see and understand how bad the bad plays really are and recognize what could have happened, as opposed to what did. I just haven’t gotten the same perspective from watching on TV or from the lower arena. It makes the game extremely interesting, but it sometimes makes you more of an “armchair coach” than you want to be.
I will be in my seat for the next game, as will hundreds of other familiar faces in my section. We will cheer loudly for each great play and groan just as loudly when things go wrong. The only thing we won’t do is abandon this team. They seem to struggle more than we have been witness to during the Cal era, but they are still our boys and will have our support for everything they do. I am fully invested in this team. I want them to succeed and have high hopes that they will. My seats are as high and as far from the court as you can get. I could not be further from the bench, but I could not feel closer to this team.