Vaught’s note: David Brock is a page designer at The Advocate-Messenger, former high school athlete and life-time University of Kentucky fan. Enjoy his take on the success Louisville athletics has had — and see if you share his feelings and/or pain.
By DAVID BROCK, firstname.lastname@example.org
What a year for University of Louisville athletics.
Ouch. That does sting.
Writing that, or even acknowledging it privately, was painful. However, it pales in comparison to the cumulative toll the justifiably squawking, constantly pecking flock of UofL enthusiasts have started to take.
Given the months-long Cardinal siege, Advocate-Messenger sports editor, Larry Vaught, was curious just how well this unhinged University of Kentucky alum and fan was holding up. The answer is a bit complicated, but I believe the character Roger Sterling from the TV show “Mad Men” may have come as close as anyone to expressing the inner life of sickos like me right now: “I don’t feel anything.”
UofL is on a remarkable run, but they haven’t merely excelled. #L1C4 has hit UK fans where it hurts and done it under the bright lights, with the world watching.
Pitino couldn’t win one without being headquartered in Lexington? Now he’s got his (belated) UofL title and a tattoo of Little Brother’s lame Twitter marketing slogan.
Louisville plays in an inferior football conference? Well, they’re heading to a better one and taking the soul out of an SEC powerhouse on the way out the door. When’s the last time UK beat Florida?
Matthew Mitchell’s got the women on a collision course with the Final Four and he can get busy on the dance floor? At least when Jeff Walls gets beat down by a women’s powerhouse the music at the Big Dance has reached its crescendo.
How’d UK do in the NIT? Oh, really? Robert Morris, huh? Shame.
Along the way, local and national media outlets have perpetuated the sports coverage equivalent of a Yum!Center “red out.” UofL Athletic Director Tom Jurich has basically had a free, 24-hour platform to showcase his sports programs, along with his deservedly-cocky attitude and endless collection of mock turtlenecks.
It has indeed been difficult to stomach, especially in light of Kentucky’s brief return to mediocrity.
I would be remiss if I didn’t address the question that was asked incessantly over the last several months about whether UK fans should root for their bitter rivals without their own skin in the game. I honestly didn’t get how that narrative was so prevalent. While I understand the premise, and fair points can be made in support of supporting our in-state rivals, why can’t fans hardwired to oppose everything from the other teams’ coaches, to their colors, would suddenly be compelled to feign excitement for each other.
Did UofL fans support UK in last year’s tournament? At any of the admittedly low-level bowl games we made it to under Rich Brooks? I suspect not.
There are nice, sane and mature people who call themselves UK fans and did cheer loudly for UofL. While I don’t have real hate in my heart for UofL or their fans, I guess don’t need sports to be nice, sane or mature all the time. So, no, I didn’t root for UofL, but didn’t actively root against them in any of their final three games. I was resigned to their ultimate triumph and even able to acknowledge they were the best team. (Although I was really taken by that Spike Albrecht kid for Michigan. I didn’t not fist pump after his third three-pointer, but I swear it was involuntary).
A certain amount of respect for what UofL’s basketball and football teams accomplished, and how they did it, crept into my sports-addled mind. On a scale of “grudging respect” to “healthy respect,” it probably hewed more toward grudging with a side of disdainful. Considering the pinwheel-eyed hatred Louisville teams have stirred in me before I was rather proud of my progress.
Like most flesh-and-blood humans, I also watch sports for the chance to see the human spirit triumph over adversity. I was duly shocked, then moved by the Kevin Ware storyline like everyone else.
I remain realistic, though. Some things won’t change, and don’t necessarily need to, about the nature of sports rivalries.
Whether a few UK fans pull for UofL or vise versa, the sibling rivalry will always be a mirror that shapes the way we see ourselves and our schools. Right now, my mirror is of the funhouse variety and I appear to be getting crushed by a giant red fecal factory with wings perched on my back.
Pessimism hasn’t completely taken root.
It’s difficult for me to even let myself think about what next year’s basketball team could be. I’m more excited for UK’s football future with every Stoops recruiting victory.
But Vaught was probably right about my chances of washing away any of this feeling before next basketball season. Unfortunately, the existential dread expressed in this column could have a long shelf life.