Baker Academic

Monday, March 24, 2014

Loving the Cards, Hating the Cats, and the Dialysis Warriors—Chris Keith

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.)


  1. I've learned this about Chris:

    If UofL wins the dance, he will sign a contract to write a popular-level book - probably with Baker Academic.

    If, however, UK wins the dance, he will sign a contract to write a dense monograph with Latin in the title, probably with LNTS.

    Don't ask me why this is so, but a great deal is riding on the number and decibel of his "L yeah!s" this March.


  2. Chris, I lived for a year in Chapel Hill when my wife was in grad school at UNC. I spent that single year at law school at Duke. I am sure that your little Kentucky school spat seems like a big deal to you, but with all due respect, you don't know what a rivalry is unless you've lived in the Research Triangle.

    There are elements of rivalry that are present in NC and missing just about everywhere else, including in KY. One is the element of good versus evil. I mean, if I have to choose between Pitino and Calapari, of course I'll choose Pitino, but that doesn't mean that Pitino represents truth and light. UNC means Dean Smith, who practically single-handedly integrated the lunch counters of Chapel Hill in the early 1960s. Smith is the most beloved coach I've ever encountered, and remember that I live in L.A., where most people think that John Wooden's first name was "Coach." As for Duke, they produced Christian Laettner. Need I say more? Type "Christian Laettner m" into Google, and it immediately suggests "Christian Laettner most hated." For that matter, search the interwebs for lists of most hated basketball teams. Duke tops every such list.

    Here's the second factor: UL and UK are 80 miles apart. You have to create a near-fictional town 40 miles from each school for your old men (not even octogenarians) to have their little battle. UNC and Duke are NINE MILES APART. Followers of each school run into each other wherever they go.

    Next: a classic rivalry should be more competitive. Kentucky beats Louisville about 2/3 of the time. Sorry, but that's history without memory distortion. I think the all-time record is Kentucky with 31 wins, Louisville with 15. Duke - UNC is a lot closer: it's UNC 133, Duke 105. In recent times, the UNC - Duke rivalry is about dead-even. In Mike Krzyzewski's career, it's Duke 40, UNC 38.

    The team records illustrate something else of import: UK and UL schedule each other only once a year, in relatively unimportant pre-conference games. Duke and UNC play at least twice a year, in conference games where more is at stake.

    There's also a lot more Duke - UNC history. UK effectively ignored UL for something like 60 years. This puts UK - UL into a different category of rivalry, more like a David v. Goliath thing than a rivalry of true equals.

    Here's the kicker: Duke is a northern school in a southern locale. It's like the southern-most city in the State of New Jersey. So, every basketball encounter takes on some of the venom of The War of Northern Aggression, er, I mean the Civil War.

    Granted, I've never lived in Kentucky. But I've experienced USC-UCLA and Michigan versus Ohio State. I've never seen anything close to Duke - UNC. I will grant you this: now that the Syracuse - Georgetown rivalry is on hiatus, UK - UL is clearly the #2 purely college basketball rivalry.

    P.S.: My bracket has Louisville making it to the final game, losing to Michigan State.

    1. Larry, I just love it that your clear ignorance, backed up by a grand one year of living in NC and no years living in Kentucky, doesn't stop you from speaking at all. It's just great that you have an opinion. Thanks for contributing!

    2. Chris, some of my friends in Chapel Hill were from Kentucky, and they all hated Duke more than Louisville. I think just about every college basketball fan has Duke in their list of top two most hated teams (that is, unless you went to Duke, and in my case, not even then). So ... if Duke is the most hated college basketball team ever, and Duke hates UNC ... the logic is compelling. That's a lot of hate.

      By the way, if the rivalry is sufficiently intense, you don't have to live the rivalry your entire life to notice that it's there.

      By the way, the idea that a coach could be hired by two schools is NOT an argument that supports the intensity of the rivalry between the schools. Krzyzewski could not get a job of any kind at UNC, not even teaching Hair Dye 101.

    3. Larry, your error begins in (1) thinking that Kentucky fans living in NC are at all indicative of the rest of Big Blue Nation and, much more problematic, (2) applying logic in any form to this situation.

    4. You say that my error begins somewhere? That puts me ahead of most people in error. Thanks!

  3. I'm not from Kentucky and I asked specifically if you were a fan of one OR the other... Good luck this week

    1. Mike, this wasn't about you, my friend, or anyone in particular for that matter. I remember that you asked if I was a fan of one or the other!

    2. haha yes, I should've added a smiley face at the end... tone of voice doesn't come through with blog responses!

      I picked them to go the Finals so I hope Friday won't destroy my bracket!

  4. All three Kansas teams are out of the tournament now.... So my "new" old Kentucky home (recently adopted) comes next. Where I live, everyone says you must cheer for UK. I'm not a fan particularly, so I say: "Go Wild-Cards"!