"Fist fight at dialysis clinic between Kentucky, Louisville fans"
I'll be watching the Final Four from New Hampshire tomorrow night. This time of year is complicated and emotional for me. My middle daughter was born on Final Four Saturday in 2006. My father died just weeks after being thrilled by Butler's run in 2010. It was the last great joyful experience he had; a last-ditch drug to battle his cancer, a kind of steroid, gave him the energy to watch both games and talk enthusiastically about them for days.
Tomorrow's contest brings back another memory for me, my first ever visit to the state of Kentucky. I figured it would look something like North Carolina or Virginia, Southern states I'd spent considerable time in. But it was starkly different. I arrived at dusk, and the rolling ride over local roads wound past blue fields lined by white picket fences and across wooden bridges over burbling brooks. While there, I saw a nighttime horse race under lights. I saw Rick Pitino coach a game at the University of Kentucky. I saw The Age of Innocence in a Louisville theater and went for ice cream afterward. I visited this historic Shaker village -- what native Staten Islander knows of Shakers? -- in Harrodsburg and went to Dairy Queen for the first and only time in my life. I left with a determination to live forever in the state after graduating college. That was 1993. I've never been back.
I hope to grasp a tiny bit of the wonder again when I watch Louisville-Kentucky tomorrow night. Here's an excerpt from a column by the Newark Star-Ledger's consistently excellent Steve Politi about the contest:
The proximity of the two universities, the passion for the sport, the shared excellence that has produced a combined 24 Final Four appearances, the once-close rival coaches who now hate each other’s guts — you could write a book explaining why this game is so big for basketball fans in Kentucky.
Or you can save time and just read this headline: “Fist fight breaks out at dialysis clinic between Kentucky, Louisville fans.”
Or this Craigslist post looking for tickets: “I am a UK fan wanting to go to the Final Four. I have put up my wife as collateral. She can make you speak five languages you never knew you could speak.”
... It’ll matter to [John] Calipari’s legacy if he loses this game, with a heavily favored team, to Louisville and Pitino, the former Wildcats coach. As satisfying as a victory will be for the winner, a loss would be 10 times as devastating for the loser. That’s just how it is for a rivalry like this.
“Basketball is like a religion here,” [freshman walk-on Brian] Long said. “You really have to be a part of it to understand.”
I wonder something, for those in the know: Is this bigger than Duke/North Carolina? Why or why not? I spent many wonderful years in North Carolina, and I love the state deeply. But I had a whirlwind affair with Kentucky that I've never forgotten, and it seems to burn bright in my heart, still. What say you folks with clearer heads?