I’ve been a Kentucky basketball fan since before I can remember. Literally, I have a scrapbook of the 1994-95 season in my room that predates my first Kentucky basketball memory by about two years. Like any fan my list of great memories relating to the Cats is a long one. That is one of the reasons why I was so excited to go to Vanderbilt. Most people get into a college and immerse themselves in their school’s spirit. I, on the other hand, was just happy that I got a free ticket to see Kentucky play once a year. Throughout the past four years people have asked me why I would root against my own school. Why I would camp out in the cold just so I could get a seat in the front row of my student section wearing the opposing teams colors. For me it was never even a question. It’s nothing against Vanderbilt. I’ll support the Commodores just like any other student in any other game. But not this one.
I’ve learned a couple of things over the past four years. One thing that will stick with me forever, though, is that Memorial Gymnasium is not an easy place to play a basketball game. I didn’t get to go the game my freshman year, but when I was a sophomore I saw how hostile an environment Memorial can be. The atmosphere for that game was much different than this year. Kentucky was ranked 18th and Vanderbilt was ranked 23rd. I camped out all night for a noon game and only got seats in the sixth row. That year I had some backup. My friend, a fellow Cats fan, came up to Nashville from Rhodes College and through our combined cunning (and the student ID of a look-a-like Vandy student) we were able to sneak him into the student section. That’s right Vanderbilt administration, that “student” you let into the game back in February of 2011 was actually Hugh Madison, international con-man and Cats fan.
That year we both expected there would some playful smack talking. It’s reasonably to assume that’ll happen when you walk into someone else’s house wearing the opposing teams colors. What we didn’t expect was its intensity. I feel sorry for the Vandy fans sitting next to us because they became the unintended recipients of the near constant stream of trash being thrown at us. Despite the animosity, and the Kentucky loss, I had a great deal of respect for the Vanderbilt fans. These were real, knowledgeable fans. We had the audacity to come into their student section wearing our blue and they let us know how they felt. I don’t blame them for it and I imagine that if someone walked into the eRupption zone wearing black and gold, starting commodores’ chants, that they would receive similar treatment.
My first experience didn’t discourage me from openly supporting the Cats. The next year I got my redemption. It was a day worthy of its own post, but to make a long story short the atmosphere was just as intense as the previous year. Despite the ridiculous hoops that students had to jump through to get tickets I was able to be the first person in Memorial for the game. I sat front row as the eventual national champions squeaked out a win.
That brings us to this year. What an odd game. All the usual pieces for a Kentucky game at Vanderbilt were there; the student section was packed, Memorial was filled, and there was a good amount of blue scattered throughout the crowd. This year was different though. Kentucky has a young team that lacks the national cache of previous years’ teams and Vanderbilt, with all do respect to my peers, has been terrible so far this season. Before the game the students were seated, patiently waiting for tip off. The crowd seemed to expect the lackluster game that everyone had been predicting. Kentucky got out to an early lead and the atmosphere continued in this vein into the second half.
Then everything changed. As soon as Vanderbilt began to make their run Memorial snapped into action. The student section that had just minutes before seemed sedated turned into the raucous environment that I’d experienced the past three years. Rupp arena is an amazing basketball environment, and I’ll go to my grave saying it’s the greatest place to play a basketball game. But I’ve never seen a crowd influence a game more than I have at Memorial Gymnasium the past three years. Yesterday, a 6-6 Vanderbilt team took Kentucky and all of our future NBA draft picks down to wire. It may not have seemed this way on TV, but the crowd fueled their comeback. In the final minutes that gymnasium was hot, it was loud, and it was downright uncomfortable.
My last Kentucky game I’ll get to see at Vanderbilt ended in a two point victory for the Cats. Despite all the animosity, the heat, the trash, and the profanity I have to admit that I’ll miss watching games there. In a college environment you want your student section to have a negative impact on the opposing team. And I can tell you from experience that Memorial Gymnasium is one helluva place to try and win a basketball game.
Now, the only question I have is what do I do with this fancy schmancy SEC championship ring?
[powered by WordPress.]
Bill Keightley Report : Never to be forgotten.
11 queries. 0.385 seconds