Tonight I decided to step out of my comfort zone and make a trip into hostile territory. With it being the middle of the week and no Kentucky game on a Wednesday, I found myself covering the UL-Kansas State game at Papa Johns Stadium. I must admit that I approached the entire evening with a bit of trepidation. Living in Louisville and being the “UK” guy on a radio show that exists to discuss the UK-UL rivalry, I have been known to fan the UL flames from time to time. A check of my daily email usually produces 2-3 emails from Louisville fans that are filled with vitriol, and a regular check in from one man who tells me how “ignorent” I am, while consistently misspelling at least three words in every sentence. In addition, hanging with the Louisville media was a bit of a concern, as I have enough problems with those media members who cover the same team that I follow….those that follow the dreaded Cards could very well call me a witch and send me to Salem for a trial. However in the interest of learning more about the Cards for the radio (and because Gregg Doyel’s mohawk would be in attendance), I decided to make my way to the stadium for the game.
As an initial matter, any event involving Louisville has a mind-numbing amount of red. In part due to the Cards and in part due to Middlesboro’s rivals, the Corbin Redhounds, red has always been an irksome color to me. And even though Louisville fans do many things wrong, they wear their red in full force. As I walked past the masses of human stop signs toward the stadium, I was hoping to keep a low profile. A group of young Louisville fans grilling out however saw me and one screamed, “Hey Matt Jones…..ARE YOU LOST?” in a voice that screamed the attempt at intimidation. Looking at him and realizing he was likely a St X/Trinity, wanna-be hard Ville fan, I thought of the Intern’s famous post and laughed….but walked a bit more briskly. I am a lover, not a fighter and without the backup that sitting next to Chip Cosby provides at UK games, conflicts are not a positive development.
Once inside the game, the most obvious initial development is that Papa John’s Stadium is really nice. While I will take a day in Commonwealth any day, thanks to my love for the Blue and White, as a facility, it cant compete with Papa Johns. The media area is luxurious and in my view, accounts for much of the Louisville love that media members gave the team nationally for the last few years. People who have been to every college stadium tell me that it is the nicest media/suite area in America and I can see how that could be the case. Televisions, lounges, gourmet food, all fatten up the bellies of media members before they go out and write stories about the Cards. It is no wonder that so many end up positive. Contrast that with UK’s media room, which is cramped, tight and whose greatest amenity is the drafty whiff of the cologne of Alan Cutler (I kid because I love), and UL does win out. Media members all think too highly of themselves and think their comfort is of great importance….I disagree. But the luxury of Papa Johns does help explain why the national media do flock to the stadium and is a small part of how the press for UL football has been so good.
Due to the Ryder Cup, there were an inordinate amount of national press folks in attendance at the game. Riding the elevator, I found myself next to Mark May, who is both (a) thinner in person and (b) much more likely to respond to a question of “Hey Mark, who you like tonight?” with an answer of “I am not allowed to say” than I would have thought before. Lou Holtz was milling about, slurring words and getting lost behind various lamps in the room. Gregg Doyel was wearing his tight “do you know that I now work out” t-shirt and asking me to feel his bicep (I didnt). Scott van Pelt and Andy North were roaming the sidelines and I went up to Van Pelt, told him I liked his radio show and asked him if he wore jean shorts. He looked at me with a bizarre look and said, “I must honestly say that that is the first time anyone has asked me that…..the answer is no, but the bigger question is why would you ask me that?” I mentioned something about Josh Harrellson, he laughed politely and then pushed a button asking ESPN security to have me removed. Erin Andrews was not there….in fact the sideline reporter was a guy….the surest sign that your game is not “A” level.
As for the Cards, they looked ok. Victor Anderson and Douglas Beaumont are fairly talented. But my focus was not on the field. At first I was mesmerized by the fact that Louisville has not one, not two, but five cheerleading teams on the sidelines, each with different uniforms and different captains. I felt I owed it to the radio station to go see each one and I can report that they all do fine work. The UL fan base is much drunker than the UK group…..likely because they serve beer. By the second half the man standing in the first row behind the UL bench chanting “TAKE THAT KANSAS ST” had left off the “State” part of the cheer, thus making Mark Mangino slowly cry somewhere in Lawrence. Just as in the UK game, the music was not nearly as “crunk” as I remembered it two years ago….but they do have a lot of renditions of the “Dance Cam” and the “Kiss Cam”….both make me happy and both are pure crowd pleasers.
All in all, I am glad that I hit Papa Johns tonight for the game. It helps to see a team that you have to talk about on a nightly basis and the fact that their kicker makes Lones Seiber look like Adam Vinateri gives me good fodder for the nightly broadcast. But, as with my trip to see the Duke team last year, there is some good with the bad. When you meet people in person, it becomes much more difficult to rag on them on the blog. Because most of the UL media went out of their way to introduce themselves and tell me hello….it thus becomes a little more difficult to blast on them, although I will surely try (Howie Lindsey…cough….Howie Lindsey). The fans were generally good natured, and only two or three made fun of my old hair….a significantly smaller number than at a UK game. I couldnt really have hoped for much better.
Nevertheless though, I still felt a bit out of place. When I walk the UK sidelines and am in Lexington on game day, it feels much more like the place I ought to be. I may see old foes like Rob Bromley and Dick Gabriel….but they are OUR old foes. That may be a lame band playing at halftime….but it is OUR lame band. The kicker may miss the same extra points, but it is OUR kicker missing in Lexington. The PA announcer may do the same “First Down KENTUCKY” sing-along chant, but it is OUR lame PA announcing chant. The food may not be as good, the surroundings as comfortable or the media girls as flirtatious….but that is OUR cold hot dog, sweltering matchbox and silent intern. No matter how good a show it may be, it is still Louisville and we are still Kentucky….and for that, I wouldnt even trade time with five cheerleading teams. (Cue the fight song….)
More throughout the day, including some JB Holmes love. If you want to enter “Who Wants to Be A Kentucky Sports Radio Blogger?” (explanation in post below), remember that entries are due to [email protected] by Sunday night. Until later….