Over the past week, I have been slightly miserable. Now don’t get me wrong, I have not sunk into a deep realm of depression, but a general sense of melancholy has pervaded me during a time of year that is usually one of my happiest, March Madness. Tom Petty once sang, “The Waiting is the hardest part” and for me the past couple of weeks have been a consistent waiting for what feels inevitable, a Louisville National title. Having watched their run through the Big East Tournament and then being present in person for their two games in Rupp Arena, it is clear that at this point, Louisville is the best team in college basketball. Their suffocating defense has hit its highest level, the referees are utilizing the “let them play” mentality that works to the Cards’ advantage and the offensive struggles that plagued the Cards through much of the season have dissipated. This Louisville group is clicking on all cylinders and in a year where no dominant team has existed, they look to be the strongest of the contenders. Thus even though Rick Pitino’s group is not unbeatable (I do think Indiana, Michigan State, Duke and Florida could all beat the Cards if they play well), they are the clear favorites to win it all. And yes, that is depressing.
However, when I try to figure out why the prospect of a Cards’ win depresses me so, the answer isn’t obvious. I know I strongly want Louisville to fail in their quest for a title, but pinpointing why isn’t easy. When I say on radio, and elsewhere, that I “hate” Louisville, this is of course not true literally. I long ago vowed not to hate anyone (life is too short for that), and surely wouldn’t make such a judgment based on something as ultimately insignificant as which team they choose to root for. But if I am truly honest with myself, the thought of Louisville winning does depress me. But that viewpoint isn’t rational and I admit that I am struggling with it this week. While not cheering for Louisville makes sense, hoping for their loss seems unnecessary for a variety of reasons:
I Am Not By Nature a Hater
You and I both know that there are certain people in this world who can be labeled as “haters”, looking to downplay the success of anyone and everyone, often due to their inability to deal with the circumstances of their own miserable existence. Many of these folks reside in the journalism field, seeing anyone else’s success as taking away from them in the media zero sum game, but their are examples in all walks of life. I intentionally try to be on the opposite side…another person’s success is worth praising, regardless of what I am doing. If other programs win a title, it isn’t a reflection on Kentucky, but rather on their own team success. Why “hate” on Louisville for winning, as it has almost nothing to do with Kentucky? Simply being angry just because it isn’t you is “hating,” and I won’t allow myself to do this in any form of life, especially basketball.
A Louisville Win will make many People I Really Like Very Happy
Like most rational people, I don’t make my friendships based on team affiliation. Thus I have many good friends that are huge fans of the Cards and care about them nearly as much as I do the Big Blue. A couple of those, Terry Meiners and Tony Vanetti, are hugely responsible for the success of my radio show and have been my biggest advocates throughout my career. But others I have met in the industry, ranging from Drew Deener to Mike Rutherford of Card Chronicle, to Rob Jones and Dugan Ryan of radio ventures past, to Perrin Johnson of KSR/KSTV work, to Mark Ennis and Nick Coffey of various internet ventures, all do what I do for Kentucky and do it well for their team. I like all of them, so why should I wish their unhappiness? Add in friends of mine from my non-work life who prefer UL, and one would think the thought of them getting to feel what I felt last year in New Orleans, would dissipate my desire to see UL fail miserably…but for whatever reason it doesn’t.
These Louisville Players are Generally Likeable
As with every program, Louisville has had its share of players that were easy to dislike. But with the possible exception of Chane Behanan, this group actually is hard not to like. Peyton Siva and Gorgui Dieng have both proven to be great young men, who represent the University as well as you could hope for any athlete. Russ Smith is hilarious and has a personality that makes everyone, myself included, wonder what he will do next. The supporting cast generally seems nice enough and everything you hear from people that cover the team suggests that their on-court demeanor generally reflects their off-the-court personalities. If these players celebrate, I can’t really be upset, as they seem like pretty good guys across the board.
A UL Win is Good for the State and the Rivalry
Let’s be honest. People in Kentucky care more about basketball than anywhere else in the country. The average college basketball fan would disagree with that sentiment, but they are wrong. The Triangle is not the centerpiece for college basketball fandom, the Bluegrass is. I spent four years in the Triangle and while they like the sport, we live the sport. I have said for a long time that the second most passionate fanbase to UK is UL and I stand behind that belief. The only thing that Duke-UNC have had on us is on-court success and the Cats/Cards haven’t had sustained periods where both teams have been good very often. But we are in such a period now. If Louisville wins this title and then Kentucky comes back and wins the next one, it can be a run for this state, the likes of which Duke and Carolina simply can’t compete with at this time. So why not root for it? Shouldn’t college basketball’s marquee game be Cats vs Cards, not Devils vs Heels? The answer is yes…but it still doesn’t matter.
Louisville is not yet a historical threat to the Cats
Kentucky has 8 national titles. Louisville has 2. The Cats will be favored to win one next year and so long as Calipari is in Lexington, the possibility of future championships looms large. Louisville, for all their success as a program, are still decades of success behind ever really being considered as a contender to the UK throne. But Duke could be…they are looking for title 5 in the last 25 years. Kansas has had a great run in the past decade-plus and may be UK’s biggest competition for elite recruits. Florida is in our conference and going for its third title in eight years. All are much more significant threats to Kentucky long term than Louisville. This is probably Rick’s best chance to win a title for the Cards, and if we are being honest, maybe his only chance. So why would we begrudge their chance at the glory we just captured, and may capture again next year? I am not sure…but I still do.
A Louisville win is Good for Business
All of the other reasons are “fan” reasons, based upon my status as a member of the Big Blue Nation. But there are personal reasons to not hate on Louisville as well, mainly that it would be good for KSR’s business. In Lexington last weekend, I told Dan Wolken of USA Today that I was dreading the impending UL win and he said, “why? Louisville winning the title would be great for you and your radio show.” And objectively, he is probably right. Being villain #1 for UL fans pays well, and getting them riled up is my speciality. If the Cardinals win, they are relevant and my ability to push their buttons becomes profitable. When UK goes on their magical run next year (which will happen), UL having the title (and the confidence that comes with it), will be great to deflate along the way. Financially, a Louisville win only helps what KSR does and increase the Finebaum-like circus of our radio show. But I don’t care…I still want Louisville to lose no matter what it costs…because…well just because.
That’s the thing. I can’t articulate it. But I feel it. Despite rationality, I am rooting with all my might for Louisville to lose. Yes it is true that there is a small percentage of their fanbase who harass me, call me every possible slur and generally try to make life hell for me simply because we root for different teams. And it is also true that I genuinely am not fond of Rick Pitino and Tom Jurich, the former because of his UK past/current persona, the latter because of his continued attempts to end my career/bully the entire state. But honestly I could look past both. The small percentage of fans are really just an annoyance, not a problem and the leaders of the UL program are talented, if egomaniacal. At its core my reason for not wanting Louisville to win is much more visceral. Even though I am not proud to say it, watching Louisville lose and seeing the Cards fall in defeat to a team, any team, will make that night and the summer that follows sweeter. It shouldn’t be like that, I know. But it is, and I can’t help but embrace it.
So even though Ashley Judd says to rise above it, I can’t. GO OREGON, MICHIGAN STATE, DUKE, ARIZONA, OHIO STATE, INDIANA, FLORIDA or any other team that faces the Cards. Despite the better angels of my personality telling me otherwise, I want a Louisville loss. Now let’s just make it happen.