Fresh off vacation, I’m already thinking about the next thing I can knock off my “to-do travel list,” or, for those of you who enjoy Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman movies, my “bucket list.” I started thinking today about what things every UK fan must do during their lives, and came up with a pretty lengthy list. Enjoy…
A game at Rupp Arena — Let’s start with the most obvious and important. While everyone who visits this site is a huge Kentucky fan (except you, trolls), not everyone has had the privilege of seeing a game in Rupp Arena. If that’s the case for you, put this at the top of your bucket list. Not every game in Rupp is created equal, but the feeling of coming into Rupp, seeing the banners, startling at the fireworks during the intros, and cheering on your Cats in person is unparalleled. HDTV has made watching games at home quite comfortable, but at home, you miss Dancing Guy’s rail slide, the celebrity Y, the Cat Pyramid, and of course…
Eating Rupp Arena ice cream — Even in the dead of winter, UK fans line up faithfully outside the soft serve stalls in Rupp Arena for what has become the building’s signature treat. Well before the game starts, people can be spotted double fisting the cones in the stands, from kids to adults to grandparents alike. Rupp Arena ice cream is so popular that fans would probably protest if John Calipari wanted to replace it with Orange Leaf one day.
Going to the SEC Tournament — There is nothing like being a UK fan at the SEC Tournament. From Tampa to New Orleans to Atlanta and the new “home” of the tourney, Nashville, the “Big Blue Mist” invades each host city for its version of Spring Break. UK fans who attend the SEC Tournament are a totally different breed than those with season tickets at Rupp. They’re loud, proud, and don’t you dare ask them to sit down. Trust me, they’re not there for the Wednesday and Thursday games; they’re there to start the “Go Big Blue” chant three hours before tip-off at the bar, and well into the night after the victory.
Cheering Za’Darius Smith and the Cats on at the Cat Walk — The Cat Walk is becoming one of Kentucky football’s best traditions, in part because of Za’Darius Smith, whose smile is so contagious that it’s truly a feel-good event. Whereas most of his teammates look focused or give fans a small smile while they walk into Commonwealth, Za’Darius drinks it all in, grinning and slapping every hand he can as he dances his way into the stadium. Since Mark Stoops took over, he and his staff bring their children with them during the Cat Walk, making it a family affair.
The Keeneland/Football daily double — Every once and a while, the scheduling stars align and it becomes possible to combine two excellent Kentucky autumn traditions: Keeneland and football. If UK draws a night game on a Saturday in October, you better believe many fans will attempt the “Daily Double,” aka going to Keeneland during the day, and the UK football game at night. It’s definitely not for the light-livered–Keeneland beers are notoriously potent–but if one properly paces themselves, it’s the best way to spend a fall Saturday in the Commonwealth. Now that there’s a shuttle, you have no excuse not to try.
Visiting John Short at the Romany Road Kroger — If you’re a fan of the show, then you’re a fan of John Short. Go visit the Greatest American at the Romany Road Kroger. Not sure when he’s working? He’ll tell you on tomorrow’s show, along with everything you need to know about any UK sport in season.
Camping out for Big Blue Madness tickets — Want a group of fans even more passionate about UK Basketball than those who go to the SEC Tournament? Look no further than the land surrounding Memorial Coliseum the week before tickets are distributed to Big Blue Madness. Why do Kentucky fans roll their eyes at Duke’s adorable little “Krzyzewskiville” (yes, I had to Google the spelling)? Because they line up for tickets to a game. We line up for tickets to a practice. Yes, we be talking about practice.
Being in the crowd for Big Blue Madness — Why do we do camp out for tickets to a practice? Because the practice is really a spectacle. Over the years, Big Blue Madness has become a circus, complete with a light show, fireworks, and the best ringmaster of them all, John Calipari. Each year, fans pour into Rupp and crowd around their TVs/computers to get their first glimpse of the Cats, hear how much Cal likes his team, and what dance Matthew Mitchell this go around.
Go on one of the “big school” football road trips — Every year, there’s usually a “big school” football road game on UK’s schedule. This year, it’s LSU on October 18, and as long as it doesn’t conflict with Big Blue Madness (it looks like it might), I’m definitely callin’ Baton Rouge. Like The Swamp, Georgia, Alabama, and maybe Tennessee in years past, Death Valley is one of the “big time” SEC football atmospheres that you have to experience at least once. I’d also add Ole Miss just for tailgating in The Grove.
Go on one of the big non-conference basketball road trips — Every year, the Cats play several big non-conference events on the road. This year, it’s the Champions Classic against Kansas in Indianapolis and the CBS Sports Classic against UCLA in Chicago. Cal likes to schedule these neutral-site games to get his team used to playing in big time atmospheres, but it’s also a good opportunity for fans to follow the team to some great cities. And eat great food in those cities. And party with other Cats fans in those cities.
Watching the KSR Pregame Show — If you go to a game at Rupp, you have to start the day off right by watching Matt, Ryan, and Drew do the Pregame Show in the Rupp Arena Food Court. Even better, grab some Mr. Kan’s Chinese Food to enjoy while the guys preview the game, and more likely than not, meet Kentucky Joe when he comes up to introduce himself.
Listen to one of Calipari’s postgame shows in the stands — In what has become a really cool tradition, John Calipari conducts his postgame show with Tom Leach on the Rupp court after the game. Fans stick around to hear Cal talk and pass him things to sign during the show, which he faithfully does. Cal is best with an audience, and he’s much more fond of the fans than the media, so often times, he’ll ham it up and give fans better tidbits than he does reporters.
Senior Night at Rupp — Senior Night at Rupp has become a little different during the one-and-done era, but it’s no less special. While there are fewer seniors these days, they have an unique tie to the program, and the time-honored tradition of watching them come through their hoops and hold back their tears during “My Old Kentucky Home” isn’t always included in the TV coverage.
Watch UK play Vanderbilt at Memorial Gymnasium in Nashville — Why does this make my list? Because Memorial Gym is just that weird. The opera house setting makes for an unique game watching experience, and even though the ‘Dores are down these days, more often than not, “Memorial Magic” rears its ugly head and the games are close. Plus, Nashville.
Breakfast at Wheeler’s — For years, a close knit group of Kentucky fans have gathered at Wheeler’s Pharmacy each morning for breakfast. Known as “the fan brain trust,” this group talks about what’s going on with the team, and they’re so well known that when Calipari came into town, he was told that if he wanted to succeed as head coach, he better start eating at Wheeler’s. So, he did. Over the years, we’ve seen clips of Cal eating with the Wheeler’s gang, including the famous ketchup/mustard lesson from Joe B. Hall. Maybe if you’re lucky, Johnny Gold Chains will be there:
Seeing Kentucky vs. Louisville in person — There are basketball games, and then there’s Kentucky/Louisville. Regardless of which team’s up and which team’s down, there’s a special energy in the air, a combination of nerves, nausea, and belligerence. When we win, there’s nothing better. When we lose, well, let’s not go there. With the Cats and Stoops on the rise and Bobby Petrino back in Louisville, I expect the football side of the rivalry to crank up as well.
Going to one of UK’s NCAA Tournament games — There’s a reason why the NCAA Tournament is one of, if not the best sporting event ever. 68 teams, three weeks, and only one shining moment. This year’s tournament was as unexpected and special as any other for the Cats, and produced some classic moments. Seeing those happen in person has given me stories to tell my grandchildren one day.
Going to State Street after one of UK’s NCAA Tournament games — Can’t follow the Cats? Celebrate on State Street with the rest of Lexington. State Street is the new Euclid/Woodland when it comes to postseason celebrations, and the parties that have raged there in the past few years have caused the couch-torching title to be passed from West Virginia to Kentucky. As long as no one gets hurt, that’s cool.
Listening to the Lexington Police Scanner after one of UK’s NCAA Tournament games — Can’t follow the Cats or be in Lexington for the celebrations? Listen to it all via the Lexington Police Scanner. People tearing down a stop sign has never been so riveting.
The Alumni Game — This is one of my favorite new traditions at UK. As the culmination of the John Calipari Fantasy Camp (which, if you have the means, should be right at the top of your bucket list), UK’s former players congregate in Lexington for a la familia reunion, treating fans to an exhibition game at Rupp Arena for charity. It’s a great chance to not only see your favorite former Cats all together, but see some very entertaining basketball. As the years go by, that game’s only going to get more and more impressive.
Watching a UK game at a UK bar outside of Lexington — Odds are that at some point in your life, you will be away from home during a UK football or basketball game. If you happen to be in a big city, check to see if there’s a UK bar and go watch the game with fellow Cats fans. For those of us who live outside the Commonwealth, group watch parties are a great way to “be with our own” during games, which is sometimes the next best thing to being back in Kentucky.
Spend a summer day at a KSR Tour Stop — The gang is about to embark on the annual KSR Summer Tour of Affiliates, which means they could be coming to your city. If you love Kentucky basketball and football news in the most ridiculous manner possible, you owe it to yourself to come out to one of the tour stops to spend the morning with fans and hang out with the guys afterwards. We’ll be announcing the tour stops soon, so get ready.
How many have you done?