Louisville, Duke, Indiana, Tennessee, North Carolina. These are Kentucky’s biggest rivals and that hatred runs deep for many. They are who we judge ourselves against, and our hate shows no bounds. And the rivalries are where a lot of fans focus their attention.
But, I was talking to a buddy the other day about the team’s we love to LOVE. The teams that Kentucky fans have a soft spot in our hearts for, and can bring ourselves to cheer for, assuming they are not playing the Cats. So based off his comments to me and some theories I have, here are some potential for teams I am calling our “friends”:
1) The In-State Schools Outside of Louisville
-The other 3 major sports schools in the state take a special place in our hearts. And that’s even considering WKU has a recent win against Kentucky in basketball and 2 in football. EKU played the Cats pretty tough in the NCAA Tournament in 2005. But I can tell you that I saw serious support behind Murray State from UK fans in the NCAA tournament, and when WKU made the Sweet 16 in 2008, the UK fanbase got behind them. When Morehead State beat UL in the NCAA’s, we were all Eagles fans for a day. I think it’s for one simple reason: those schools understand where they are on the hierarchy and don’t attempt to act too big for their britches, as my grandmother would say. Yes, sometimes those fans think UK dodges them on the schedule but they don’t think they are equal programs.
For me, part of the reason we hate UL so much is they think their program compares to ours, despite EVERY FACT pointing to something different. If Louisville just settled for the 2nd best program in the state, gave it their best shot against UK every year, maybe just maybe UK fans would soften up on them. But that will never happen, so the hate just grows. Thus, we cheer for our in-state brothers, and hate on the Little Brother.
2) Michigan State (Basketball)
-I don’t know if you will find a better liked and respected coach from other fanbases than Tom Izzo. Michigan State knocked UK out of the tournament in 1999 and 2005, and yet I found myself cheering for them in the Final Four. You get the sense, whether accurate or not, that Izzo runs a clean program. His guys always seem to overachieve, and he always seems to have a group of players who talk very little and play very hard. Hell, many still argue Izzo was destined to be UK’s next coach if his team hadn’t made the Final Four in 2009. Izzo is passionate about his team without being arrogant and he is maybe the best game-planner in the game today. And I think fans can respect that.
3) Vanderbilt (Football)
-Their basketball team is annoying. Always has been, always will be. But the football team is kinda endearing, like watching the kid in right field struggle to catch a fly ball in Little League, even if he is on the other team. I think Kentucky football fans can relate so much to the Vanderbilt football program. There are just so many obstacles to overcome for both programs, and that common bond makes them easy to cheer for. Their fans couldn’t care two craps about the team, but I always find the players to be easy to root for. If they have success, that should tell us that we can have success. And in the same way, their suckiness has always propped up Kentucky and masked the fact that we suck so many times in football.
So, am I wrong in saying their are teams that we cheer for as a fanbase outside of our own school? Should we just hate everybody? And is there somebody I am missing?