Kentucky Wildcats: an Ode from a Vanderbilt Fan
As the Vanderbilt-Kentucky game is fastly approaching, I caught myself flashing back to my childhood in central Kentucky. How in the world did I turn from a die-hard Wildcat fan into a Vanderbilt blogger and season ticket holder?
Somehow my love of all things Big Blue turned into rebellion.
I'll try to be as quick and sequential as possible, but that may be hard.
From a young age, I remember my Dad and me always watching UK games together. He would come home from work after working second shift. My mom would wake me up, and we would watch the replay on the Lexington affiliate. I can't remember a single one of those games, but I remember them fondly.
My mom took me to my first game at Rupp Arena when I was about six. It was a UKIT game against UNC Charlotte. I kept staring at the massive white speaker that hung from above. I was always scared that it was going to come crashing down. My mom showed me all the banners hanging on the rafters. Incredible.
Our family went to a Blue-White scrimmage in 1987. After the game, the players were signing autographs, and I was able to shake hands with Rex Chapman. Yes, THE Rex Champman. At seven years old, he was my first and only man crush. My first Kentucky legend.
The Christian Laettner shot. Man. To this day, I have never gone through that much of an emotional roller coaster in that short of a time period. After that shot, my grandfather locked himself in his room for literally 16 hours. He was furious for a long time. How could they have not guarded an inbounder?!
I was 11, and it was the first time sports had ever made me cry. My grandfather died about two years later, before the epic 1996-1998 run. For a brief moment, I knew what it was like to be a Boston Red Sox or Chicago Cubs fan. I still hate Duke because of this.
Speaking of that magical three-year run, for anybody younger than 35, it has to be the most memorable stretch. I mean, two championships, three straight final game appearances.
How could you not have liked Cameron "Duke Slayer" Mills. He was a local kid and didn't even make an impression until late in his career. Do you remember the 31 that came out of nowhere against Florida? He was a great story on a couple really good teams. He was the first guy that made everyone in the state of Kentucky think they could contribute for a college team.
I was a freshman in high school, and we went on a field trip to the University of Kentucky. We were like kids in a candy store. We had some free time, and so we decided to go hunt for UK players. After some searching, I found my guy, Tony Delk. I walked up with a goofy grin and asked for his autograph. "Ten Bucks" I laughed it off, and tried to give him my pen and paper. "No really, ten bucks." I told him not to worry about it and went on my way.
Should I have punched Delk in the face? Yes...yes I should have. I learned that sometimes people you adore don't give a crap about you.
It was in college where my loyalty started to fade. I went to Western Kentucky and started attending ever home game that I could. It was easy to root for both teams; I mean, they never played each other.
Well, turns out that wasn't the case.
Western Kentucky opened against Kentucky in an early season tournament at Rupp Arena. I went with a few friends and was excited to head back to Rupp. I planned to have a fun night and not really care who won. I mean, it was either my childhood team or my college. Win-win.
That didn't last. As the old people behind us kept telling us to sit down, I started rooting for WKU like my life depended on it. I'm not sure what happened.
I realized that I was cheering for some combination of the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Lakers, and Dallas Cowboys. Maybe Kentucky wasn't really my team after all.
It was time to move on. As I look back on it now, my love for Kentucky basketball was centered in and around meaningful moments with my family.
My childhood was linked with Eddie Sutton, Rick Pitino, and Tubby Smith. My dad and I cheered Pitino's Bombinos and The Untouchables. We went to a lot of games together. We watched games from home, with the TV muted and Cawood Ledford painting the picture that was in front of us.
The love for my parents simply blended over into Kentucky basketball.
I didn't need Kentucky for that anymore.
A move to Nashville and six years of Vanderbilt basketball flipped the switch forever.
Memorial Gym is now my Rupp Arena.
Vanderbilt is my team. Kentucky is my father's team.
My dad and I have been talking trash all week. We've been trading scouting reports and trying to make the other one nervous.
We still love each other, just different teams.
Thanks for the memories, Kentucky. We had a good run.
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