Things We Have in Common, Like Hating Duke

It’s that time of year again, when the entirety of my attention turns to college basketball and the never-actually-dormant UK fan in me comes bursting forth to the front and center of my life: March Madness. I love March Madness: it’s one of my absolute favorite times of the year. I love the ups and downs, the last second buzzer beaters, the Cinderella stories. I love watching my team defy or live up to the expectations (depending on where the expectations lie). I love brackets that get busted.  I love an underdog story. And I love it when Duke loses.

The second round of the NCAA Tournament wrapped up on Sunday night, and in the final game, Duke lost. This might not seem important to some of you, but if that’s the case, it’s likely you didn’t grow up in Kentucky or North Carolina (…or perhaps a select few other states, but those two are the big ones). Nothing brings people together like a common enemy.

Friend-of-the-blog Sarah is a UNC fan. She comes by it honestly, as she actually went to UNC Chapel Hill, whereas I was just born into my love of the UK Wildcats. Initially, I thought this might be a hindrance to our friendship but was willing to try to make it work. When you’re friends with a whole lotta nerds, you take sports fans where you can get ’em (though I maintain that being a sports fan is just being a nerd about sports). Then, when I was helping move her and also-friend-of-the-blog Jason into their last apartment, I stumbled upon this book:

With that, I knew our friendship was cemented. Now objectively, I know that hate on a real visceral level really isn’t okay. But I hate — like, really hate — Duke. Now I don’t know anyone who loves college basketball who feels ambivalent about the Blue Devils (and let’s be honest: very few of those feelings are of a positive nature). Maybe there are people out there who would disagree on that, but I don’t know them. And then there’s probably a portion of people reading this who have no idea what I’m talking about. Feel free to stop reading now, or continue in a sports-talk-induced haze, if you dare.

As a Kentucky fan, I can trace my hatred for Duke back to 1992 (okay, so, technically I don’t actually remember the East Regional Final of 1992, but I know that’s where my hatred of Duke started). It’s mostly Christian Laettner’s fault. He’s the one who scored a lucky, overtime, buzzer beater shot that dashed Kentucky’s chances at glory, in a year that was supposed to be our year. The UK team  that season was called the Unforgettables, known for the four Kentucky-native seniors who had been with the team through a two-year probation from the tournament, punishment for an old teammate’s mistakes. Those guys stuck it out, waited to get their shot at the title. And then at the last second, Laettner took it all away with a shot he shouldn’t even have been able to take (having committed a foul that should have had him ejected from the game earlier in the second half). That stupid last-ditch effort gets played over and over again every March, in every montage, on every channel. It even has its own Wikipedia page.

Now I’m not alone in my antipathy toward Laettner. He’s one of the most reviled players in college basketball history; ESPN even made a documentary about it. And he’s got company.  Duke’s an easy team to hate, the spoiled rich kids of college basketball, and every season there’s one who seems more annoying and entitled than the rest. When I was in high school it was JJ Redick. This year, it’s Grayson Allen.  Notice how Duke has its own category in this info-bracket from the now-defunct Grantland :

So this year, as I readied myself for another month of March Madness, I was sad to see that Duke was a likely favorite to win the whole tournament. They were ranked #2, and the East Region, historically the toughest quadrant of the bracket, was the weakest it had been in years. By all appearances, they had a pretty straight shot to the Final Four if they just kept being f***ing Duke. They wouldn’t even need to try that hard. I organized a bracket pool this year, so I took mine very seriously — weighing records and stats instead of just which teams I like, watching as many games as possible. I’m in it to win it. And so I reluctantly placed Duke in the Final Four, hoping I could get at least some money out of it in the end.

So imagine my (pleasant) surprise when the SEC’s own South Carolina, to whom I hadn’t given much credit, held on to oust the Blue Devils from the tournament this past Sunday night.  And my favorite part of Duke losing? The camaraderie between all the basketball fans on my Facebook and Twitter feeds, regardless of affiliation. I saw UNC and South Carolina fans celebrating side by side. I was reminded that this website exists. It was beautiful to see that no matter how much Louisville and UK fans fight about their respective teams, we can all agree that “Duke is unequivocally the worst” (direct quote from noted University of Louisville fan, Zelda). A Duke loss is a powerful thing. It can turn enemies into friends. It can unite the Carolinas.

 

So if by some act of the March Madness gods UNC and UK  play each other in the South Regional Final, no matter how uncomfortable and anxiety-inducing watching that game will be for Sarah and me, I love that we can at least find solace in the fact that Duke can’t win the 2017 NCAA Tournament. I guess what I’m saying is that in these trying times, when nothing else makes sense, we should focus on the things we have common, the things that bring us together — like hating Duke.

Clear Eyes, Full Hearts, Watch These (Movies)

Zelda and I each have a t-shirt from our high school that reads, “LCS Football: Undefeated Since 1915.” Technically, it’s true…on account of the fact that we didn’t actually have a football team. Our 198-person, largely female student body would have had some trouble fielding a team (for lack of numbers, not for lack of boys — girls can kick butt/pigskin too); we had better things to do anyway (see: Quick Recall). But even at our team-less school, high school football reigned supreme during the fall, with their college peers a close second. Without a team of our own, we got sucked into the legendary rivalry between the two biggest all-boys Catholic high schools in town, and their annual face-off was a huge event that drew us, and a stadium’s worth of other folks, to watch the Shamrocks battle the Tigers. So despite my school not fielding its own squad, my childhood and adolescence were still filled with many of the cinematic clichés that come when you grow up around the sport.

I’ve always been around football. It’s been a constant presence in my life since a tender age, and I love it in a nostalgic way that takes me all the way back to being a tiny, blonde (yes, I was blonde then) six-year-old in the stands of Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington. Those high school games also had an impact; even if I didn’t have any real investment in the outcome, the being there with my peers, sucking down Diet Coke that the more daring upperclassman would spike with something stronger, made the event bigger than the game itself. Football to me is childhood and tailgates, family and friends and family friends who are more kin than acquaintance. It’s the changing seasons and a start of a new school year and being a part of something bigger than yourself. And when the crackling of leaves and the faint scent of a charcoal grill get me all nostalgic for games gone by, I turn to the next best thing: football movies.

I am a huge sucker for sports movies. I love an underdog story with a good message and a triumphant ending, so it makes sense that I am a giant fan of movies that use athletic competition as their main plot device. Now that I reside in Brooklyn, football doesn’t fill up every nearby screen come fall. Plus, with age, I’ve become more enthused for the other football (America’s sport of the future, but more on that another time). So instead I turn to the fictional, or more often fictionalized, sports stories that can be found in my Netflix queue. When the leaves turn and the air goes crisp, I revisit my old friends at T.C. Williams or Permian High. These are seven of my favorite movies about football — a cinematic touchdown (with bonus, non-movie field goal) to guide you through the coming season.

Remember The Titans: “In Virginia, high school football is a way a life.” Sheryl Yoast, our narrator (played by a young Hayden Panettiere), opens the film with these words. While football is the guiding force behind the plot of this film, the story is really about life: race relations in the 1960’s South, a town divided, the understanding that grows as they are united by their first integrated football team. The best sports movies are about more than sports: They use sports as a metaphor, a reflection of life itself. Teams are a symbol of the community, a rallying point during hard times. Remember the Titans is about football, yes, but more so it’s about a town dealing with change and learning to come to grips with its past while stepping into the future. Also, Denzel Washington, Donald Faison, tiny Ryan Gosling.

The Replacements: So my absolute favorite Keanu Reeves-helmed sports  movie is 2001’s Hardball (though Keanu’s performance leaves much to be desired), but this one comes in a close second (unless we count Point Break as a sports movie). Reeves stars as a washed up Ohio State quarterback recruited by Gene Hackman’s character when his pro players go on strike. While Keanu’s Shane Falco may not be as talented as the diva QB he replaced, he’s got more heart for the game, and that wins out every time.

Friday Night Lights (film): Based on a true story, and the book of the same name, this movie follows the Permian High School Panthers of 1988. It’s a story about an Odessa, Texas, team that tries to defy the odds, and the city that fanatically supports them. Like Remember the Titans, it touches on the social issues of the time and place — classism, racism, segregation, poverty — as the team overcomes athletic and personal obstacles to do the impossible (insert inspirational music here).

Friday Night Lights (TV series): Okay, I’m cheating a bit, but hear me out. The movie is good…but honestly I am more enamored with the television series (this may be due to my general tendency towards serial media: Tumblr LOVES this shit). I urge you to venture down the five-season rabbit hole into Dillon, TX. Get to know Saracen, Smash, Riggins, and the other good, non-football-playing folks of this Texas town, and you will root for the Panthers just as hard as the fictional town folk. Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t lose.

Varsity Blues: Another story of the high expectations surrounding high school football in rural Texas, this one stars a Dawson’s Creek-era James Van Der Beek as a back-up quarterback with Ivy League dreams and an overbearing, football-obsessed father. I love it for the clichés, for the fact that it’s spawned many a parody and a copycat, I love the late 90s soundtrack (Green Day, Foo Fighters, Aaliyah) and the pre-The Fast and the Furious Paul Walker. Bonus: It’s Regina George’s favorite movie.

The Longest YardBest viewed as a double feature, starting with the original starring Burt Reynolds as Paul Crewe, followed by the remake starring Adam Sandler in the same role. Crewe, a disgraced pro quarterback, is sent to jail and asked to form a football team from the rag-tag group of inmates. They embark upon the ultimate underdogs’ journey in an attempt to beat the highly-trained team of prison guards. I really love good remakes, seeing how things were changed to suit a new time period, different actors, etc. Chris Rock is a highlight of the Sandler version, as well as Nelly and Terry Crews. Plus Burt Reynolds returns to play the coach, Nate Scarborough, and brings the whole thing full circle.

EXTRA POINT A future film about one of these ladies: Theresa Dion, the first girl to play on a high school varsity team in the U.S.; Ashley Martin or Katie Hnida, two of the first girls to dress for and score in a NCAA Division 1 game; Erin Dimeglio, who took the field as the all-important quarterback at her high school in Florida; or Haley Abeyta, who’s showing her impressive strength as a linebacker. As much as I love the boys of fall, girls have got game too! And there are a disappointing number of films out there about girls sports, football or otherwise. Each of these stories deserves the cinematic treatment as much as the boys. Cue the poignant music.

Photos Via VYPE.COMAMERICAN FOOTBALL FILMS, THE CLASSICAL, TODAY, TV GUIDE, DAILY CALLER, FANART.TV, BADASS WOMEN

Next Year at Churchill

What would you say if I asked you about a horse race held in Kentucky since 1875? What if I told you said race was founded by Meriwether Lewis Clark, Jr., that it was half of the longest continuously contested sporting event in America, and that it was attended by over 100,000 people each year? What if I told you I wasn’t talking about Derby?

The Kentucky Oaks is held annually at Churchill Downs the Friday before the Kentucky Derby (not, as you might presume, on the first Friday in May, because should the first Saturday in May fall on the 1st, Oaks is held on the 30th of April). While the Derby is (mostly*) for three-year-old colts/geldings (male horses), the Oaks is for the fillies — the three-year-old female horses. They run for a lily garland and a big silver trophy (plus, you know, $600,000 in winnings, which ain’t too shabby). And also, it’s for Louisville.

*Fillies are technically eligible to compete but generally make up a very small portion (if any) of the field. As of 2010, only 40 fillies have ever raced in the Derby, and three have won: Regret in 1915, Genuine Risk in 1980, and Winning Colors in 1988. Girl (horse)Power FTW.
So much girl power, femal jockey Rosie Napravnik after winning Kentucky Oaks 138 on Believe You Can (Via Zimbio)

So much girl power: female jockey Rosie Napravnik after winning Kentucky Oaks 138 on Believe You Can (Via Zimbio)

See Oaks Day is at the track is all about the locals (or at least it was until recently). Derby is for the tourists and the B-list celebs (and Her Majesty the Queen), for ESPN and NBC, but the day before the main event, while all the out-of-towners are still en route or settling into their hotel rooms, true Louisvillians head to the track. We get our fill of festivities before the town is completely overtaken, and when the hordes descend on Saturday, we’re safely ensconced at home with a julep, laughing at the news footage of traffic jams and lawns turned into guerilla parking lots. Unfortunately, in recent years, some of the more enterprising tourists have caught on to the Oaks phenomenon. Locals have responded with the cringe-worthy “Thurby” (please, please stop trying to make that happen), or “Thursday before Derby.” But Oaks still remains a city-wide holiday, near and dear to every Louisvillian’s heart.

From the day I was born until the age of 23, Oaks Day was a day off. Growing up, the day before Derby meant no school (which, when you can count the number of snow days you’ve experienced on one hand, is an especially big deal). It wasn’t just schools: Business shut down too, as the whole city seized the opportunity to throw all responsibilities out the window for a day. Carpe oaksem! Now in theory there were practical reasons behind the shut-down; between the tourists and the festivities, traffic was such a disaster that there was no point trying to get anywhere anyway. So teacher or student, boss or employee, the entire city joined forces to hold an officially sanctioned day off.

Some of our lovely friends at Oaks last year.

Some of our lovely friends at Oaks last year.

When I got to college, I was worried this sacred day of respite might be taken away. Somehow, though, the Oaks gods continued to smile upon me. My freshman and sophomore years, my school’s Spring Celebration (known as GIG, or, Get Into Goucher), fell on that fateful Friday, causing classes to be cancelled. Junior and senior year, I managed to avoid Friday classes altogether. And so I came to the spring of my 23rd year having managed to enjoy a responsibility-free Oaks every May of my life.

New York was a different story. My first spring here I was in grad school, and for the first time in my life, I had to go to class on Oaks. It just felt wrong. Cinco de Mayo, people got. Even Memorial Day they could get on board with. But nobody understood why this day had any meaning for me: They laughed when I explained that one should get the day off from school for a horse race. After that first spring, I managed to escape Oaks obligations due to a fluke of scheduling, but it wasn’t the same. I tried to rally my state patriotism (or whatever you call it), queuing up a feed of the race on my computer and sipping a mint julep (or, more likely, straight bourbon, because as anyone will tell you I’m a tad lazy in the kitchen). But despite my best efforts, I was left feeling more isolated and far from home than ever.

I’ve never actually been to the Oaks race itself (something that threatens to strip me of my Louisvillian cred, I know). But Oaks, the day, has always held a special place in my heart. Derby brings the eyes of the nation to Louisville, draws the attention of celebrities and pundits and royalty alike. For two minutes, the spotlight shines bright on my old Kentucky home. And the,n just as quickly, it’s gone. But the thing about Louisville is, while we enjoy our annual minutes of fame, we also understand how fleeting and, in the end, unimportant they are. The two minutes may be for the world, but the other 525,598 of the year are for us. And so is Oaks.

To having hats as awesome as this next year. (Via apkxda)

Here’s to having hats as awesome as this next year. (Via apkxda)

I think this is why I love this day so much. That one day before the full-blown mayhem is just for our little city, and for the people who call it home. People usually nod along knowingly when I talk about Derby, but Oaks is something I have to explain, and that’s part of its charm. Even as the out-of-towners have started to catch on, I still think of it as the locals’ day. It’s for the people who claim Derby, the season, as part of their identity and cultural heritage. Sometimes we love it, sometimes we love to hate it, but it’s always part of us. The more time you spend away from home, the more you come to appreciate those little quirks — like taking the day off for a horse race — that make your home special. Some years you may have to go to work. Some years you may have class. But you always observe the day for what it is — a holiday — in your heart.

This year I’ve got the day off, and Zelda does not. So Friday will pass quietly, as we reflect on what Derby means to us and how to share it with the people we love, even far from home. Saturday we party, with friends Kentuckian and (mostly) otherwise. And then the countdown begins until spring comes again. Next year at Churchill.

Game Day Artichoke Dip

Friends, comrades, fellow fans of the ball we call basket,

I write to you today in a much more morose state than when I composed my last post. As you may have heard, my beloved Cardinals faced a mighty Spartan horde this past Sunday and fell, like so many noble warriors before them, in a nail-biter of a match that went into overtime and added a few grey hairs to my head. I do not begrudge Michigan State their victory; they played incredibly well, definitely better than we did, and their hustle and focus have rightfully earned them a place in the Final Four. However, my heart (and bracket) are sad to see Louisville felled, forced to defer their dreams for another season.

So close, and yet so far. (Via The New York Times)

So close, and yet so far. (via The New York Times)

And yet, I will not allow this defeat to squelch my enthusiasm for March Madness. Because even if my team is out, the Bluegrass State I call home is still (very) well-represented by the [RECORD REDACTED, by Scout, who is too superstitious for her own good] Wildcats. And so I’ll trade my red for blue, turn up the twang, and root for the BBN (just for this week).

See there are some who consider the Superbowl the peak sporting event of the year. Others thrill to the World Series (myself among them, if the Red Socks are having a good year). But where I come from, nothing matches the hype of the NCAA final, especially if, as is the case many years, one of our homegrown teams is making an appearance. So I’ll be damned if I’m going to let a little loss stop my fun. Kentucky’s still got some skin in the game, and I will follow them until the very end.

No game day celebration would be complete without snackage: There is nothing quite so satisfying as watching gods of athletic prowess burn calories while consuming heaps of them yourself. This is one of my family favorites, adopted from the wife of one of my mom’s grad school classmates and promptly installed in the Harlan Recipe Hall of Fame. No New Year’s, no house party, and no Game Day is complete without it. Like the best things in life (or at least in the kitchen), it is super easy to assemble with a huge delicious payoff and a little bit of a spicy kick.

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Artichoke Dip

Ingredients

1 8-oz. block of cream cheese (regular or Neufchâtel will do the trick)

1 8-oz. jar of mayonnaise (For both the mayo and the cream cheese, regular and low fat are acceptable. Fat free, however, is not.)

½ cup grated parmesan cheese

1 14-oz. can of non-marinated artichoke hearts

1 7-oz. can of diced green chiles

Instructions

Set out the cream cheese to soften.

Preheat the oven to 300 degrees.

Drain the artichoke hearts and chop them up into chunks.

Mix all of the ingredients together in a large bowl. Leave out about ¼ cup of the parmesan for the topping.

Pour the mixture into a bake-able serving dish. I usually use a standard 9X13 in. casserole dish.

Sprinkle the remaining parmesan on top.

Bake for around 20 minutes.

Serve warm with tortilla chips, crackers, or whatever starchy transport mechanism floats your boat.

Enjoy, my dears! And, though I cringe a little as I say it, let’s go Wildcats.

To Be a Fan

On Wednesday, March 25, 2015, at approximately 12:30 p.m. EST, the internet exploded. Feeds dissolved, statuses reached dangerous levels of emojis, and social networks everywhere threatened to collapse under the weight of millions of tweens (and a few people outside that age range) losing their collective mind. Never has such despair sounded from the screen; tweets turned to caterwauls that sounded the death knell of the world as we know it. The cause of this digital catastrophe, this maelstrom of emotion from so many users who ACTUALLY DIED and JUST COULDN’T EVEN? Zayn Malik announced his departure from One Direction.

Now first, a moment of perspective. Some other stuff, much of it fairly important on a global scale, happened on Wednesday. A plane crashed into the Alps, American fighter jets joined the campaign against ISIS in Iraq, and the Affordable Care Act marked its fifth anniversary — to name a few. But nothing quite captured the zeitgeist like a 22-year old from West Yorkshire quitting his boy band. With only a moderate dose of cynicism, it would be easy to mock the masses rending their virtual clothes over the Zayn incident: Malikgate, as it were. And admittedly, this was my first reaction. While I’ve been known to sing along to the odd 1D song, have even caught a few segments of their documentary This is Us, I would not call myself a devoted fan. (Case in point: It took me several unsuccessful searches before I realized the band abandoner spelled his name Zayn and not, as I had previously believed, Zayne.) And while I appreciated some of the more humorous reactions to the debacle — one of my favorites, from a fellow alum of my college a cappella group, read: “THE BAND IS CALLED ONE DIRECTION, ZAYN. AS IN YOU ALL GO IN THE SAME DIRECTION. FOREVER” — I was ready to laugh the whole thing off until I came across this Tumblr post by author/vlogbrother/insightful human John Green.

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Being a fan of a band, of the all-male pop variety or otherwise, is not much different from being a fan of a team. As Scout wrote about last week, the beauty of being a fan lies in believing in something greater than yourself, in belonging to a community, and in giving wholeheartedly of your emotional investment to an arbitrary symbol or entity. This season is rife with fanatics of many stripes, particularly in the NCAA obsessed climes of Louisville and the SEC. And as Green so astutely points out, there is very little difference between love of a team and love of a band, which is itself really just a team whose sport happens to be playing music. The only difference is that one breed of fanaticism is accepted as a reasonable obsession for kids and adults of all ages, while the other, when it comes wrapped in a well-coiffed, British-accented, X-Factor-united package, is scoffed as child’s play, something to be grown out of. There’s a double standard at work here and it is both hugely unjust and wildly dishonest. Green’s post has 18,410 notes as of this writing, which I take as a sign that a good chunk of the Tumblrverse agrees with me, and him, on this point. Tumblr may be a skewed sample of the population, thriving as it does on niche communities and fandoms of all kinds, but it heartens me to see so many humans clicking like or reblog for unironic enthusiasm.

How to properly fandom, as demonstrated by me, Scout, and our dear friend Ellen, at the premiere of the final Harry Potter film

Uninhibited, nerdy enthusiasm as demonstrated by me, Scout, and our dear friend Ellen at the premiere of the final Harry Potter film

Because that’s really all it takes to be a fan: unironic, unabashed enthusiasm for a cause. And this is something people of all ages, from every region or walk of life, should be able to identify with. My fandom may not make sense to you, and yours may baffle me. Even if we share the same team, you may be a lifelong devotee who follows their every move, while I may be a newbie discovering them for the first time. But rather than tearing each other down, mocking and bashing and posturing and one-upping, what if instead we just celebrated the human capacity for love? Love of team, love of show, love of boy wizard, love of time lord, and, yes, love of boy band.

Now I understand first-hand how difficult it can be not to write off others’ obsessions as absurd. See, unlike Scout and most of my peers, I did not grow up steeped in the college basketball tradition. I was California born, Kansas and Tennessee raised, until the age of 11, when I landed smack dab in the middle of one of the fiercest rivalries in sports. Now I knew from rivalries — I am a fourth generation Red Sox fan — but such intense enmity in such close proximity was new to me. I moved to Louisville in August of 2001. It took approximately one week for me to be fully apprised of the U of L/UK situation, following which I was given two additional weeks, if we’re being generous, to pick a side. And once I staked my claim, that was it: I was committed for life.

I chose Louisville, because I liked red (see Sox above), and because it would take many years before the state as a whole would start to feel like home. And I have stuck with my decision, buying the appropriate t-shirts and cheering the Cards on through over a dozen tournaments. I’ve thrown L’s on the acropolis in Greece, watched them win the championship on a laptop in France. With time, a few live games, and a stack of annual brackets, they came to feel like not just the Cards but my Cards.

Winners circa 2009 (via The New York Times)

Winners circa 2009 (via The New York Times)

That little pronoun is, I think, the key. My father is as enthusiastic a fan as Scout, and he has a tendency when watching the Red Sox, or Stanford, or Navy, or most recently Louisville play to yell at the TV screen as if it were a microphone, directing his guidance straight into the ears of the players. My family loves to mock him for this, and every quarter or so one of us will remind him, “You know they can’t hear you, right?” The same principle applies when I roll my eyes at Scout for hiding behind the couch for an entire game because the Cats scored that one three-pointer when she moved back there, so now she has to stay, for the team. If she budges and they lose, it is her fault, and she just can’t let her boys down like that. Cue the eye roll.

But getting back to my point: If I take a step back, I have to admit there is something wonderful about this (admitted) insanity, and maybe even a smidgen of sense behind my father and Scout’s behavior. By being a fan you do belong to the team — not to the small faction on the court, but to the big squad, the one that cheers and supports and rallies even in the hard years, the giant wacky diaspora of a family. You are there for your team because your team is there for you, no matter how far from home turf you may roam. There’s beauty in the madness, pleasure in the lunacy of it all. To be a fan is an absurd venture. It makes you do and say ridiculous things, and sometimes the people around you just won’t get it. But at the end of the day, we all have our fandoms. We all want to belong to something bigger than ourselves, and we choose the crazy that fits us best. So those people who laugh, who write listicles and post statuses mocking your pain? They’re just on a different team.

From Rupp to Ruprechtskirche: Adventures in the Big Blue Nation

“…So please, be tolerant of those who describe a sporting moment as their best ever. We do not lack imagination, nor have we had sad and barren lives; it is just that real life is paler, duller, and contains less potential for unexpected delirium.” – Nick Hornby, Fever Pitch

I’ve discussed my upbringing as a Kentucky football fan on this blog before. Yes, that was a big part of my childhood, and it started my intense relationship with sports. But my relationship with Kentucky basketball is where my real fanaticism lies. This post has been on our schedule since mid-December; it’s hard to escape college basketball when you grow up in Louisville, KY, and with the NCAA tournament now in full swing we knew we would need to address it. I was the obvious choice, since my fanaticism for sports has always outstripped Zelda’s (except when it comes to baseball, which I just don’t get [Note from Zelda: Red Sox for life!]). When the time came to write out my feelings about my team, however, I found myself almost unable.

Scout: I can’t do it. I can’t. If I do it and they lose it will be all my fault

Zelda: No it won’t. May I remind you that you are not on the team, and have no actual impact on the outcome of any game? Besides we can have a blog about being from Kentucky and not talk about March Madness

Scout: BUT [this has been redacted due to Scout’s superstition] I’ll jinx them! I can’t do it! YOU DON’T KNOW!

Zelda: *exasperated eye-roll*

Basically, it comes down to this. I haven’t talked about my team’s season on this blog yet, and I was (and still am) afraid to, because it would mean a change in my activities related to my team, and my team’s doing REALLY WELL this season, so why would I want to change anything? (I’ve been known to stay in the same position while watching the Cats play if something particularly good happened when I moved to that spot. I once squatted behind a couch for a whole game for this exact reason.)

So I guess that fanaticism is really what I need to talk about — the fact that writing this post a different way would have been sacrilegious to me, and the lengths to which I will go to support my team. Because even though Kentucky football is a part of my culture, and an important one, Kentucky basketball is deeper than that. Sometimes it doesn’t make any sense, but that’s the fun of it, right? It doesn’t have to make sense to matter.

The Momma and I at  Rupp after a win.

The Momma and I after a win.

It is virtually impossible to grow up in Louisville without having some relationship with college basketball, and for me this relationship is all about the Kentucky Wildcats. Growing up, it put me in the minority at my small school (most people who live in Louisville tend, like Zelda, to be all about the Louisville Cardinals). This was particularly hard because the Cats were at their lowest point of my lifetime during my adolescence (we don’t discuss the Billy Gillespie years in my house), but my enthusiasm, even if it was coupled with disappointment, was not out of place. Everybody, even the least sporty among us, picked a side and made a bracket. That’s just what you did in March. In recent years, the Cats have been back on top (and though I’m somewhat iffy on the whole “one-and-done” method, I’m not going to complain if we’re winning). But win or lose, every year the people in my life have to watch me descend into March Madness fever. And for new friends, who don’t hail from basketball country, this can sometimes be…alarming.

See in Louisville, it’s easy to maintain your enthusiasm for those three weeks in March because it is the norm. The whole city is on board (more than any other spot in the country — it’s a fact!), submitting willingly and eagerly to the insanity. The 80 hours between Selection Sunday and the start of the first round are devoted to discussing brackets and upsets and possible Cinderellas, and you can’t walk into a bar without spying the day’s game playing somewhere in the background, no matter who the teams may be. In high school, we’d even convince the more sympathetic study hall proctors to turn on the early games during class, just so we could keep track of how our brackets were doing.

To be fair I am amongst good company. Famous Fans include: Josh Hutcherson, Ashley Judd, Drake, and I saw Jay-Z at a game once. (Via PanemPropaganda)

To be fair, I am in good company. Famous Cats Fans include: Josh Hutcherson (Above), Ashley Judd, and Drake, and I even saw Jay-Z at a game once. (Via PanemPropaganda)

When I went to college, that little cocoon of mass fanaticism disappeared. The other students at my tiny Maryland liberal arts school couldn’t care less about college basketball, and while my dedication to my team never wavered, it wasn’t the same. I still made brackets for myself (Actually, I always make three: head bracket, heart bracket, and crazy bracket. One for what I think will happen, one for what I want to happen, and one for all the upsets that would be amazing but are never ever gonna happen). I watched all the games. But sitting alone in the student union, yelling at a television until either someone shushed me or a rare kindred spirit sat down to join in the fun, just wasn’t the same. My friends all knew that once the tournament started, if the “Scout is…” sign on my dorm room door was switched to “Watching Basketball” I was not to be bothered, and they generally respected my madness, but they didn’t get it the way people at home just got it.

I didn’t realize the lengths to which I would go to watch my Cats play until my junior year of college, when I found myself inconveniently abroad in Europe during the month of March. The time difference meant that most games fell sometime between 11 p.m. and 3 a.m., depending on the day. Thanks to the wonder of WiFi, I could still watch the games, and watch them I did. I watched the Cats play Ohio State while bent over a toilet in a cheap hotel room in Florence, fighting a nasty bout of food poisoning. I watched them play UNC on the tiny screen of my phone, huddled on a top bunk of a dorm in a hostel in Rome.

2011's Terrence Jones, Josh Harrelson, and Doron Lamb, part of the line up I cheered to the Final Four all the way from Europe (Via MTVnews)

2011’s Terrence Jones, Josh Harrelson, and Doron Lamb, part of the line-up I cheered to the Final Four all the way from Europe (Via MTVnews)

Then the Final Four rolled around, and UK was in it. I couldn’t not watch. (I’d also entered a pool with a bunch of the dudes on my program, so I had a lot riding on the outcome of the game), but I was in Vienna that week with my program. I spent most of it walking around the city with my friends, sporting a Kentucky shirt, and trying to figure out how or where I was going to get my eyes on the game. Everyone else kept waffling on whether or not they wanted to actually stay awake, that is if we could even find a bar that was showing the game. As the day dragged on, I was starting to give in, figuring maybe I’d just call it a day and head to bed because I was so tired. Then, in the middle of a street in Vienna, a voice shouted, “GO BIG BLUE!” I turned sharply to find another girl around my age sporting a UK jersey and a smile. “You watching the game tonight?” she asked, and I gave her the only response that was appropriate: “You know it.” With that, my resolve was back.

And that’s what being a fan is about for me. It’s about being halfway around the world, over 4,700 miles from Rupp Arena, and being able to connect with someone over your team. It’s a passion that transcends location, origin, gender, race, class, or creed. People talk about sports rivalries tearing people apart, especially in a city as fiercely divided as Louisville, where an interfaith marriage refers to a Cards fan/Cats fan union. But really, at its heart, what team loyalty does is bring people together. No one in my bracket pool stayed up that night with me. I sat alone in the hostel dining hall and watched as a Kemba Walker-led UCONN narrowly defeated us. But I was so glad I did. If crippling food poisoning didn’t stop me from watching my Wildcats, then there was no way a little thing like exhaustion would. That year, we hadn’t even been expected to make it that far, and I would see them to the very end. Besides, my head bracket that year had UCONN winning the whole thing, which they did, and I defeated all the frat bros from Division One schools in my tourney pool, so I felt pretty vindicated in the end.

Now I find myself in New York, which poses a whole new set of problems when it comes to watching UK play. I don’t have cable, so season games that aren’t on CBS require me to seek out a sports bar, something I am loathe to do if I’m not working in one. But even worse, during both of the March Madnesses I’ve spent here, I’ve been working multiple gigs, and my shifts tended to intersect game play. I’ve watched many a game on my phone under my desk during first Saturday at the museum, or checking the score while I seated people at the restaurant. I wanted so badly to be home last year, when Louisville and Kentucky met in the Sweet Sixteen, bringing my hometown to the brink of explosion (just the brink though: for actual volcanic eruption, see Final Four 2012). Instead, I was in New York, and I was working, relegated to watching via the March Madness app on my phone. Thank God for modern technology, or I’m not sure I would have seen much of it at all.

Aaron Harrison's game winning three versus Michigan last year (Via Sports Unbiased)

Aaron Harrison’s game-winning three against Michigan last year (Via Sports Unbiased)

That technology is also responsible for one of my crowning New York achievements in the area of “Giving Zero Fucks.” Last year, I was headed home from a shift at the museum and watching the Cats play Michigan in the Elite Eight as I waited for the bus. Time was running out as the bus approached, and Michigan surged back to tie the score 72-72. I climbed on the bus and situated myself between two other riders, ten seconds left on the clock. As we pull away, Aaron Harrison throws up a three with less than four seconds to go in the game. And we won. As soon as it swished through the net, I celebrated accordingly, jumping up and down and smiling something awful. I was officially the crazy person on the bus, and I could not have cared less.

That year’s team was easy to cheer for. We were an #8 seed — going into the tournament with a 24 – 10 record, a veritable underdog against Michigan’s #2 — and just making it to the Final Four feels like winning when you’ve spent the season not quite living up to your potential. There’s nothing to lose, and everything to prove. I like being there. I like having a few bad losses under our belt so the team knows their weaknesses, I like people underestimating us a little bit. Which brings us to this season, and why I cannot talk about the team that shall henceforth not be named.

I am a fan. And yes, sometimes that makes me crazy, and irrational, and superstitious to the point of lunacy. But it also means I believe in something bigger than myself, that I am part of a community and a heritage that stretches back generations. Now you might have heard there was a game last night. You may hear rumors there’s a tournament going on right now. But I haven’t talked about this season yet this year. That’s my role on the team. And I’m not about to drop the ball now.