As noted before, The Walrus is not much of a sports fan. I don’t follow any sport on a regular basis, whether pro or amateur. Racing (car or horse), football, baseball, lacrosse, golf, you name it, I can pretty much take or leave it.
With one exception — when March Madness rolls around, I can become a raving partisan with the best of ’em.
It all goes back to my upbringing. You see, The Walrus is a native of the great state of Kentucky. Those not familiar with the Bluegrass State might think it’s all about coal, or horses, or tobacco, or even bourbon. Worthy answers all, but totally wrong.
No, the real identity of Kentucky is tied to one thing — college basketball.
Basketball at every level from elementary school to college is essentially a secular religion in the state. And it’s primarily a two-church faith. The Blue Church (the University of Kentucky Wildcats) or the Red Church (the University of Louisville Cardinals).
The denominations split largely along geographic lines, with the eastern and southern portions of the state mainly loyal to the Blue Church, and the northern and western sectors swearing allegiance to the Red Church.
Other factors come into play as well. Lexington, the home of UK, is a more laid-back Old-South style town, with rolling hills and horse farms. Louisville is the state’s gritty, urban hub, home to much of the state’s industrial and commercial base. Basketball is one of the few unifying links between the two worlds.
Entire generations are indoctrinated, literally from birth, to be loyal to the roundball denomination of their forebears. No, that’s not a joke. More than one newborn every day comes home from the hospital wearing either Cats blue or Cards red. It really does run that deep.
And now the Red Church and the Blue Church are set to collide in the great Holy War of 2012. Better known as the NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four. For the first time ever in a Final Four game, Kentucky’s finest will battle for the soul of the state.
And the stakes couldn’t be higher. For Kentucky, the top-ranked team this year, the one expected to win it all, anything short of a championship will be “cat”-astrophic. To lose to the in-state rival would be even more devastating for Coach John Calipari.
For Louisville, a victory would be sweet revenge for a loss to the Wildcats earlier in the season. Cardinals coach Rick Pitino is a former Kentucky coach. A loss of bragging rights to the Cats would be a nearly equal disaster. In the state of Kentucky, this is the kind of game that can turn a coach into a legend — or get him fired.
One thing is certain — The entire state will come to a screeching halt at tip-off time, 6:09 p.m. Saturday. The congregations of the Blue Church and the Red Church will come together to celebrate what can only be described as a basketball sacrament. For the winner, even the championship game that follows is likely to be anticlimactic. THIS will be the most important game of the tournament.
OK, so who is The Walrus rooting for?
Well, I was born into the Blue Church, a family of dedicated followers of UK. But always being, if not the black sheep of the family, at least a grey one, I’ve never been one to blindly follow, so I questioned.
And when I learned way back when that a Louisville radio station had the call letters WLRS, and called itself “Walrus Rock,” well, that clinched it. I converted.