Back in 1983, I was fortunate enough to be working for the athletic department at the University of Tennessee. We were hosting an NCAA Regional, so until the teams were announced, we had no idea that the “Dream Game” would come to Knoxville. And unlike Saturday’s matchup in the Final Four, there was no assurance that UK and U of L would meet in the regional final. Tough, skilled, well-coached teams from Indiana and Arkansas stood in the way.
But both the Cardinal and Wildcats prevailed, and the stage was set for the red and blue battle on an orange-trimmed floor. The teams had just 48 hours to prepare, and fans had to figure out travel and tickets. At that time, stodgy UK had always refused to take on Denny Crum’s Cards, and I had followed Billy Reed’s criticisms of Joe B. Hall’s stance on playing U of L since delivering the C-J in the South End. I used to get my papers on the corner of Southside and Alger at 4 a.m., read Reed’s column on the latest barb in the battle, then deliver to my customers.
I was on press row, and loved it as Lancaster Gordon went crazy in overtime as the Cards won by 12. As noted by Ric Bozich in today’s C-J, that performance is the only thing many remember about Gordon’s fantastic career.
Billy Reed, of course, is the world’s greatest authority on the rivalry, as you can read here. But this game, which is absolutely preventing any work from being accomplished in our borders, is a much bigger deal than the 1983 game. For one thing, the winner plays for a national title. There’s more media attention, and there’s Facebook, where every one of your friends is anxious to share some clever image or idea.
Local TV stations aren’t sending a reporter, they’re sending groups of reporters. Bloggers will be there. And it’s got the attention of some great writers. This is a great piece from Rick Reilly of ESPN, comparing the two teams to the Harry Potters and Voldemorts. Howard Fineman’s piece on HuffPo is getting plenty of attention, given the writer’s national political profile, his local journalism roots and the headline “Basketball Armageddon.”
I’ve got a chance to win $300 in my office pool if Kentucky, and Kansas, win on Saturday. I’m pulling against the Cats, based on a lifelong allegiance to U of L.
I’m not going, but my son Josh, a U of L student, is. My pal Mark is on his way. I’m jealous. But I think there will be a crazy atmosphere no matter where you are around here Saturday. Police have battle plans set. Yea, there’s been plenty of attention given to a couple of old men on dialysis getting into a fistfight over the game. And any place rabid fans from both sides gather, the possibility of violence exists.
Sounds fun, huh?