Democrats and Republicans. Duke and North Carolina. Ali and Frazier. Yankees and Red Sox. All bitter rivals, each believing they are superior to the opposition.
Not one of these rivalries matches the hatred and emotion that the University of Louisville and the University of Kentucky have for each other. People that aren’t from around here never fully understand the intensity “Rivalry Week” brings to the Commonwealth.
To fully understand the UofL and UK rivalry, you have to be a longtime Kentuckian (or a Louisvillian for those of us in red). Hatred for the other side is something you are taught at a young age — most of us are born into it. I don’t have enough fingers and toes to count the number of times I have witnessed two individuals or groups of individuals come to blows over the rivalry.
Don’t believe me?
Next time you run across an individual wearing UK or UofL apparel, tell them how much better the other team is. It won’t be long before you’re receiving more negative attention than Miley Cyrus at the VMA’s.
As someone who has been born and raised in the rivalry, I can say with absolute certainty that the Louisville and Kentucky rivalry is the most intense, most emotionally charged, and most divisive rivalry in all of college athletics. ‘Bama-Auburn has football and Duke-UNC has basketball, but Louisville-Kentucky has it all. Old fashioned hate.
The basketball rivalry was dormant throughout much of the 50′s, 60′s and 70′s. Folks around here will tell you that UK refused to play Louisville because the Cardinals recruited and played black players. Kentucky fans will say it is because Louisville was simply not strong enough competition for the Wildcats. I don’t know if either reason is true, and I won’t speculate further.
The football rivalry was first played in 1912 with Kentucky winning the first seven meetings. The rivalry was renewed on the gridiron after a 70-year hiatus. Kentucky holds the all-time series lead, 14-11, but Louisville holds the “modern era” advantage with an 11-8 record since 1994.
Over the past few years, the two schools have played a large game of “Can you top this?” Louisville builds the KFC Yum! Center, so Kentucky plans to renovate Rupp Arena. Kentucky basketball wins the 2012 national championship and Louisville wins the 2013 championship. Kentucky women’s basketball makes the 2013 Elite Eight and Louisville’s women make the 2013 championship game. Louisville hires a former assistant from Florida (Charlie Strong) to take over the football program and Kentucky hires a former assistant from Florida State (Mark Stoops) to do the same. And folks around the ‘Ville haven’t forgotten the “Louisville Doesn’t Exist” movement. A group of fans even responded by purchasing a billboard in Lexington, which was painted red and black with the phrase, “Lexington is for the Birds.” Earlier this week, the Cardinal faithful took to Twitter and managed to get #ThingsBetterThanUKFootball to trend nationwide for a solid eight hours. As I said before, good old fashioned hate.
Saturday, the Cards and Cats will meet in UK’s Commonwealth Stadium to write the next chapter in this rivalry. Vegas has named the Cards a 7.5 point favorite, though the majority of people in the Louisville area would bet their mortgage that the margin is far greater. The rivalry is so important that I have heard Louisville fans say they don’t care if they lose every other game, as long as they beat Kentucky. The same goes for the Wildcat faithful. The Big Blue Nation has insisted time and time again that Louisville’s football success is a product of weak scheduling, and the Cards simply “couldn’t hang with SEC teams.” Planet Red would point out that the Cards easily handled SEC power Florida in last season’s Sugar Bowl and that Kentucky itself can’t hang with SEC teams. After all, Louisville beat more SEC teams last season than Kentucky (2 wins for Cards, 0 for Cats).
If people in Louisville tell you Saturday’s game doesn’t scare them, they are lying. I was there in 2002 when Kentucky came into Papa John’s Stadium and stunned the heavily favored Cardinal team that had a preseason top 25 ranking, BCS dreams, and a Heisman hopeful at quarterback. (Sound familiar?)
On the flip side, if Big Blue Nation tells you they aren’t concerned about the game because they “are supposed to lose,” they’re lying also. I was at the Final Four in 2012 when a heavily favored Kentucky team ended Louisville’s tournament run. The point is, it sucks to lose to your rival, regardless of ranking or point spread.
First year head coach Mark Stoops and the Kentucky Wildcats have one obvious advantage: playing the game in Commonwealth. However, as of this writing, there were still tickets available in over 30 sections of the stadium. If Card Nation invades Lexington and the Wildcat fans have a poor showing, the one advantage UK holds over Louisville will be lost. If UK is unable to get pressure on Teddy Bridgewater, the game could be over by halftime.
On paper, the Cardinals should run away with this. My personal prediction is 41-17 Louisville, but if sports has taught us anything, it’s that games are not played on paper. Especially rivalry games. Especially rivalry games with this much bad blood.
For the natives, this is a bigger sporting event than the Kentucky Derby. One program hoping to take the next step towards national prominence, one program hoping to get back on track before the SEC powers come rolling in.
It’s rivalry week in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Let the trash talk begin. Go Cards, Beat UK