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Among the many lessons of loyalty parents are required to sear into the souls of their children, right up there with God, country, family, the flag and, oh, apple pie, is what would appear to be the loftiest love of all: loyalty to your team. These are lessons that include recognizing primary colors, memorizing pithy songs, grasping base humor and understanding unfettered usages for gerunds and participles.
Sometime during a child’s formative years, we sat down with him or her and, right after the lessons of Jesus, preached the doctrines according to Joe B. or Denny, our every word colored either Louisville red or Kentucky blue, mixing the two only when the American flag is unfurled.
And, as in many other aspects of life, we ask that our children learn from what we say and not what we do, because when it comes to being a sports fan, we don’t always act like adults.
This loyalty becomes part of our upbringing, our breeding, our DNA and even our life force, which we grow to defend with great gusto and zeal.
But like the Good Book and sinful sassafras, not every lesson takes. I can tell you about men raised sacredly in a Big Blue household who grew to cloak themselves in the Red and Black.
I heard the story of a tall young man being wooed to play basketball. He chose UofL, and his poor grandmother had to be persuaded not to disown him, though she swore never to don any color but blue. In his case, water was thicker than blood.
I knew of a man who had tickets to the NCAA Tournament games at Rupp Arena last week, and he attended several of them but carefully avoided any moment UofL was in the building, his passion against the Cards outdribbling his passion for good college basketball.
Those dynamics affected me at childhood, to be sure, but sometime along the way – I can’t pinpoint when, although I think it was when Denny Crum and Lee Corso transformed the image of UofL sports – I came to embrace both schools and wish that one, if not both, would play each year for the NCAA championship. In fact, I considered that a requirement to maintain the alignment of our planet.
So I often am befuddled by our hysterical partisanship and appalled at our absence of openness to each other. I understand it, but I can’t embrace it. These are teams from Kentucky, and it’s our state that propels my pride, not just one school.
I confess all of this to explain why I found myself Saturday for the second time in my life watching a great basketball team play in Rupp Arena, and this one was not wearing blue. In fact, I dare say I watched the best two basketball teams to play this season in Rupp Arena, but some may find that a bit mean.
No matter, for the second consecutive season, I was watching the best team in the college land. As I much as I embraced last season’s UK team as one of the greatest of all-time, I would challenge that this UofL team is the best in that school’s history, its tenacity, depth and athleticism far exceeding the Doctors of Dunk and Never Nervous Pervis and his gang. Those teams were stalwart champions, but this one is a pure machine, more like 1996 Wildcats than anything. Oddly, both those teams were coached by the same man.
Just like last year, too, I believe that anything short of a championship banner floated over the Bluegrass will be both fluke and flub. Sure, any team can be beaten in any game in this gauntlet of a tournament. But do you really expect that the Cardinals we saw Saturday should lose to even Indiana or Kansas? No. Way.
Now I realize not everyone would be pleased by this. Some would prefer Duke, for heaven’s sake, to win rather than Louisville. I know folks who root for that team from Florida, and not the embraceable one from Fort Myers.
It’s to these folks to whom I remind: Verily, I say unto you, love your enemies and pray for those who would spitefully use you. You have read of the examples of Jesus, but maybe you need to remember his scripture, too.
Sure I realize finding firm footing in a neutral world is difficult. But it can happen.
First, I hear that Ashley Judd has tweeted her support from the Cards. Then there’s the real-life example of my wife.
You may recall that when we moved to Kentucky more than four years ago, she decided she needed a team. She read tea leaves, meditated, prayed, studied the stars and ultimately divined that UK would be her team. She immediately immersed in all things blue.
So it was astounding that on Saturday it was she who secured our tickets to the game. It was she who learned to clap for the Red team. It was she who donned a chic black shirt and red sweater and was ready for the game.
But then, after lunch in Lexington and prowling around the shops outside Rupp, something happened, something struck her at her core. She discovered a line in her personal self she wouldn’t cross.
So she went into a sports store and bought a new UK shirt, switched in the changing room and sat among the 20,000 or so screaming red-clad fans and, yes, cheered for the Cardinals all the while adorned in blue. Compromise.
I have a snapshot of that moment, and I will use it when I sit down with my young children and talk to them about the facts of life. I will endeavor to explain that God created everyone equal, even if sometimes you have to choose your colors in everything but skin.
And I will describe for them how their mother’s passion for her state and her game overcame her disdain for the arch rival.
At least one day.