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A pandemic is overcoming us, spreading quickly. Many already have succumbed, and it’s only a matter of time before it affects you, too.
For there is no more infectious disease – especially in Kentucky – than that familiar malady called March Madness.
Only a small percentage of you got sick from eating bad ham or, worse, spending a night in jail. But almost the entire population is stricken with the Madness, to some extent or another. Some started showing the disease as early as October, with symptoms growing increasingly severe.
Blood pressure skies, pulse rates grow perilously rapid, and more than occasionally there are immediate onsets of nausea and diarrhea (of the mouth, typically).
There are nightmares, hot flashes and the need to prattle incessantly about dumb players, dumber coaches, blind officials and blinder tournament committees.
And the truly tragic part of March Madness is that what it does to you psychologically. It can make you turn on members of your family, to berate your neighbors, to scream at total strangers (especially those in the media) and to spit in the face of anyone who challenges you.
The only known relief comes from having to contemplate the importance of spring football practice.
Though the CDC has no profile for this disease, it draws its name from the fact that it mastitizes during the latter weeks of March.
Diagnosis is simple, but there is no cure. The prognosis is a slow agonizing demise for almost everyone.
And easily you can spot those affected.
Some of them are left looking a bit flushed with success, decked out in radiant red. And others are just feeling blue, wearing the color to match their moods.
You know all of this, of course, because you live it.
From board rooms to judicial chambers to the inner sanctums of the capitol, people these last two weeks have been living and dying with the fate of the ‘Cats and Cards, or Cards and ‘Cats, depending upon your preferred order. A few even have gotten high on the Hilltoppers or Eagles.
Yes, it’s NCAA Tournament time, and our citizens are divided as finely as if they were Hatfields and McCoys or maybe even Yankees and Rebels.
How many people do you know who root for the Cards or ‘Cats – you can choose which – who say that when their team isn’t playing, their next favorite is the one playing the ‘Cats or the Cards (choose again)?
If you love one, you can’t love the other. I think it said that in Genesis or Deuteronomy. Those who try are banished to hellfire.
Full disclosure here. I grew up a diehard, keep-score-by-the-sound-of-Cawood’s voice fan of the Wildcats. I lived and died with those broadcasts on WHAS, and I worshipped at the feet of Cotton Nash and Louie Dampier. I complained when the only SEC game on TV in a week would be Mississippi State vs. Auburn, and I complained more when NCAA games started after bedtime.
And, like many of you, I sometimes cried at defeat. Don’t you still have nightmares of those fuzzy, black-and-white images of Bobby Joe Hill stealing the ball from Tommy Kron and turning college basketball on its color-blind head in 1966?
Truth is, this was bred into your psyche as surely as Protestantism, racism.
It’s just a tad shy of being right-handed and blue-eyed.
Just as vociferously as I supported the Wildcats, I cheered long and loud against the Cardinals. I didn’t like them and didn’t want them ever to win. And my friend Walt used to get extremely frustrated with me when I said so.
How could I not like Wes Unseld and Butch Beard? Good question, because they were both great players and better ambassadors.
Sometime between then and now, I grew up. I got past all of this and became a fan of both teams.
Perhaps it was because I lived away from Kentucky for more than three decades and missed so much of what was traditional and pure.
An old boss of mine, who hailed from Somerset, once said, “You aren’t a true Kentuckian if you don’t shed a tear at ‘My Old Kentucky Home.’”
Let’s just say I’m a true Kentuckian.
So I became a fan of everything Kentucky, which meant dropping all prejudices and allegiances and cheering for one and all.
True story: Several years ago, a guy from the state was talking to me about a job. He asked me point blank if I was a Kentucky man or a Louisville man.
My answer: “Well I was a Kentucky fan as a kid, but I think I outgrew that.”
That admission probably makes me the worst of all to both sides – either a turncoat or a bandwagon rider.
I have friends who grew up and moved on who feel the same. They just embrace all the teams and blindly pick them in the office pool.
So a perfect Final Four next month would have Louisville, Kentucky and Western all playing. But I know that’s not possible.
I don’t believe one of those made the field. Are you starting to feel a little nauseous about now?