When I stopped to count it up, I realized that even though I've never "lived" there, I've spent somewhere just shy of a year of my life in Kentucky. Mostly eastern Kentucky--which truly deserves its own acknowledgment and perhaps it's own star in the flag.
It's coal country, natural gas country, and four wheelin' country; but the thing that seems to bring them all together is the way they love UK basketball.
In case you are not familiar--the Rupp arena seats 22,000 people and it will be sold out every home game. In fact, you probably can't get a ticket if you weren't born with one.
I'm not saying they are cultish about basketball. I'm saying they are what comes after cultish. It's not like they have flat screen TVs playing the games at their wedding receptions--it's that you don't get married on game days. Not if you want your groom to show up.
Santa wears blue in Kentucky, and if you're in Lexington on game days, you won't see much besides blue. I've never seen blue grass in Kentucky; I think it the country got its name from all the UK Fans looking at the world through blue sunglasses.
Due to the generosity of some of our clients (prompted by an untimely scheduled funeral), we were blessed with tickets to a recent UK game. Tickets, we were informed, some of the locals would about shoot us over.
The Rupp arena is strategically connected to both a mall and a hotel. So when the 22,000 fans descend on Lexington, the food court will be full of bright blue shirts. And if you are an out-of-towner trying to sneak in without getting shot, you can buy a blue shirt, sweatshirt, jacket, hat, pants, muffs, pajamas, or Hello Kitty doll.
This particular game was at 9:00 pm on a Tuesday. It was cold and snowy and generally a terrible time to be out. And as we were entering the arena, people were outside in the cold wearing signs that said, "I need to buy tickets!"
It was tempting, but I put my game face on and we marched inside. In our section, all the seats were held by season ticket holders. They know who they are sitting next to. In fact, they probably know about everything there is to know about them.
Consequently, the people next to us immediately recognized us at outsiders, but they were kind enough to let us pretend for the night.
I was a little surprised by the demographic of the crowd at first. There were a lot of middle age people and even more older folks. I guess that makes sense--They probably have a little more time and a little more money on their hands.
They kicked off the game with live music, fireworks, and a lot of enthusiasm from the crowd. I did see a few empty seats in the nose bleed section, but not many for 9:00 pm on a school night. Kentucky easily got the ball from the start--thanks to the seven foot center who made the other team's 6 foot 9 players look like they needed to do some growing up.
Most of the fans--at least the older ladies--think of the team as their sons. And no one was allowed to say anything negative about their boys but them. If the other team so much as breathed on one of "their boys," they would threaten them with slow and painful death. But if one of the boys missed a shot or a pass, they weren't above letting the boys know what they thought of them and why.
The opposing team--Boise State--was undefeated so UK fans took special delight in watching them spend the night chasing the UK score.
It was impossible not to catch some of the enthusiasm. Maybe the blue from my shirt was bleeding into my veins. I shouted "white" and "blue" and "go cats" with the rest of them. We truly did have good seats--about 10 rows up behind the clear backboard-- close enough to see just how young those kids were, but hopefully far enough that the players couldn't hear the lady behind us yelling, "What's the matter, 'Pointless'?" Put the ball where it belongs!"
Nothing makes for a bad day in Kentucky like a mark in the L column. I can only imagine the pressure those kids were under. The quality of life of hundreds of thousands of fans lies on their ability to get the ball through the net.
And maybe a year in Kentucky is long enough that I'm starting to take a little bit of ownership. Who knows, maybe it was my yelling "go cats" that helped them score those last few points...or my seal motions that caused the other team to miss theirs. Either way, I was one of the happy faces coming out of Rupp arena at 11:30 at night. And Wednesday dawned a beautiful day in Kentucky.