The Blessing and Curse of Being a Member of Big Blue Nation|The Bourbon Soaked Mom|

There comes a time in every young Kentuckian’s life where the abstract sounds originating from a radio start to turn into something recognizable. When that happens, it’s usually the voice of Tom Leach that first comes into focus. Outsiders should know that a love affair such as this is not by chance. Instead, it is a systematic indoctrination of superiority. An assembly line of cookie cutter members of the Big Blue Nation. Delusions of grandeur shaped not by the outside influence of television or other media but molded by the members of our household; the individuals who teach us right from wrong. So decade after decade, a new generation is bred to stand guard and hold a collegiate sports program to an impossible standard. Constant banners. This is Kentucky Basketball. The University of Kentucky is the most successful NCAA division I basketball program in history, with both the most all-time wins and the highest all time winning percentage. UK has a total of 54 NCAA tournament appearances, 120 tournament wins, 41 Sweet 16 appearances, and 36 Elite 8 appearances. The Wildcats have played in 17 NCAA Final Fours, and hang 8 (should have been 9, in my opinion) NCAA title banners in Rupp Arena. In 1946 and 1976 Kentucky won the NIT, making it the only school to notably win both the NCAA and NIT titles. Kentucky also leads all schools with 59 20-win seasons, 14 30-win seasons, and 6 35-win seasons.

UK basketball’s absurd success has spawned arguably the most hostile, spoiled, loyal and outrageous fan base in the history of any sport. The Big Blue Nation is a conglomerate of tried and true, die hard fans who encompass what being a sports fan is about…both good and bad. Loving UK basketball, and being a member of BBN is both a blessing and curse, let me explain.

For those of us born and raised in Kentucky, UK basketball has been ingratiated into our psyche from the moment we were able to make one singular thought. Since we were able to recognize color on a television (for some of you, read the word “Kentucky” on a uniform) we Kentuckians were taught to cheer louder, boast more arrogantly and become completely educated on the season’s team and coaches. Not only is this widely expected from Kentucky youth at a very young age, but it is essential. One must know the current starting line up as a young pup, and one must also pick out their favorite player and stick with him come hell or high water. We cringe with every injury. We hold our breath for every three. We check KSR like our lives depend on it. We scour every scouting report, analyze every up and coming recruit. We huddle together in living rooms, bars, and basements around the states to watch our Cats. We buy house rounds when they do well and we buy house rounds when they are doing bad. We throw remotes and kick in dry wall when they lose, not mention the intense period of scowling that will last all week until the next game comes along. We are raised to recognize the evils that are Arizona, Tennessee and South Carolina. But none are as loathsome or detestable as the blue devils, and even my four year old could spout you off a few choice cuss words and some face reddening insults about Coach K and his famous ball club.

Why? Because it’s all a part of this unknown, unpublished set of guidelines you inherited automatically when the good Lord blessed you by allowing you to be born in Kentucky, thus be born a part of the greatest tradition in college basketball.

This is how we grow up; believing we are the best. We are raised believing that we are superior to every other ball club, and during many seasons and many times we probably are. (Another arrogant rambling of a completely biased UK fan, of course.) That is also the problem. A big problem, and one that often leads to heartbreak when the season doesn’t exactly turn out the way we planned, or hoped, or expected. As I said earlier, you will never find a fan base more spoiled than BBN.

I cried myself to sleep last March when KAT and his band of brothers fell to Wisconsin in one of the most notorious losses in UK history. A time when I was definitely glad that Kentucky had historically perfected the art of distilling Bourbon, but even the stoutest Bourbon couldn’t quell the gut wrenching agony of BBN’s shattered expectations of UK’s perfect season, made complete only by hanging banner number 9. Here you have the curse. A feeling that is rooted down in your being so deeply that often times during losses or disappointments you’ll find yourself blaspheming the very person who indoctrinated you as a child (or maybe an adult) to the world of UK basketball. The struggle is very real, never more so for a UK fan than when the March shakes are fast approaching and as Hunter Thompson would say, the “big dance” is on the line.

The immense pressure that we as a fan base put on our players and coaches is completely unrealistic at times, but we can’t seem to stop, or realize that most of these kids are 18 year old boys. Boys who have never, or can never realize the sense of celebrity they will experience just by simply being a starter or a member of the University of Kentucky basketball program. Until they are in Lexington right in the middle of it. Like Coach Calipari said:

“You people are crazy.”

And it’s completely true. We are.

 

 

 

 

The Struggles of being a UK Fan.

I must admit, my home bleeds blue. Even my two year old knows how to spell out, and chant THE cheer. C-A-T-S, CATS-CATS-CATS. We will order take out, and plan entire weekends around football games, basketball games, Big Blue Madness, and whatever else BBN entails. We brave freezing temperatures, or sweltering heat to go tail gate at Commonwealth, with thousands of booze soaked fans, hoping that AT LAST, Kentucky will have a winning football program. We turn off the cell phones, put up all the breakables, and tell the kids to “earmuff” it, when Calipari and his boys are back on the court.  Did I mention that UK cheerleaders are seriously like the most amazing bunch of athletes in the world? The things that those people do are INSANE, and they have won Nationals for basically the last twenty-something years.

Whatever the sport, I have to say, being a Kentucky fan isn’t something you acquire, you’re born into it. From a young age, you are programmed. I can name coaches that died before I was born, games that were played when I was in diapers, ( One word: Laettner) and still get tears in my eyes when speaking of my memories regarding the “Comeback Cats”,  THE 2012 Championship Team, and of course, the awe inspiring tournament run of the youngsters from 2013. Yeah, being a Kentucky fan is tough. We have a lot expected of us, when it comes to Big Blue Nation. It is really something spectacular, and unless you are a part of it, it is hard to understand. After last night’s (heartbreaking) loss to Florida, I slumped on the couch, tears in my eyes. My husband and I barely spoke to each other, we just went to bed. Both of us took it right to the heart. It got me to thinking, wow, how great is it to love a school, and athletic program so much, that it has that kind of effect on you.

I made the mistake of telling my husband about this post before starting it. I made it this far before I gave in and threw him the laptop.

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FINALLY! This is Kyle. Thank you all for supporting my wife’s blog. I am proud beyond words. I was so proud of her for this post in particularly that I hijacked it. I apologize in advance for not being as articulate as Courtney, but here is a list of  5 struggles that every die-hard UK fan can understand.

1. ESPN Commentators:

        Watching any Kentucky sport on ESPN is like  being a Baptist and going to your local catholic church and having the priest give you the play-by-play of your church’s sermon. You’ll understand what is going on, but you’re probably not going to agree with the commentary. UK fans rarely see the game in the same light, but what can you do? Buy something like this. Radio Sync – Tom Leach For Life!

2. Backseat Coaching:

         Mark Stoops and John Calipari put in long hours. I know this because I put my time in analyzing what we did wrong and what we need to do in the next game, and they won’t even let me make any decisions. We all have to talk about it the next day, whether we feel like it to or not. I have more stances on types of offenses and player rotation than I have political views.

3. Louisville:

      I could have made this a ten-part list, but I decided to lump in “dealing with line beards” and “the smell of Crown Royal” in with this one. Seriously. We can’t stand the Cardinals. They’re UK’s little brother, and one day we may all grow up and get along, but not today. I guess it’s great for the state to have multiple successful NCAA programs, but they aren’t UK.

4. Non-related Events on Game Day:

    If someone tells me to save a date for something, I check a calendar and then the UK schedule. Have you ever been to a large event during a Kentucky game? Every man (and at lease half of the women) are on a cell phone getting updates. If you search every back room, there will be a group huddled around a television or radio. My wife already knows the drill, if we leave an event and the game is still on. Buckle your seat belt and turn the radio to 101.1.

5. Losses:

     Some of them are close, and some aren’t very close. Either way, they are accompanied by bouts of nausea, anger, and boundless despair. Great plays get us extremely excited and bad plays (or just plain bad luck) cause profanity and broken television remotes. When the final buzzer sounds with UK on the bottom, however, that feeling is indefinable. Even if it was, I refuse to try.

    Courtney is right when it comes to being a fan of the University of Kentucky. Bleeding blue is something we just do. I can’t speak for all of us, but I can’t remember when I started to feel that way. The idea of loyalty and dedication to the program has always been around me. Not just within my own family, but in almost everyone I knew. The “team” was a staple of communication, right there with the weekly weather. If a game is on, everyone I know is watching. It isn’t just a game or a sport to us. It is an embodiment of all the other things we’ve experienced, felt or taken away because of it.

    I know what a basketball feels like when all the leather has been worn away. That came from hours of playing imaginary opponents on a dirt court, pretending I was playing for a championship in Rupp Arena. I never turned into NCAA talent, but at that point I believed it was possible. Did that make me a better person, or would I have better spent my time on my homework? Who knows, but its something that has shaped me, and its not something that I can’t forget. Regardless of the struggles Kentucky fans endure, we accept the bad with the good and wait for game day. On On U of K!

Plainly spoken by two die hard Kentucky fans.