Monday, March 21, 2011: Leann Farmer, Customer Service
March is my favorite month of the year. The weather in Kentucky takes a turn for the better and I enjoy long weekends full of great basketball. Sunshiny days usually take the sting out of my NCAA Tournament Bracket predictably going down in flames. See, bracketology is not my forte’. The sheer weight of my own biases drag down any sort of rational selection process. Unlike Dick Vitale or Jay Bilas, I cannot look at the field of 64 and weigh the teams equally based upon their stats and strength of schedule.
Allow me to explain. I was born a Kentucky basketball fan. I grew up listening to Cawood Ledford’s play-by-play of Kentucky basketball games as my bedtime story. Every year I have Kentucky going all the way to the Final Four and winning the National Championship. Anything else is inconceivable. It would be treasonous to choose any other team regardless of the logic employed. Kentucky must win. We must cut nets and hang another banner. It is demanded. It is expected. It’s what we do.
Last year I bought tickets to the NCAA Final Four in Indianapolis. A vast majority of sportscasters and basketball experts picked Kentucky to advance to the Final Four, so I felt justified in spending the cash for a chance to see the Wildcats on the biggest stage in college basketball.We had major talent in 2010. John Wall, DeMarcus Cousins, Patrick Patterson, Daniel Orton, Eric Bledsoe… all taken in the 1st round of the 2010 NBA draft. This was our year. We would hang another championship banner in the rafters of Rupp Arena, I just knew it. I had my Final Four tickets in hand when March rolled around, and was horror-stricken as we were bested in the Elite Eight by West Virginia. I should have just taken that ticket money and paid someone to punch me in the gut.
Even though Kentucky didn’t reach the Final Four, Big Blue Nation was definitely in attendance. I packed my travel bags full of Kentucky t-shirts and wore them proudly everyday in Indy. The bellhop at the check-in to our hotel pointed at my shirt and commiserated over Kentucky’s tough loss to the Mountaineers. Folks in the elevator noticed as well, and told me they had family in Ashland, Kentucky. A kid at the breakfast buffet tapped me on the arm and asked, “Do you know John Wall?”
In this sea of Duke and West Virginia supporters, we scanned the crowds and recognized the familiar UK2K t-shirts (commemorating Kentucky’s acheivement of being the 1st school to reach 2000 wins). We pumped our fists at other Kentucky fans in the distance. We were strangers in a strange land, but Big Blue Nation recognized one another via t-shirt and reached out to shout down the injustice of a Final Four proceeding with our favorite boys in blue. There were loud shouts across the mall “Go CATS!” and smiles and waves and honks from Kentucky fans everywhere I went. In a cruel twist of fate, I had actually paid money to watch Duke win a National Championship. If you are a Kentucky fan, you can taste the irony here.
A “friend” (loosely defined) of mine insists on wearing a Duke shirt on Kentucky gamedays just to see how many cold stares she gets. It is performance art of some sort, I gather. I’ve jokingly suggested she hire a security detail if she planned on continuing this experiment. If you don’t know the gravity of wearing a Duke shirt in Kentucky country, allow me to present Exhibit A:
He-who-shall-not-be-named shot a dream-killing buzzer beater in overtime to halt Kentucky’s advance to the Final Four in 1992. It is forever etched in the minds of Wildcat fans as “The Shot.” It has become a thing of folkloric storytelling passed down through generations. Though this tragedy occurred 19 years ago, the wound is fresh with die-hard Big Blue fans. The mere mention of Duke garners a strong reaction. Wearing a Duke shirt in Kentucky?…well, you just don’t do it. My Duke-shirt-wearing-”friend” reports poor service at restaurants, having doors dropped on her, and multiple unfriendly double-takes when wearing her Duke shirt in public. I’m honestly surprised no one has actually stopped her and demanded that she explain herself.
Just as the Kentucky t-shirts draw Wildcat fans together anywhere, the Duke shirt in Kentucky gets a double-take. We share messages with our clothing all the time, perhaps none as loudly as the ones we wear in March to support our favorite team. Here in Kentucky nearly everyone, young and old, wears their best Kentucky gear on gamedays. I counted no less than 15 Kentucky t-shirts in my short trip to the grocery on Saturday morning. Wearing anything else shows you are simply out of the loop.
2011 is a new year, and I watch as my bracket slowly becomes spattered in red like a horror movie prop. Louisville is out. Pitt is headed home. I suspect Butler has become Pitt’s own version of Duke. Kansas State and Wisconsin may also now have an epic grudge. That’s what March basketball is all about…hurt feelings and elation. My bracket, as always, shows Kentucky winning it all, and so far we’re still in it. If I have my way, Duke and Kentucky will meet in the championship game. It is a fantasy I have played out many times. The dream of beating Duke to win a national title might just erase the pain of our past. Our rematch is long overdue. 19 long years of head-shaking and grumbling should be over. I’m willing to bury the hatchet if we bring home a trophy. It’s time for redemption.