Wildcats and Cardinals: Can’t We All Just Get Along?

If you’ve read this curious blog of mine, you know that I am an unabashed fan of University of Kentucky athletics, especially basketball.  I hold it too high esteem, and I make no apologies for that.  As a UK fan, I am now faced with one of our periodic conundrums of a bitter rival winning the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament.  In this case, it’s the University of Louisville.

I began writing this before Louisville beat Michigan, but I thought it better to wait a few days to finish.  During the title game I found myself pulling for Louisville, yet disturbed when they won.  A few days’ decompression has allowed me objectivity of a sort.  Otherwise, this could have devolved into a pathetic rant fit only for a therapist to read.  Now, let’s continue.

For the uninformed, UK and U of L are easily the two largest university in the great Commonwealth of Kentucky.  The schools are similar with excellent professional schools.  U of L, situated as it is in the city of Louisville, has an urban flare while UK has a more college town feel to it.  Basketball, though, is where the schools are most similar.  Both programs have been wildly successful and are money-making machines.

For the uniformed, you need to know a few things.  Louisville is pronounced “Lou-a-vull.”  Call it “Louie-ville” and you’re immediately exposed as an imposter.  Also, it’s “U of L,” not “UL.”  Kentucky is “UK”–never, ever “U of K.”  Should you call it “KU,” just leave our state.  We UK fans arrogantly call ourselves Big Blue Nation or BBN, for short.  I have no idea what U of L fans call themselves.

We like to point out that UK has won EIGHT titles to U of L’s measly three.  Truth be told, UK and U of L have each won three since 1980.  Both have also had other Final Four appearances during that time.  There have also been ups and downs for each program.  U of L can claim to be the steadier of the two, having had only two coaches in the past 40 years.  During that same period–coinciding with the retirement of Adolph Rupp–UK has had six coaches.  Fans on both sides can debate these points until the listener is embarrassed to belong to either camp.  Of such things, I suppose, are rivalries built.

I’ve always struggled with the U of L rivalry, because during my formative years as a fan I didn’t hate U of L.  They were like any other state school.  I pulled for them unless they played UK, which they never did.  In fact, I had more bitter feelings toward Western Kentucky University, which had blown my beloved Cats out of the NCAA Tournament in 1971.  Such players as Wesley Cox, Rick Wilson and Junior Bridgeman played at U of L, and I thought of them as Kentuckians, too.  My hatred was reserved for Indiana University and the University of Tennessee in those days.

U of L won its first NCAA title in 1980 beating UCLA.  I remember cheering for U of L.  It had only been five years since UCLA’s last title (beating my Cats, no less), and I couldn’t stomach the idea of them winning yet another title.  Plus, Darrell Griffith played for U of L.  He was a Kentuckian, and easily the best player in college basketball.  I liked him.

Then, it happened.  Suddenly, U of L was exalted as THE best team in Kentucky, better than UK.  One might say that was sensible, given that they had just won the title.  UK, however, had won the title just two years previously, to go with the FOUR other titles won by Coach Rupp.  We chafed at the notion that U of L was now better.

The drum beats started for UK and U of L to play.  Nimrods in our state legislature proposed a LAW requiring it.  This took priority over such things as our state’s crippling poverty and inadequate schools.  Although no law was passed, the demands for a “dream” game continued unabated.  (As an aside, playing UK is only important to our other state schools when they actually have a chance to win the game.  It seems much less important if a beating is in the offing.)

Of course, it eventually happened but not in the regular season.  In the 1983 NCAA Tournament, the Cats and the Cards met, and the Cards won 80-68.  That game has taken on such mythical status that U of L fans now describe it as a thorough pummeling.  That it was an excellent, thrilling OVERTIME game is largely forgotten.  Also forgotten is that UK beat the Cards TWICE the next season–once in the regular season and again in the tournament.  Oh well.

The remainder of the 1980’s consisted of U of L fans declaring their superiority much like UK fans typically do.  Then, it happened again.  The damn Cards won the title in 1986!  By then, my ambivalence toward U of L had been replaced by jealously and seething hatred.  I was in law school at UK (where I had also earned my undergraduate degree) and at the height of my irrational fandom.  My only hesitancy is that I couldn’t help but like U of L head coach Denny Crum.  He was an excellent coach and seemed like a good guy.

I guess I should also point out that the Cats CRUSHED the Cards 85-51 during that championship season.  Freshman Rex Chapman–who spurned U of L for UK–lit them up for 26 points.  While U of L fans probably wore their championship regalia, we had t-shirts that said:  “CATS 85, NATIONAL CHAMPS 51.”

During this time, UK’s coach was Eddie Sutton.  Besides crippling NCAA probation, Coach Sutton made one unforgettable contribution to UK lore.  He is the one who coined the term “little brother” in reference to U of L.  It stuck.  For that, we thank him.

After ’86, U of L began a gradual slide into mediocrity while the arrival of Rick Pitino as head coach in 1989 pushed UK back to the top.  Pitino won the title in 1996 and was runner-up in ’97.  Then, he made his ill-fated departure to the Boston Celtics.  UK didn’t miss a beat, winning the title again in ’98 under Tubby Smith.

Of course, Pitino famously returned to the Bluegrass State in 2001, at LOUISVILLE, re-stoking the hatred, at least of him.  Oddly, though it wasn’t until 2012 that either program won another title.  Now, we have them back-to-back, and IT IS ON again.  I, for one, am glad to see it, but there are legitimate concerns about keeping the peace in our fair commonwealth.

With the rivalry white-hot again, our state is torn asunder.  Well, not really.  Most Kentuckians are UK fans.  By “most,” I mean virtually everyone.  We do have some risk of driving a wedge between our largest city, Louisville, and the rest of the state.  Of course, we already don’t think of Louisville as being part of Kentucky.  It might be in Indiana or even Ohio for all we know.  Regardless, we should make an effort to get along now.  Both fan bases have recent success to embrace.

The main problem is that the fan bases hate each other.  We Kentucky fans think of the U of L faithful as chinstrapped, knuckle-dragging, troglodytes whose penchant for angry, drunken rages is exceeded only by their desire to fight.  The U of L crowd views us as pompous, self-important, egotists who insist that the Cats are always the best, regardless of overwhelming contrary evidence.  Both crowds are right, of course.  How, though, can we bridge the gap and allow each to enjoy its own success?

First, we should embrace the commonalities of our two cultures:

  • Both universities are in Kentucky, although–as noted above–U of L’s exact location is unknown.
  • U of L’s mascot is the cardinal, Kentucky’s official state bird.  UK’s is the wildcat, the official state woodland beast of Kentucky.
  • Each school prefers a truncated version of its nickname–Cats and Cards, as opposed to Wildcats and Cardinals.
  • Each logo bears a fierce caricature of its mascot.  Even the most die-hard Card fan must admit there is only so much that can be done to make a cardinal frightening.  They’ve done the best they can with it.
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A fearsome wildcat prepares to maul the on-looker.

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An ill-tempered cardinal preparing to chirp an opponent into submission.

  • Rick Pitino returned both schools to prominence.
  • Neither school is Duke.
  • Both schools hate Indiana University.
  • U of L is in Jefferson County, home to the most Cards fans AND UK fans.
  • Both fan bases are excellent at producing insulting or angry t-shirts:
beatukBIG2

Some are busy and require study.

hatelou

Others are simple and to the point.

  • Basketball is the most prominent feature of both universities, rather than some haughty, egg-headed academic program.

Based on this common ground, I propose we move forward, if not together, then certainly without the animus which has marked our past association.  Toward that end, I offer several suggestions to my fellow UK fans to smooth the waters:

  • Let us avoid calling U of L “little brother” or posting any memes like this one:

calpit

  • Do not continue to point out that EIGHT NCAA titles are far superior to THREE.  This will only antagonize them, plus it requires them to do rudimentary math.
  • Under no circumstances should we write poorly constructed limericks like this one:

There once was a coach named Rick

His style was flashy and slick

One night after dinner

He met a real winner

Now they call him Coach Rick the Quick

  • Do not point out that Pitino has referred to UK as the “Roman Empire” of basketball and “Camelot.”
  • Do not emphasize that UK has won more basketball games than any college team ever.  Ever.  In the history of mankind.  Ever.
  • It is petty to continually note that UK has won 7 of the last 10 meetings between the two schools.
  • It is even more petty to point out that UK is 21-12 in the series since 1983.
  • Do not mention that UK won its third NCAA title before Rick Pitino was born.
  • Do not magnanimously congratulate U of L fans on their big win.  Nothing infuriates them more than UK fans patronizing them with insincere praise.

Any of these actions will just make matters worse.  The U of L fan will foam at the mouth and start pointing to football, baseball, women’s basketball and softball as proof of Louisville’s superiority.  You, then, might start raving about cheer-leading and the rifle team.  Inevitably, the U of L fan will want to fight you.  (Trust me on this one.  It always happens).  You both may then inexplicably hurl homophobic slurs at each other.  Nothing good will come of this.

The last time I encountered a Louisville fan, we had a dust-up over his sitting in my seat.  Nevertheless, I’m pleased to report that my personal animus has receded to the point that I actually wanted U of L to beat Michigan.  As I have aged, my self-esteem is longer wholly dependent on whether a group of strangers wins ball games.  Family and friends  are now more important.  Of course, my beloved Cats are family, and the Cats have the Number 1 recruiting class next year–perhaps the best class EVER.  You better button down those chin straps.  See you next season.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

2012-13 Kentucky Basketball: What the Hell Just Happened?

I am unabashed fan of the University Kentucky Wildcats basketball team.  I have been for over 40 years.  We just completed one of our more disappointing seasons with an ignominious loss to some school called Robert Morris University–in the first round of the freakin’ NIT, no less.

I can assure you that this is only one of many blog posts about our beloved Cats’ season of shame.  I do not write this in effort to contribute to any journalistic analysis of our season.  I do not suppose to have any original insights or solutions.  Indeed, it is far too late now.

Instead, I write this as a form of therapy, a cathartic exercise which will help me deal with my grief.  Oh, I tried to work through it with a series of obscenity-laced tweets during the Robert Morris game, but those only brought me temporary solace.  Twitter tracked my mental and emotional deterioration:

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Before tip-off, optimism abounds.

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Half way into the first-half, despair sets in.

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Depression

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Uncontrolled rage

We feel such losses deep in our souls.  Kentucky Basketball is important to us.  How important?  Far too important, I suppose.  The sun isn’t as bright.  The flowers smell of the foul stench of defeat.  Our value as human beings is lessened.  Other than that, we’re in good shape.

Our fan base’s immediate reaction is to blame our coach.  John Calipari, of course, is our coach.  Cal, we call him, much like we called Joe B. Hall “Joe B.”  Tubby Smith was Tubby.  Billy Gillispie was “Billy Clyde.”  Rick Pitino was just Pitino.  Eddie Sutton was Eddie, until he got us in NCAA trouble, then he was Sutton.  Adolph Rupp was, naturally, Coach Rupp.  We are familiar with our coaches.  We love them until they stumble.  Then, they are blithering idiots incapable of coaching in a church league.

I’m not going down that road.  We won the NCAA Championship just last year.  Cal can coach.  I know that.  You can’t give him a total pass, but he didn’t forget how to coach in just a few months.

WHAT WENT RIGHT?

To be honest, not much about this season went well.  We lost to Louisville.  We also lost to the likes of Texas A&M and Baylor–at home!  We didn’t win the Southeastern Conference Championship, and we got crushed by lowly Vanderbilt in our first game in the SEC Tournament.  Nevertheless, let’s talk positives.

Nerlens Noel is a positive.  He was exactly the type of player described coming out of high school last year–high energy and great on defense.  His offensive game, as predicted, was raw.  Overall, though, he was great.  He had the unfortunate timing of following Anthony Davis at UK, but Nerlens was outstanding.  As a bonus, he seems to like being at UK.  We love that.

Jarrod Polson is a positive.  Polson is the back up point guard.  He is from Nicholasville, Kentucky–about 15 miles from UK’s campus.  He came here as a walk-on and is the kind of player that Kentucky fans love.  Considering his athletic limitations, he played well.  He hustles and is tough.  We like that.  He’s the kind of guy who will be able to live the rest of his life as Ex-Cat, meaning he will always be a celebrity here.

We beat Florida the last game of the regular season.  We thought we had no shot, but did it.  That was sweet.

We signed another excellent recruiting class for next year, maybe the best ever.  But, that’s really a positive for next year.

That’s it.

WHAT WENT WRONG?

Boy, oh, boy, where do I start? I know that a lot of folks say that it’s unfair to criticize college players.  I understand that but disagree.  First, these are grown men–young but adults.  If you can join the Army, vote and get married, you’re an adult.  Second, playing basketball at UK brings with it opportunities disproportionate to one’s contribution.  All UK fans can name numerous men who have made post-collegiate careers of being Ex-Cats.  That may not be sensible, but it’s a fact.  If you’re going to get all the praise, you have to be willing to take some of the heat.  Coach Cal has said many times that “Kentucky isn’t for everyone.”  Indeed.

Recruiting:  Since Cal has been at UK, he’s recruited the following NBA players:  John Wall, Demarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, Terrence Jones, Brandon Knight, Marquis Teague, Anthony Davis and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist.  He’s spoiled us.  This year, he brought us Noel, Willie Cauley-Stein, Alex Poythress and Archie Goodwin.  As fans, we just considered the roster reloaded.  It didn’t work that way.

Cauley-Stein was as good as advertised, meaning he’s a raw prospect.  He has a lot of work to do and played like it.  I don’t think anyone was surprised.  He didn’t really improve during the season–a rarity for one of Cal’s players.

Poythress and Goodwin were the two who frustrated us most.  Poythress looks like a player at 6′ 7″, 240 pounds.  He’s quick, athletic and strong.  Unfortunately, on the court, he reminds us of Richard (“Master Blaster”) Madison, a heralded recruit from the 1980’s.  As one of Madison’s coaches said, Richard played “just good enough to get you beat.”  Poythress has the look of a player who doesn’t like playing.  I’m not sure coaching can fix that.

Goodwin plays hard–maybe too much so.  We grew weary of his wild, head-down drives to the basket that resulted in hopeless shots or charges.  He never seemed to understand his role in the offense.  His defense was inconsistent–or nonexistent–all season.  In bygone days, a player of his type would have logged 10-12 minutes a game behind more veteran players.  We probably would have seen flashes of greatness making us carp that he deserved more playing time.

I am convinced that both Poythress and Goodwin have great potential.  If they come back to school, we’ll see different, better players.  I hope we get a chance to find out if I’m right.

Nerlens’ Knee:  Just when started to see signs of consistent play, Nerlens Noel blew out his knee, a gruesome injury that ended his season–and ours.  An under-achieving team lost its best player.  Cal said it best:  “After we lost Nerlens, it’s been torture.”  And so it was.

Point Guard:  In Cal’s three previous seasons, our point guards have been John Wall, Brandon Knight and Marquis Teague.   All three played one year, and all three were NBA 1st round draft picks.  This year’s point guard was Ryan Harrow, a transfer from North Carolina State.  Harrow is the most difficult kind of player to critique.  He doesn’t have the skills to play the position at the level Cal needs.  I feel for the young man.  I really do.  It has to be a difficult, pressure-packed situation.  Facts are facts.

The coaching staff doesn’t get a pass on this one.  Cal recruited Harrow in high school.  He saw a year of him at NC State and a year of him in practice.  He had ample evaluation time.  Again, I feel for Harrow.  I’m convinced he has played the best he can.  He was put in a position where success wasn’t possible.  That one goes on the coach.

WHAT DID I LEARN?

I don’t know that I learned anything new.  It’s more like I re-learned some things (if that’s even possible).  Maybe I was just reminded of some stuff.

Championships are hard to win:  I’ve been a UK fan since 1970.  UK has won 4 titles.  It’s not easy to do.  Winning one year doesn’t mean you’ll win the next year or even make the tournament or even win one game in the NIT.  (see 1978-79 season).

Losing your whole team is tough:  Imagine this:  Your alma mater wins the national championship.  Then, all its starters and its sixth man leave.  They are replaced by freshmen.  Your school is the only Division I team in the entire country that doesn’t return even one player who started even one game.  What would you expect?  At Kentucky, we expected a strong run at another title.  Perhaps we’re unreasonable.

Cal is an excellent coach, but not a magician:  This team never meshed. Maybe it was the lack of dependable veterans.  Maybe it was the wrong mix of talent.  Whatever the reason, the light bulb never came on.  Cal couldn’t get them to buy in.  He’s done it so well before that I don’t think I can hang that one on him.  Like I said, these are men.  They didn’t act like it.

You need a bench:  UK had no bench this year, at least no players upon whom we could count for steady play.  Not only was this an in-game weakness, but there was no risk of any under-achieving starter losing his job.  Cal says this won’t ever be the case here again.  I believe him.

So, there here we are, a disastrous season at an end.  How bad was it?  We were 21-12 and finished second in our conference.  That’s a train wreck at my alma mater.  I’m over it now.  Besides, next year, we are going to be LOADED!

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

The National Invitation Tournament: A New (and Blue) Perspective

The National Invitation Tournament is a college basketball tournament. It has a storied history dating back to 1938, one year before the NCAA Tournament began. Only the NAIA Tournament is older. For many years, the NIT was considered the most prestigious tournament in the country. In those days of Jim Crow, it was an integrated tournament played in legendary Madison Square Garden in New York. Only the best of the best were invited to the NIT.

In the early 1950’s, the NIT lost much of its luster because of a point-shaving scandal. City College of New York, Long Island University and others were implicated. One such school was my beloved University of Kentucky. We’re the only ones who rose from the ashes, although we had the distinction of receiving the NCAA Death Penalty by having the 1952-53 season cancelled. We UK fans like to point out that we were undefeated the next season and had the audacity to turn down an NCAA invitation. (That’s not as brassy as it sounds. Most of our best players were ineligible for post-season play. Adolph Rupp was no fool).

(As unrelated aside, it should be noted that UK played in integrated tournaments well before most teams in the South would do so. The next time you hear the story of Mississippi State playing in the NCAA Tournament in 1963, remember that Kentucky had been doing that for 20 years.)

Although the NCAA Tournament became more prominent, the NIT remained significant. The NIT was still prestigious enough that Marquette turned down an NCAA bid in the late ’60’s to play in (and win) the NIT. Over time, the NCAA Tourney has expanded to 68 teams, making the NIT little more than a glorified intramural tournament. Its glory days, sadly, are long gone.

Today, being invited to the NIT means you suck. You stink. You’re not worthy of making the NCAA Tournament. You don’t even get the play-in games. You’re not one of the 68 best teams in the country. Your program is in shambles. You don’t belong on the Big Stage. The Big Dance goes on without you. It’s the Little Dance for you and your fellow club foots.

Such is the fate now of my University of Kentucky Wildcats. Lest you forget, we won the NCAA Tournament just last year. (If you’re counting, that’s EIGHT titles, my friend). We’ve been in this position before. We won the NCAA Tournament in 1978, only to be relegated to the NIT the next year. We lost in the first round to Clemson, and at home, no less. I would point out, though, that we were playing without Dwight Anderson, arguably our best player that year. That loss deserves an asterisk, as do almost all losses in the history of our program.

Nowadays, folks call it the “Not Invited Tournament” or the “Not Important Tournament.” It has fallen into such disfavor that some schools have even turned down invitations. We won’t do that at Kentucky. Our fans want to see games–any time, anywhere, against any opponent.

We’re no strangers to NIT glory, mind you. We’ve won the NIT, twice–1946 and 1976. Both titles portended bigger and better things.

The 1946 NIT Championship was followed by NCAA Titles in 1948, 1949 and 1951. Our 1976 NIT Title was followed by an NCAA Title in 1978. See a pattern?

1945-46c

1946 NIT Champs

The 1976 NIT was similar to this year. The previous season, we lost the NCAA title game to UCLA. Graduation took many of our best players. We started the 1975-76 season 10 and 10 and lost of one of our best players, Rick Robey, to injury. Joe B. Hall, successor to Adolph Rupp, was our coach, and the annual cries for his head began. Those were dark days in the Big Blue Nation.

Coach Hall was always at his best when things were bleakest. The Cats won their last 10 games, including the NIT, beating the University of North Carolina-Charlotte in the title game. Center Mike Phillips became a beast during that run. All Cat fans know the names of Mike Phillips, Jack Givens, Jay Shidler, Truman Claytor, Marion Haskins, Dwayne Casey and James Lee. Two years later, we had NCAA title number 5! It is always darkest before the dawn.

mikep

Mike Phillips, NIT All-Time Great

Even today, the NIT isn’t the worst thing that can happen. There is also something called the College Basketball Invitational. It’s for 16 teams that don’t make either the NCAA or NIT. It isn’t to be confused with its competitor, the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament, which has 32 more unworthy teams. So, if you don’t make the NCAA Tournament, you have 80 more post-season slots available. Including the NCAA, there are 148 chances to play in the post-season. There about 400 NCAA Division I basketball teams. You could be one of the 250 or so super-sucky teams which can’t play anywhere!

We UK fans want to be enthusiastic about the NIT, but it’s tough. We view the NCAA Tournament as our birth right. Any UK fan knows the significance of the years 1948, 1949, 1951, 1958, 1978, 1996, 1998 and 2012. To exclude us from the Big Dance after a 20 win season is sacrilege. We know it’s because of jealously or even downright hatred. That’s okay, because we hate the NCAA and its member institutions even more than they hate us.

UK needs to put an indelible stamp on the NIT. I have a few simple suggestions to turn the NIT into the tournament, at least for one year:

  • Unilaterally declare that former UK center Mike Phillips is the “Greatest Living Player” in the history of the NIT and insist that he be introduced as such before each game. Maybe he can wear some kind of crown.
  • Have both our NIT Championship trophies sitting beside the bench.
  • Coach John Calipari will repeatedly refer to the NCAA Tournament as the “suck ass” tournament.
  • Have Honey Boo Boo and her Mom be cheerleaders.
  • Adopted cool team nickname of “69ers” in honor of being the 69th best team in the country.
  • In a tip of the hat to tradition, shave points.
  • UK President Eli Capilouto will profanely condemn the NCAA for not allowing UK to play in both tournaments.
  • Brashly challenge the CIT and CBI tourney champs to a “Loser Leaves Town” playoff.
  • Hire an Amish assistant coach.
  • Run the Jody Arias trial on the Jumbo Tron
  • Bring entire UK team to NCAA Championship Game and loudly berate participants for not playing in Madison Square Garden.
  • In each post-game interview, coach UK players to work in references to Roy Williams as a “mincing cry baby” and Mike Krzyzewski as a “rat-faced bastard.”
  • If we lose, crack opposing coach over the head with 2012 NCAA Championship Trophy

These are but a few ideas. As fans, there are many things we can do to help, too. For example, we have a tradition of burning couches in the streets after big NCAA wins. In keeping with that, perhaps we can burn ottomans or occasional tables after each NIT win. We can wear confusingly arrogant T-Shirts that say things like “YOU CAN’T SPELL NORTH CAROLINA WITHOUT ‘NCAA.'” Most of all, let’s say we’d rather win the NIT than lose the NCAA Tournament, even though we probably would have won that, too.

So, take heart, Big Blue Nation. All is not lost. There are many positives:

  • Our first round game at Robert Morris University will be the biggest event ever in Moon Township, Pennsylvania where, by the way, Coach Cal went to high school.
  • We trail St. John’s in NIT titles–6 to 2. Another title cuts that in half.
  • An NIT title gives us 11 combined NCAA/NIT titles, only one behind UCLA.
  • We will pad our all time wins record.
  • Rupp Arena hosts the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. Imagine the embarrassment to that haughty exhibition when rounds 2 and 3 of the NIT outdraw it.
  • We’ll proudly hang our NIT banner, adding to the already-cluttered rafters of Rupp Arena.
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There may not be room for another banner.

Remember, too, that UK fans are also known for our almost unbearable arrogance. An NIT championship would the perfect chance to take this seeming character flaw to new heights. Let us all rationalize that we got on a roll in the postseason and would, in fact, have won the NCAA Tournament were it not for the petty jealousies that kept us on the sidelines. If we lose, we will simply dismiss the NIT as beneath us and unworthy of our time, anyway. How could we possibly be motivated for it? The NIT Trophy is little more than a door stop, and the banner wouldn’t be fit to be a floor mat in our opulent locker room.

After all, it’s just the NIT, for God’s sake–unless we win it.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

Superman, Court Storms and Other Random Musings

My mind spins with random thoughts.

SUPERMAN

The only comic book I ever read much was Superman. I loved Superman. I loved the Superman TV show with George Reeves. Honestly, I don’t understand why I loved that, but I did. Even with body padding, George Reeves made for a decidedly unfit looking man of steel. Jimmy Olson, as played by Jack Larsen, looked like he could whip Superman’s ass. Of course, that may have had something to do with the fact that Larsen appeared to be in his 30’s playing the young Olson.

A new Superman movie comes out this year. I hear it’s a darker Superman. I guess he’s a troubled soul. I don’t buy that. Superman isn’t troubled. He’s Superman.

Now, I’m hearing that there may be a Justice League movie. You know the Justice League–Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash and The Green Lantern band together to fight evil. Later, other more obscure superheroes joined. You may have seen the cartoon series with the wonderfully sonorous tones of Ted Knight as the narrator.

Here’s my question: Why the hell does Superman need to join up with these other so-called superheroes? He can do everything they can do and more. Super-strength, super-speed, super-vision, super-swimming. He can fly!! Oh, and he’s indestructible. Okay, he doesn’t have Wonder Woman’s invisible plane. Big whoop. Again, he can freakin’ fly! He’d kill Batman. Just flat kill him. The Flash? Be serious. Superman is so fast that he can turn back time. He’d catch The Flash and then beat the living crap out of him. I never even understood The Green Lantern. Superman can do everything he can do.

Let’s don’t even talk about Aqua Man. He has gills and can talk to sea creatures. That’s helpful–TO NO ONE!

So, that’s it. Superman has no business in the Justice League. Let them fend for themselves. Of course, when they get in a bunch of trouble, who will they call?

COURT STORM

Fans of the University of Miami (Don’t call it “Miami of Florida”) had the audacity to run onto the court after beating the Duke Blue Devils. If one followed the many breathless accounts (hundreds of which were via ESPN’s sundry media outlets), you would have thought two things: (1) This is the first time this has ever happened; and (2) Numerous Duke players were trampled to death.

Neither is true, but it happened to Duke so it’s a big deal. Coach Mike Kszwkfjkdsji (close enough) did as he is wont to do and hurled obscenities at the crowd. When asked about it, Coach K sounded like he had survived the Benghazi attack. Now, countless talking heads have had enough. This must stop.

Let’s first disabuse ourselves of the notion that Coach K is a potential Nobel Prize winner who just happens to coach basketball. He’s a tempermental, foul-mouthed coach. His mentor is the despicable Bobby Knight. He’s not a college professor. He’s a college coach.

Here’s what should happen. Every school’s fans should run on the court after every Duke game, win or lose–whether they are playing Duke of not. Just run wild. In fact, when Duke loses, fans in every arena in the country should rush the court when the score is announced. Let’s just make it a tradition like that crazy octopus-throwing thing in hockey. One exception should be North Carolina. Don’t ever do that against your big rival. It just makes you look sad and desperate.

I say we go a step further. Opposing fans should rush the court even when Duke wins. That should make Coach K completely mental.

I am a proud alum and lifelong fan of the University of Kentucky. We’ve had the court rushed on us at INDIANA UNIVERSITY! Indiana, winner of multiple national championships, poured onto the court after beating UK in a regular season game. They put it on the cover a phone book. We’ve had this happen so many times that the Southeastern Conference now levies heavy fines for it. Trust me, the SEC isn’t concerned about Arkansas fans going wild if they beat Auburn.

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Imagine Coach K’s reaction to this.

The uninformed might ask: When do you UK fans rush the court? Answer: When we win the National Championship and only then to congratulate the players on doing what we knew they would do any way. I’m not saying we’d never do it during the regular season. As soon as we win a game that we fans don’t expect to win, I’m sure we’ll consider it.

TAXES

It’s tax time again. Pause. Are you done moaning? I pay a lot of taxes, and I’m fine with that. You know why? It means I make a good living. If I didn’t pay any taxes, I wouldn’t be making much money. I like making money. Now, I’ve known some folks who made a lot of money and didn’t pay taxes. Some of them went to jail. I’d rather pay taxes.

AMISH PEOPLE

Why are there so many Amish TV shows? I don’t get it. Amish Mafia? Amish people in New York? Young Amish running wild during Rumspringa. Evidently, the Amish are entertaining. Hmm.

I met an Amish guy once, I think. He had the beard, the hat and the poor-tailored clothes–that’s my stereotypical view of the Amish. But it was at a gas station. He was buying a bottle of water. That doesn’t seem Amish. We exchanged pleasantries. He had a bit of an odd accent. Nice enough, too. Yeah, he was Amish.  He didn’t entertain me.

I don’t find the Amish any more entertaining than Mennonites or Hutterites. I grew up in Eastern Kentucky where we had some experience with Mennonites. They did mission work in Eastern Kentucky. That’s how pitiful we were. Mennonites thought they had it better than we did. Again, nice people but not a barrel of laughs, unless you think bonnets are funny, which they kind of are.

Of course, all this makes me think about Shakers even though they aren’t Anabaptists. I live near a historic Shaker village. It’s pretty nice unless–like me–you enjoy cable TV. The Shakers don’t marry or procreate, and they’re prevented from adopting. There are only three left, and they’re like 90 years old. Not much TV potential there.

The Amish do one thing entertaining. Sometimes, they hire men to replenish the gene pool. That’s right–hired men to impregnate their women just like in the movie A Boy and His Dog. You have to do it in front of the husband. There’s some reality TV for you.

SEQUESTER

Let us not speak of this again.

COMICS

Okay, I lied. I used to read Archie comics, too. I’m still haunted by why he rejected Betty. SHE THREW HERSELF AT HIM! I didn’t know any girls who looked like Veronica and Betty. Maybe that’s why I liked it.

I knew this kid who would steal your comics if he came to your house.  We had to check his coat sleeves before he left.  Oh, and he used to draw obscene things on Betty and Veronica.

Well, that’s it.  Those are just a few random things rattling around in my head.  I feel better now.  Wait a second…what if Superman had been raised by an Amish family?  Imagine the possibilities…..

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

Cheerleader God

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Ray Lewis shows God His Lombardi Trophy

I’m a big sports fan. Huge, actually. I’ve ruined substantial chunks of my life grieving over sporting events in which I had no stake other than as a fan. None of the players or coaches knew me nor did they care one way or the other about how their pitiable performances affected me. Nevertheless, though, I grieved.

You know who else is a big sports fan? God. That’s right. Capital “G” God. The Big Guy. The Alpha and Omega. The Big I AM. How do I know that about the unknowable? Athletes have told me. Repeatedly.

Ray Lewis says so. God glorified him (or vice versa–sometimes it’s hard to follow Ray) with a Super Bowl win. After the Ravens’ win, Ray said “It’s simple: When God is for you, who can be against you?” That is pretty simple. God is all-powerful, all-knowing and omnipotent. If He’s for you, who CAN be against you? Well, a lot of people, really. The other team, for instance. Their fans. Maybe people who just generally hate your team or you personally. Atheists, too.

Ray’s simple observation begs many questions, of course:

  • Was God against Colin Kaepernick?
  • Was God for John, but not Jim, Harbaugh? If so, why?
  • What did God think of Beyonce?
  • How about the guy in the suit that John Harbaugh screamed at? What sin did he commit?
  • What was God’s deal with the Harbaugh parents? For or against?
  • Why didn’t God see that holding call on Crabtree? Or did He see it but smite the officials with blindness, because he was for Ray?
  • Is possible that God was on the side of Michael Oher, the guy from the movie The Blind Side, and Ray just benefited from it?
  • Why did God turn out the lights in the second half?
  • What kind of God would allow Destiny’s Child to reunite?

If it were just Ray, it wouldn’t be that big a deal. Other athletes are just as bad–or maybe it’s good. Boxers praise God–right after they beat the holy crap out of someone. “Thank you, God, for giving me the strength to inflict permanent brain damage on this other child of yours.” Basketball players do it. Baseball players. Everyone who wins has God on his or her side. Some invoke Jesus, which is really the same thing except with a decidedly Christian take.

That’s right. God picks sides. He’s picked the World Series, Super Bowls, NCAA Championships, fights–you name it. There isn’t enough hard drive in the Cloud to list all the athletes that have credited God for their wins. God plays favorites. No doubt. God is definitely a Calvinist when it comes to sports.

The uncomfortable flip side of this is that God clearly dislikes certain teams and athletes, too, not to mention their fans (like me). This is rarely acknowledged, with one notable exception. Former University of Kentucky football player Stevie Johnson is now a star wide receiver for the Buffalo Bills. A couple of years ago, he dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass. Just dropped it. Stevie saw the hand of God in it.

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Stevie Johnson’s ill-tempered tweet reflected a lot of fans’ thoughts.

Predictably, Stevie took a lot of heat for this. But, if you are a sports fan, haven’t you at least thought this before? Sure you have. Of course, I remember Stevie catching a touchdown pass to beat the University of Louisville. An act of God, for sure.

I’ll confess that I’ve prayed to God about sports. “Oh, mighty God, PLEASE let this free throw drop!!!” Of course, this type of prayer is fruitless, but I’ve done it. My life as a sports fan has proven and disproven the existence of God many times:

  • Jim O’Brien hits a last-minute field goal. Colts beat the Cowboys in the Super Bowl. No God.
  • Roger Staubach hits Drew Pearson with the original “Hail Mary” pass in the 1975 NFC Playoffs. God lives!
  • UCLA beats Kentucky for the 1975 NCAA Basketball Championship. No God.
  • Six months later, the Reds rally from 3 down to win the 7th game of the World Series. Big God!
  • Jackie Smith drops a touchdown pass against the Steelers. Cowboys lose the Super Bowl. No God.
  • Kentucky wins the 1978, 1996, 1998 and 2012 NCAA basketball championships. Big, big, big, big GOD!!
  • Christian Laettner hits a three to beat Kentucky at the buzzer in the 1992 NCAA Regional Finals. There is a God, and He hates me.
  • Billy Gillispie is hired as Kentucky’s basketball coach. God hates Kentucky.
  • John Calipari is hired as Kentucky’s basketball coach. God actually loves Kentucky but has a twisted sense humor (see Gillispie, Billy).
  • University of Kentucky Football: No God or at least not one that will let us be great at two sports.
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I, for one, refuse to blame God for this.

For brevity’s sake, I won’t list the other 200-300 examples. One can readily see that I have struggled to see God’s handiwork in my life as a fan. For others, look no further than this year’s NCAA Football Championship. Notre Dame has Touchdown Jesus, but Alabama whipped them like Samson breaking bad on a bunch of Philistines.

The problem is that for each instance in which I have been crushed by a sporting event, others have felt an equal and opposite reaction. Call it Newton’s Law of God In Sports. He loves one team and hates the other. Okay, maybe He doesn’t hate them. Only if you’re a member of the Westboro Baptist Church do you embrace the hating God. But, at the very least, He’s cruelly indifferent to the other team and its fans.

How does this happen? Do the other fans pray better? Are the players better people? If so, what can I do to help my team? If more of our fans pray will that tip the scales? Or is the quality of the prayers, rather than the quantity, that matters most? It’s hard to say, really.

What about Tim Tebow? By all accounts, he’s a fine young man, sincere in his faith and an all around good guy. He played quarterback for the Denver Broncos in 2011 and won a bunch of games. Now, truth be told, he didn’t play particularly well, completing less than 50% of his passes. Yet, he won or, more accurately, his team won. Many folks attributed this to God. Tebow is a Christian, and God wins games for him. Many of my devoutly Christian friends manically cheered for him, as though he was the first Christian to ever play in the NFL (I don’t think he is, by the way). Then Tebow got traded to the Jets, because the Broncos preferred Peyton Manning at quarterback. Tebow barely played for the Jets and did nothing to help them win–to the extent the Jets did win. Did God turn his back on Tebow? Doubtful. Tebow just ended up on a team that didn’t want to play him. Like Tebow, Danny Wuerffel was also a Heisman Trophy winning quarterback from the University of Florida and a devout Christian. He had no success in the NFL. Why? Because that’s sports, not God.

Now, you’re thinking: “What’s your point?” Here it is: God isn’t picking games. If he did, the parochial schools would never lose, and Bob Knight would have never won a game. God is God, which is a good thing, but one can only hope that He is occupied with more important things than Ray Lewis’s retirement and my desire to see a teenaged college student make a free throw.

I won’t even belabor the obvious such as the horrific injuries–and even death–suffered by athletes. If you’re a sports fan, you can think of an almost endless list of vile humans who have excelled in sports. What about cities like Chicago and Cleveland? What are they–the Sodom and Gomorrah of sports? If God is picking sides, surely he could cut them a break.

So, the next time you think God has picked your team or favorite player, remember that just means He’s back handing someone else. Eventually, He’ll show you the hands, too. Now, don’t get me wrong. There’s nothing wrong with praising God. Some believe that He demands it. It’s just that suggesting He won a game makes as much sense as crediting the military for it. After all, we should be thankful for our soldiers, too, but let’s be reasonable.

Okay, now God, UCLA has 11 NCAA basketball titles, and Kentucky has 8. Do you think you could see your way clear to…..never mind.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2013

Flaming the Fans

University of Kentucky President Eli Capilouto has banned alcohol in certain tailgating areas for football games.  Why?  Because a group of drunken idiots got in fights at a recent game.  Of course, the idiots are apoplectic about this, because that’s how idiots react.

President Capilouto also banned DJs in those same areas. They may not have anything to do with the fights.  Maybe it’s just a nod to good taste.

(Apropos of nothing, I should note that a friend of mine and I always refer to the President as “Doctor Copulate-O.”  Oh, how we laugh when we say that)

This recent edict got me thinking about my own history as a fan and various fan personalities.  I don’t have much to say about fans acting like fools.  My friend, Meisterblogger, wrote an excellent piece on that subject.  I have nothing to add to that.  It does, however, make me ponder the behavior of fans, behavior in which I have engaged on some level my entire life.

I’m a sports fan.  Always have been.  When did it start?  I can’t really remember, but I know it started with baseball cards.  The one I remember best was a 1966 Willie Mays card.  For some reason, I loved that card.  I kept it under the desktop glass of a desk in our house.  I would sit and just look at it.  I loved it right up until my little brother managed to get it out from under the glass and tear it in half.  It was then replaced by a 1969 Willie Mays, which I kept in my pocket for safekeeping.

I carried the Say Hey Kid in my pocket for years.

I’ve cheered my teams.  I’ve screamed myself hoarse.  I’ve also cried.  Yes, cried.  Literally.  Who are my teams?  At various times, I’ve been fanatic about:

  • Los Angeles Lakers:  I’m not talking about the “Showtime” Lakers of the ’80’s.  These were the Lakers of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s.  Why?  Wilt Chamberlain.  Wilt was the first basketball player of whom I was aware.  He was bigger than life.  Headband; knee pads (on his shins!); tape and rubber bands on his wrists–he had swag before there was swag.  In those days, there was only one NBA game a week on TV.  The Lakers and Knicks dominated.   I remember when the Lakers won 33 games in a row.  The starting line-up was Wilt, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, Happy Hairston and Jim McMillan.  Wilt retired, then West, then my interest in the NBA.

There was only one Wilt.

  • Kentucky Colonels:  After Wilt retired, my interest shifted to the American Basketball Association.  Kentucky had a team.  Dan Issel, Artis Gilmore, Louie Dampier, Darrel Carrier and many others.  We rarely got to see them on TV, but I followed their every exploit.  The ABA was great.  Red, white and blue ball; three pointers; big Afros.  I loved it.  A couple of times, ABA barnstorming teams came to Harlan and played exhibition games.  We’d get Dampier, Carrier and a few other stars.  They were great guys.  They even let one of our local basketball coaches, John D. Wilson, play in one of the games.  Great stuff.  When the ABA merged with the NBA, the Colonels folded.  THAT was a sad day.

Artis Gilmore was everything cool about the ABA

  • Cincinnati Reds:  When I became a baseball fan, it didn’t take long to become a Reds fan.  Everyone in Kentucky was a Reds fan in those days.  You didn’t have much choice in the matter.  Johnny Bench was my icon.  He could do no wrong in my eyes.  I followed the Reds as closely as one could during the 1970’s.  I listened to the games on the radio.  I cut the box scores out of th paper. When they finally won the World Series in 1975, I was as happy as a kid could be .  My fandom continued in earnest through the mid-1990’s.  I’ll confess that it burned off through a combination of things.  One, free agency in baseball took away the concept of “my” team.  Rosters change too much and too quickly. Second, I’m one of those who never got his passion back after the 1994 players strike.  I still follow it, but I don’t live and die with it.
  • Dallas Cowboys:  From Craig Morton to Tony Romo.  Calvin Hill to Demarco Murray; Bob Hayes to Miles Austin; Bob Lilly to DeMarcus Ware, I’ve followed the Cowboys.  Roger Staubach was the hero of my youth.  I’ve reveled in the salad days of the 1970’s and 1990’s and suffered through the 1980’s and 2000’s.  Jerry Jones is the bane of my existence, but I still watch and hope.  Mostly, I long for the day when the Jones family dies out.
  • The University of Kentucky:  I save this for last, but it is certainly not least.  This is the one where my fandom has not waned.  Oh, being older, I’m not as psychotic as I used to be, but I’m still a card-carrying member of Big Blue Nation–basketball and football, of course.  I’m a two-time alum, but that doesn’t really matter.  You don’t have to be a grad to belong to BBN.  Hell, you don’t even have to ever set foot on campus.  It’s bigger than that.  It IS Kentucky.  My obsession with all things UK has evolved, but it has never died.

Against this backdrop, I’ve learned a lot about fans.  I am one.  Who are they?

THE DRUNK

I’ve been this guy.  He shows up at 9:00 a.m. to tailgate for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff.  He drinks and drinks and drinks.  He’s loud and obnoxious.  He freely uses foul language.  He’ll insult opposing fans.  He’ll insult his friends. He’ll pick fights.  He’ll randomly vomit.  He watches the game–maybe.  It doesn’t matter if he does or not, because he won’t remember it.

Here’s how I used to do it.  Show up several hours before kickoff with a grocery bag full of beer.  Drink the beer.  Wander from the tailgate to tailgate bumming more beer.  Watch the football game.  Try not to pass out or puke.  Drink more.

I would find myself with people I didn’t know.  Drinking and cheering.  High-fiving and hugging.  Once, I was tailgating and a woman asked of me and a friend:  “Do you mother****ers wanna dance?”  We declined. That’s the crowd we were in.

Drunk Fan isn’t to be confused with his cousin, Drinking Fan, a mostly amiable fellow who occasionally goes over the edge.  He’s okay.

Fortunately, the strongest thing I drink these days is coffee.  The good news is that I remember all UK’s basketball games.  The bad news is that I remember all the football games, too.  Nothing is perfect.

THE DEMENTED

This guy believes he’s part of the team.  More accurately, he is the team, and the team is him.  They are one.  WE win.  He wears jerseys of his team.  He paints his face.  He names his kids after players.

If his team wins, this guy is a better person.  Not only that, he’s just better in general.  Healthier, happier, stronger.  Better.  He will gloat.  He will post things on Facebook like:

Cats win!  Yeah, baby, we’re rolling!  Suck it, Louisville!

Of course, he can also lose.  Losing is crippling.  He can’t face the light of day.  He won’t read the papers or watch TV, lest he be exposed to the terrible truth of his own failings.  Losing makes him a lesser person.  Unworthy.  Yet, he will tweet this:

U of L fans suck!  Chipstrapped losers!  Enjoy your one win, because we’re still BIG BLUE!! #UofLblows

The Demented Fan sees each game as a personal triumph or failure. It never dawns on him that he isn’t playing and has no stake in the outcome of games played by others who are not conscious of his existence.  Sadly, I’ve been there, too.  Why, oh, why, dear God, did they lose???  My cheering, my clothing, my very presence should have made the difference.  They did not.  I have failed.  Life sucks.

THE PSYCHOTIC

He rants.  He raves.  He yells obscenities.  He throws things.  He does all of these things just watching on TV.  I’ve been that guy, too:

  • Christian Laettner’s shot hits the bottom of the net to beat UK in the Regional Final.  In one seamless motion, I sweep a full ashtray into my hand and hurl it against the fireplace.  It shatters into a thousand pieces.  A stream of obscenities follow.  I can’t sleep for days. It takes 20 years for me to watch a replay of the shot.
  • Colt Jim O’Brien’s kick splits the uprights to beat the Cowboys in the Super Bowl.  I cry.
  • Remember Dwight Clark’s famous catch against the Dallas Cowboys?  The “Catch?”  I screamed and fell to my knees.
  • LSU beat UK on a Hail Mary pass with no time left.  I was watching the game at home and drinking.  I stepped outside, pick up a basketball and hit it with a baseball bat.  Not understanding the immutable laws of physics, I did not know that the bat would fly back, instead of the ball flying forward.  The back cracked me in the middle of the forehead.  I immediately went into a swoon and puked up about 2 gallons of beer.
  • North Carolina beats UK in the regional finals.  I am so deranged, I don’t know what to do.  First, I punch the door.  A steel door.  Bad move.  Then, for reasons I don’t understand, I tore my jeans in half–while wearing them.  You know how the Bible talks about people “tearing at their robes?”  That was me.
  • I once spit on the TV screen.  By “once” I mean innumerable times.
  • I have used every foul word and phrase in the English language watching games–even when my team is winning.
  • In a futile effort to protect our possessions, my wife bought me foam bricks to throw.  Not enough heft to them, but I did shred one.

Remember what I said above about fans acting like fools?  Burning couches and fistfights are for fools.  My actions were acts of passion.  Fortunately, I’ve outgrown this behavior–for the most part.  Now, my wife acts worse than I do.  At least I get to see what an annoying pain in the ass I was.

THE CASUAL FAN

I really have nothing to say about this guy.  He is just one step above the contemptible Fair Weather Fan.  The Casual Fan only pretends to be a fan.  He never loses sleep or acts like a jackass over a game.  He doesn’t know the players’ birthdays or their hometowns.  He’s a fraud.  I’ve never been him, and I won’t be.

I have crawled from top to bottom of the Fan’s Tree of Life.  I’m now a passionate–yet mostly normal–fan.  I still get agitated and take it too seriously.  But, I tell myself that the sun will still come up tomorrow and life is good.  I even believe that sometimes.

So, what kind of fan are YOU?

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012

The Strange, Sad Case of Billy Gillispie

This was perhaps the last smile we saw on Billy Clyde’s face.

If you’ve read my posts, first, I apologize for rarely making a salient point.  Second, you know that I am a dyed-in-Blue University of Kentucky sports fan.  I have been since I was 8 years old.  That’s 42 years for those scoring at home.

In my time as a resident of Big Blue Nation, as we somewhat arrogantly refer to ourselves, I’ve seen some odd things.  We once lost a football game on consecutive pass interference penalties with time running out.  The Cats also once gave up a 75 yard Hail Mary pass with no time left to lose a football game.  These stories, as they relate to football, are many and varied.  Basketball, on the other hand, has brought mostly joy.  Oh, we remember the 1984 National Semi-Final game when the Cats shot 3 for 33 in the second half.  Then, there was Christian Laettner’s dagger to the heart in 1992.  Those, however, are mostly blips on the Big Blue radar.

Probably, our biggest disappointments have come off the court with our occasional run-ins with the NCAA’s Draconian rule book.  Questionable ACT scores, money in envelopes, etc., have blighted our landscape.  Of course, like any True Blue fan, I can offer you vigorous and persuasive defenses for all our transgressions.  Perhaps I will do so in a future post.  Now, though, I turn to the strangest period in UK sports–the Billy Gillispie Era.

I suppose it’s hyperbole to refer to a two-year span as an “era,” but that’s what we call it.  Billy G as we lovingly called him, succeeded Orlando “Tubby” Smith as Kentucky’s basketball coach in the Spring of 2007.  Smith had finished an 10 year run as coach which included a national championship.  He won that title in his first year as coach and was never able to repeat.  In fact, despite some near misses, Tubby never got the Cats back to the Final Four, an unforgivable sin.  Some called him “Ten Loss Tubby” in reference to his losing at least ten games in a season several times, despite averaging 26 wins a season in Lexington.  By the 2006-2007 season, many fans felt like Tubby’s time was up.

Smith did the smart thing and jumped at the chance to leave UK and coach the University of Minnesota where he still coaches.  UK fans rejoiced!  Message boards lit up!  Now, we would get us a coach to push us back over the top!

Who would it be?  Now, we UK fans believe everyone wants the Kentucky job, except maybe Mike Krzyzewski. Maybe.  Would it be former UK All-American and NBA coaching royalty Pat Riley?  What about former coach and current villain Rick Pitino?  John Wooden was 96 years old at the time, but maybe he would come back.  While the fan base was engaged in its own demented fantasy world, the university was pursuing candidates who might actually want the job.

At first, it sounded like it might be Rick Barnes, the surly and moderately successful coach at the University of Texas.  That didn’t pan out.  What about John Calipari at Memphis?  Nah, we don’t want that guy.  We settled on Billy Donovan, hot-shot coach at the University of Florida.

I rarely spend time on message boards but couldn’t resist during those days.  People were using software programs to track flights between Lexington and Gainesville, Florida.  Donovan was spotted at various locations in and around Lexington.  I even heard that a clandestine meeting had been held on the tarmac of undisclosed airport to hammer out the final details.

Bottom line:  No deal with Donovan.  He wanted the Orlando Magic job, which he took and then quit 5 days later.  Oh, well.  Then, the name Billy Clyde Gillispie rose to the top.  We in BBN knew Billy Clyde.  Why?  Because his Texas A&M team had just upset the accursed Rick Pitino and the University of Louisville in the NCAA Tournament–at Rupp Arena.  Thus, this otherwise obscure coach was already something of a hero in BBN.  What did it matter that none of us knew anything about him?  A lot, as it turns out.

Gillispie was announced as the new head basketball coach at UK on April 6, 2007.  As is our practice, a large and unnecessary pep rally  was held.  Billy G was introduced to the fans.  They cheered wildly.  He said all the right things.  Let the good times roll!

Gillispie seemed uncomfortable in front of those fans.  He said the right things but looked like a guy who wanted to catch the next bus out of town.  I chalked it up to being in the spotlight for the first time.  Wouldn’t any of us be nervous?

Then, there were rumors that Gillispie told his A&M players he was leaving via text message.  If true, that was odd.  Hmmm.

It took no time for people to start beating the drum for Billy G–or Billy Clyde as many called him.  He was a relentless recruiter.  He was tough, not soft like Tubby.  He pushed his team.  People called him The Warrior.  He was a great X’s and O’s coach.  We were confident that we’d hit a home run when  we were still in the on-deck circle.  No honeymoon ever ended as abruptly as this one.

My first problem was with Billy G was his disturbing resemblance to Squiggy of Laverne & Shirley fame.  I couldn’t get past it.

Separated at birth? I would rather have given Squiggy a shot at the job.

Of course, I’m joking–sort of.  He does look like Squiggy.

The first problem most other folks had with him was called Gardner-Webb.  That’s a college.  I knew that because that’s where Artis Gilmore had gone to school before he attended Jacksonville State.  UK fans now know G-W because they laid an 84-68 ass-whipping on UK in Gillispie’s second game.  There were other ignominious losses, but the Cats wound up going 12-4 in the SEC, and Billy Clyde was even named SEC Coach of the Year.

Despite our ending the season on a bit of an uptick, there were signs that things weren’t right:

  • Our recruiting was going nowhere fast.  He was getting commitments from players no one knew, even an 8th grader in one instance.
  • His media performances were tepid, to say the least.  Even his Coachspeak was limited to repeatedly saying that the Cats must “compete.”
  • Rumors abounded about his off-the-court lifestyle.  It sounded as if Austin Powers had taken the reins of our beloved program.
  • We heard stories of grueling game day practices with feet bleeding from non-stop running.
  • Worst of all, Cats finished 18-13 and lost to Marquette in the 1st Round of the NCAA Tournament.

Billy G’s second season was not an improvement.   VMI was our Gardner-Webb beating the Cats 111-103.  Billy G famously insulted an ESPN reporter during a game.  The Cats sputtered to a 22-14 record losing in the freakin’ NIT!  Billy G sealed his fate by stating that being the face of the basketball program wasn’t part of his job.  If he had any supporters, they didn’t make much noise.  Three stories, in particular, rankled Kentucky fans:

  • Perry Stephenson, a forward from Louisiana, was the epitome of the player who needed fill out his frame.  He never did.  The story was that Billy G, incensed over Stephenson’s lanky frame, forced him to eat a box of Pop Tarts.

Did Billy G really force Perry to eat a box of Pop Tarts? We thought so.

  • Billy G became so irate with Josh Harrellson that he forced him to stand in a bathroom stall during halftime of a game.  Later, he forced Harrellson to ride back to Lexington in the equipment van.
  • He even kicked one of the walk-ons off the team for laughing on the bench during a loss.

Right or wrong, UK basketball players are beloved.  Beloved.  Abusing them–either through grueling practices or outright embarrassment– was unacceptable, especially when the NIT was the result.

By the end of that second season, Billy G had dribbled out the clock. Game over. UK fired him on March 27, 2009. The next day, the ex-coach held a bizarre farewell press conference. He said he was happy and that everything was great. With that, he was gone. Sort of.

First, he decided to sue over his well-deserved firing. Second, he re-appeared on our local news six months later after being arrested a mere 20 miles from Lexington after a late night of golf and drinking. Like a bad penny, he kept turning up.

He then did an obligatory stay at John Lucas’s rehab facility. He emerged a new man, contrite over his old ways. Declaring himself a non-alcoholic, he was ready for a second chance.

We were just glad that he’d already been fired when this mug shot was taken after Billy G’s DUI arrest.

F. Scott Fitzgerald once observed that “there are no second acts in American life.”  Of course, this was before Big Time Sports.  Billy G would get another chance.  Texas Tech was that chance.

Texas Tech was the ideal job.  Lubbock is in his home state, far removed from the national spotlight.  He had great success turning around moribund programs at Texas-El Paso and Texas A&M.  Texas Tech is, at its heart, a football school.  Basketball success is a bonus.  He would have time to build what he wanted.

It took Billy Clyde two years to squander one of the top jobs in college basketball.  Somehow, in a year at Tech, he has himself back on the ledge.  By the time you read this, he may already be fired.  In the past couple of weeks, the following events have transpired:

We know the end of this story.  He is on his way out.  Remember this, too:  His immediate predecessors were Bob Knight and his Hellish offspring, Pat–two coaches never to be confused with Dale Carnegie.  There may not another chance after this.

I’ve never met Billy Clyde.  Those I know who did during his time in Lexington were not impressed.  I don’t know what his problems are or why he’s blown two chances that others would fight for.  But, I know his type–Me.  In my own way, I used to act like him:  Drink too much and dismiss it as no problem.  Force my way upon others, even when my way was not effective and sure to alienate those around me.  Fight with authority when that authority held all the cards.  Then, when things turned out poorly, we wonder why things went so wrong.  I was younger than Billy G when I started to grow up, to take responsibility for my actions and find a better way to live.  Growing up before one grows old is always preferable. Any time otherwise successful people pull their world down around them bad things are under the surface.

I don’t what his medical leave is about, but I hope he is addressing whatever demons have created his problems with living.  A cynic (realist?) would suggest that this is a ploy to force a buy-out of his contract.  Maybe it is.  I make no judgment about his drinking or his emotional state.  I don’t engage in pop psychology.  What I do know is that people who consistently sabotage themselves have problems with living that a new job won’t cure.

I’m not so naive that I believe Billy G would have the same conflicts if he were consistently winning games.  Look no further than Bob Knight for an example of contemptible behavior being deemed acceptable if balanced with enough winning.  Billy G, it seems, has too few wins to be Bob Knight.

Will he get another chance?  Probably.  Sports fans are forgiving, especially if contrition is shown.  A record of success doesn’t hurt either.  Billy is still a young man, 52 years old.  He’ll likely emerge as an assistant somewhere. Sadly, he may repeat this tired act again.  Even though he wasn’t success at UK, I wish him well.  For as many negatives as we’ve heard, many other people saygood things about him.  Like of all us, he’s probably a mixture of good and bad.  No one, it has been said, should be judged by his worst.  Whatever gnaws at him compromises that good.  Let’s all hope he gets a third act and is ready for his role.

©thetrivialtroll.wordpress.com 2012