Louisville, Kentucky is morbidly obsessed with college basketball. And when the Cards and Cats met in the Final Four, it was more than the city could bear. Here, an outsider journalist documents the devastation he witnessed.
In the 2012 NCAA Basketball Tournament, the improbable occurred: Louisville advanced to the Final Four, only to meet its arch-nemesis, Kentucky. And suddenly, the two fiercest rivals in college basketball were to play a landmark game that would likely be talked about for decades to come.
A journalist from a major media outlet was sent to Louisville. He expected a spirited rivalry, but nothing could have prepared him for what he saw. Here is his story, told through the informal journals he kept during his stay.
SUNDAY, MARCH 25th, 8:24 P.M.
Welp, that does it! Kentucky and Louisville are going to meet in the Final Four for the first time ever, and the New York office is sending me to Louisville later this week to get a first-hand account of what this rivalry means to its fans.
I don't really know much about the city of Louisville, the state of Kentucky, or this basketball rivalry in general, so my boss sent me some notes:
- Locally, these teams are known as the "Cards" and the "Cats"!
- Louisville is renowned for baseball bats and the "Grand Old Opery"!
- Louisville is probably different from Knoxville in many ways!
- Well I just looked at a map and it turns out that Louisville is right next to Indiana. That's not at all where I pictured it to be.
- Whatever. I haven't seen any of Kentucky that wasn't in Elizabethtown or a Nappy Roots video. Just interview some poor people with accents and get back up here.
THURSDAY, MARCH 29th, 2:03 P.M.
I've landed in Louisville. The airport has this short carpet everywhere that makes it look like a giant church rec room, but the city seems nice enough. Gonna find a sports bar later and see if I can talk to some Louisville and Kentucky fans.
Oh God, that was depressing. Some transcripts:
KENTUCKY FAN. All those Louisville players are thugs.
ME: Why do you say that?
KENTUCKY FAN. Tattoos.
LOUISVILLE FAN. All those Kentucky players are thugs.
ME: Why do you say that?
LOUISVILLE FAN. Tattoos.
KENTUCKY FAN. Karen Sypher. Enough said, m'man.
ME. What do you mean?
KENTUCKY FAN. Need I say more? Karen Sypher.
SECOND KENTUCKY FAN. Karen Sypher! Karen Sypher.
KENTUCKY FAN. Karen Sypher. That's all I gotta say.
THIRD KENTUCKY FAN. (while walking past) Ha! Karen Sypher. I have it on high authority that Rick Pitino has an STD.
SECOND KENTUCKY FAN. Karen Sypher.
KENTUCKY FAN. Karen Sypher.
LOUISVILLE FAN. [Kentucky coach John] Calipari's a cheater. He's a snake in the grass. Just you watch.
ME. Watch ... for what?
LOUISVILLE FAN. For, uh, for him being a snake in the grass.
ME. Watch for him to continue to be a snake in the grass?
LOUISVILLE FAN. Uh, I uh, yeah.
KENTUCKY FAN. I can't stand Louisville. These people have no class.
ME. Why do you say that?
KENTUCKY FAN. Okay. Okay, let me tell you a little story. In two thousand ... five, it was, I was up here in Louisville and went to get an oil change at the Jiffy Lube. The fella there wanted to charge me $75 for a transmission flush. Now I'll tell you right now, I ain't gonna pay $75 for no damn transmission flush! I'm a grown ass man. All I need's a hose clamp, a couple of wrenches, and some tubing, some vinyl tubing, and some buckets. I can do the whole thing myself in my driveway for $12, tops! Tops. And this fella's gonna tell me--
ME. Thank you for your time.
KENTUCKY FAN. -- that he can do the deed for $75. I bet that fools all these city boys up here in Louisville who haven't never even opened a hood before, but I'm here to tell you, hand to God, you try to rip me off for a transmission flush? You got another thing comin'. Another thing comin'.
LOUISVILLE FAN. I can't stand Kentucky fans. They have no class.
ME. Why do you say that?
LOUISVILLE FAN. They're all just a bunch of dumb inbred trailer-park hicks.
ME. That's a pretty classist remark.
LOUISVILLE FAN. Huh?
ME. I mean, it sounds like you don't like them because they're purportedly from rural areas and don't have as much money as you do.
LOUISVILLE FAN. Listen, I voted Obama, okay?
I couldn't find a single Louisville or Kentucky fan who said anything reasonable. Just ad hominem attacks and generalizations and weird non-logic. College sports rivalries are the worst. All of them. They're all tied for the worst. I'm going to bed.
FRIDAY, MARCH 30th, 5:53 P.M.
When I got this assignment, I was excited about it. I mean, this is a cool city and state, I know it is. Muhammad Ali, Mammoth Cave, Hunter S. Thompson, Churchill Downs, the bourbon industry ... I mean, Hell, the guys who made Spiderland and My Morning Jacket ... cool stuff has happened here and is still happening here.
But I expected a spirited sports rivalry with a bit of an edge to it. I found the dumbest cultural divide I've ever witnessed first-hand.
Like, all this "Kentucky/Louisville fans have no class" thing? It doesn't occur to these people that assigning personal character flaws to entire groups of millions of people is completely bananas? Especially two groups of millions of people who are more or less the same people?
When they talk about these massive collections of people, linked by little other than their sporting allegiance, "have no class," they're just talking about that one guy who was too loud at the bar one time, or that one obnoxious radio person, or something.
And when you explode an observation of an individual into an indictment of an entire massive group, you know what you're usually trying to do? Fight the Spanish. And at least you might get Cuba at the end of it. These people won't get shit. They'll just keep hating the people who buy T-shirts off the adjacent rack at the Kohl's. Who the f*** sunk your Maine, knuckleheads?
I drove everywhere in this city today. I feel like I interviewed everybody. I can't take it. What made everyone a loud unthinking hate-bot? Why do they build pairs of little malls right next to each other instead of building one big mall? Why did they found a city in a valley that traps particles and keeps the pollen count at like three million? Why can't you buy fresh produce west of I-65? What is the point of living in the East End? THERE IS NOTHING THERE! Why all the arcane, labyrinthine alcohol distribution laws? DOES THIS CITY NOT HAVE A SINGLE 7-ELEVEN? Why do public schools make kids spend a month of the school year building writing portfolios that nobody knows how to grade? When did the University of Louisville's campus culture start resembling that of an IKEA parking lot? Who decided it was a neat idea to rip down all those historic buildings in the '70s and build all these giant ghastly rectangular tributes to the Stucco God? Why do they put all these painted horse statues next to the road so that you seriously think it's a living thing that's going to run into your car? WHY IS EVERYONE RECOMMENDING LYNN'S PARADISE CAFE? IT SUCKS!
Sigh. Actually, no it doesn't. The food was fine. I just had to blow off some steam. I swear to God, I need a drink.
I asked the cab driver to take me to his favorite bar, so I'm at this place called Cahoots. Seems all right. I asked for a bourbon and Coke, and the bartender pulls out this huge glass. He pours in like four shots of bourbon and maybe two ounces of Coke. I'm used to paying like eight bucks for this. He asks for $1.50. Unbelievable.
Oh wow. I'm half-drunk after one of these. This is crazy.
Just had another one. Yeah I am drunk! For like five dollars with tip! And the sun is still out! I'm feeling so much better now.
Maybe this city isn't so bad. You know, everyone's passionate about their sports teams. I think that's great. Sometimes it's fun for a rivalry to have a little teeth to it. Wildcats have teeth. Like, the real wildcats in the wild. Also, the Cardinals mascot has teeth, which I can't really get with. I'll bet a hundred bucks that they changed that logo in like 2000, when every sports team was like, "we'd better make our logos really intimidating and frowny."
And for what? At the end of it you've got like 200 different sports teams with angry logos. All the logos are frowning. What does that accomplish?
I turned off spell check becuase these are REAL THOUGHTS. If a cardinals had teeth he would have shot up right up the evolution ladder. Think about it. He would have been able to fend off predators and stay in his nest for longer. Which, humans stay in the nest (not literally) for longer and that is a contributing reason why they are smart and form society.
Well except for Peyton Siva. He weighs like 35 pounds but he tries to drive inside like Dwyane Wade anyway and half the time he just gets blocked harder than a buttholes uncle. I do not know what that means that what I just said,
Why are the drinks so a heavy pour here for cheap????? This is impossible
Poeple in Holy Grale are HIPSTERs; What is abv???/
Gak was weird. Silly Putty for decrepit genearationn. Remeber for later article later
SATURDAY, 2:10 P.M.
I feel like shit. When did I get to bed? Like seven in the morning? I don't know how I got back to my hotel room. I think I took a cab. At least I didn't drive. Thank God.
Bourbon is bad for hangovers in general, and I mixed them all with Coke. And I don't smoke, but I remember smoking a few cigarettes because they're like three dollars a pack here. This is the worst hangover I ever had, and I think I only spent like 20 bucks. There's a silver lining, I guess.
I was going to go somewhere and watch the game with some fans ... the game's at six. I just want to sleep this off today, though. I'll figure out something tomorrow. Interview some fans. Some will be happy, some will be sad. That's always a winner.
I haven't woken up this late since college. This entry took me like an hour to write. I'm going back to bed.
SATURDAY, 6:44 P.M.
I'm typing this from the hotel basement. They just went knocking on everyone's door. They woke me up and told me to get out, and now I'm down here.
Before they herded me out, I looked out my window. There were fires. People shouting. Tires screeching. I saw a mob marching down the street. This city is in chaos. I don't know what the Hell is going on. Surely there's a foreign invasion or something. Surely it's not the game.
Oh Jesus. It is the game, that's what they're telling me. Louisville has descended into rioting because of the game. How? It's not even 8:00. I can't watch the game from down here, but right now it has to be, like, barely past halftime. Do these people not even wait until the game is over to riot?
Things sound like they're getting really bad outside. A fire truck just repeatedly slapped its siren. That's something a police cruiser does to signal that it's patrolling. Why is a fire truck making that noise? I don't know. I can't believe any of this is happening.
I talked with a lady who's also taking shelter down here. Transcript:
LOUISVILLE RESIDENT. I bet you won't hear about this on ESPN!
ME. From what I saw upstairs, this town is burning to the ground. I'm sure all the major networks will be covering it. They've probably called New Orleans and canceled the game.
LOUISVILLE RESIDENT. Ha! ESPN never gives us the time of day! It's always Duke and UNC. This is the most underrated rivalry.
ME. I'm ... I mean, I'm having trouble understanding why this concerns you right now, with all this going on.
LOUISVILLE RESIDENT. Let me tell you something. You just don't understand. You aren't from here.
ME. Understand what?
LOUISVILLE RESIDENT. This rivalry! Some of us bleed red, and some bleed blue. That's just the way it goes. Anybody from around here will tell you that.
ME. Yes, but--
LOUISVILLE RESIDENT. My boss, she's a Louisville fan, and she got a papercut the other day. Her finger started bleeding and she said, "look, I bleed Louisville red!" Everyone laughed, 'cause it was true!
ME: Your city is on fire.
LOUISVILLE RESIDENT. Ha! Just leave it to Cards and Cats fans to start a hoopla! That's part of what makes this rivalry great.
This is insane. I feel like I'm still dreaming or something. My battery is dying. I have to go.
WEDNESDAY, APRIL 4TH, 12:06 P.M.
Finally back. I'm in the Cincinnati Greyhound station.
Let's take a step back: on Sunday the National Guard rolled in. At first they were busy quelling the uprising, which, they aren't actually calling it an uprising, because it isn't clear what they were actually rising up against, because the game was never finished. As I guessed, it was canceled. The Louisville and Kentucky programs volunteered to disqualify themselves to prevent further unrest, and the NCAA awarded the spot to Duke.
Once things were safe enough, the Kentucky Guard put us all up in school buses and drove an hour or so up the road to Cincinnati. Everyone, actually. I-71 is just a train of school buses. They took the whole city.
Louisville is just gone. Buildings are still on fire. What's the big building downtown? The one that looks like a penis? It's knocked over. God knows how they managed that. One Louisville fan I talked to just started laughing and said, "we raged the f*** out, bro."
It's early, of course, but I'm getting the impression that they're done with Louisville. Like, nobody's going to live here anymore. Done. The city existed for a while, and then a Louisville vs. Kentucky rivalry developed. It grew bigger, and bigger, until it consumed the city's identity. And then critical mass was achieved when, improbably, the two met in the Final Four.
And that was it. The gates busted loose. It just wasn't a terribly strong city. It served its purpose. Everyone's relocating, and the city will be completely vacated. Some are saying the Army is gonna step in and buy the town. Apparently one firm wants to buy a chunk of it and re-purpose it as a paintball park. We'll see.
I finished my piece as soon as I got power back this morning. They're gonna love it. This is Pulitzer shit. But it isn't going to be as good as it could have been, because there is something I was unable to find words for. When I turned in my seat on the bus and stared at the town, with its un-fought fires and its black smoke puffing in the daylight, it was to the chorus of a couple of guys sitting across the aisle, one a drunk Kentucky fan and one a Louisville fan with his arm in a makeshift sling, arguing over what might have been, who might have won.
And then their voices raised. I looked around the bus. As they clumsily attempted to fight, no one else attempted to break them up. A woman turned to me. "You're not from here," she said. "You don't understand." "Wooo!" yelled another. "C! A! R! D! S! CARDS!"
She was right. It's over, it's all over, and I'm glad nobody won.