I’ve often been asked what team I would cheer for if the Wildcats didn’t exist. My answer has always been a resounding “None!” as I simply cannot fathom any other athletic program being able to capture my heart the way the University of Kentucky has done. But it’s not just being a fan. For me, it’s a way of life. It’s living blue.
Living blue requires a commitment and a willingness to deal with ignorance and hatred from opposing fan bases. Because of our rich, winning tradition in basketball, UK attracts a lot of hate from a lot of directions. You know the schtick: Kentucky pays recruits! Kentucky cheats! Interestingly enough, this most frequently comes from fans from Kansas (NCAA violations in 2006 & 2008), Louisville (1996, 1998 and the current cesspool of allegations being investigated), and North Carolina (Hello! 19 years of widespread, calculated academic fraud, still under NCAA investigation), all conveniently ignored.
Living blue means having the national media constantly dissecting your program unlike any other. They make statements that the Cats should go 40-0, then as soon as a game is lost, proceed to proclaim to all who will listen how ridiculous it was to even consider a 40-0 season. Some hate Kentucky and always find negatives to write. Some hate Calipari and make him the poster boy for all that is wrong with college basketball, no matter how many times he proves them wrong. And some, well they hate Kentucky and Calipari. They’re like vultures, constantly circling overhead, waiting for even the tiniest misstep so they can once again rip apart the UK Basketball program.
Living blue isn’t all negative. For instance, there is that sense of pride you feel when you see former Wildcats excelling in professional sports. It’s knowing your school’s players take seriously the charge to be “servant leaders.” It’s welcoming back former players at a basketball or football game and hearing cheers that are just as loud as they were when those players wore Kentucky blue. It is being confident that wherever you may travel, not just in the United States but also internationally, you will encounter a member of the BBN. It is knowing that, while other schools may claim to have a “nation,” their fan bases pale in comparison. We truly have a nation and then some.
Living blue is a choice. You choose to give your heart and energy to supporting the Wildcats. You become a part of that mighty force known as the Big Blue Nation. Good and bad, warts and all, there is no fan base anywhere that can boast the sheer numbers and passion that a group has for their team. The BBN is much like any family — there may be a lot of arguing and fighting within the fan base, but let someone from another fan base attack and see how quickly we unite. It’s 24,000+ people attending the first organized practice of the basketball season. It’s 50,000+ fans filling Commonwealth Stadium in April to see a scrimmage with no QB contact and no kick returns. It’s hundreds of thousands upon hundreds of thousands of fans, all passionate about their Wildcats.
Living blue is that butterflies-in-the-stomach feeling you get when you arrive at Commonwealth Stadium on a brisk fall day. The smells of foods being prepared at the fans’ various tailgate gatherings, along with the general hum of anticipation and excitement warms your heart. It’s lining up at the Cat Walk and waiting to greet and cheer on the team and coaches as they make their way into the stadium. It’s the chills you feel when the Wildcat Marching Band takes the field and plays My Old Kentucky Home.
Living blue is knowing when you go to Rupp Arena, you’ll be surrounded by 24,000 other members of the blue faithful. Spontaneous cheers will break out at various locations within the Lexington Center as fans prepare to fill the arena. It’s your heartbeat increasing, your breathing getting shallower as the music to the player introduction video begins. It’s the resounding echoes of “THREE!” when a Wildcat launches a long-range jumper. It’s the emphatic “WHOOSH!” when UK makes a free throw. It’s that electric feeling you get, knowing you are sitting in a very special place — the home of the greatest tradition in college basketball.
Living blue is allowing yourself to care so much for your team that you physically respond to both wins and losses. It’s knowing that no matter how you’re following the game, be it in person, on television or listening on the radio, that you will still cheer audibly. It’s feeling your quarterback’s desolation when he throws an ill-timed interception. It’s feeling your wide receiver’s elation as he makes an impossible catch and runs it to the end zone for the touchdown. It’s feeling your heart thump as another dunk is slammed down.
Living blue is believing with all of your heart that the Wildcats will win, no matter how greatly the odds may seem to be stacked against them. It’s proclaiming to all that will listen that the Cats will make a deep run in the NCAA tournament, regardless of the regular season’s performances. It’s wanting to jump through the television screen and give Aaron Harrison a big hug after he makes one impossible game-winning three after another. It’s wanting to take Alex Poythress’ injury on yourself so he can be on the court playing. And it’s feeling your heart break for the players when they return to Lexington, just shy of their 9th national championship. It’s crying unashamedly, not because you’re sad they lost, but because you are so very proud of how they represented the University of Kentucky. It’s knowing you wanted this championship as a fan, but you really wanted it for the players that gave it their all.
Living blue is my life. The University of Kentucky has my undying loyalty for all their athletic teams. I proudly bleed blue and will defend my Cats against all who try to bring hatred and dissonance to our program. People attack those things they fear, and they fear those things they do not understand. But the Big Blue Nation understands. They understand completely because they are living blue with me.
Follow me on Twitter @ForeverBigBlue