You don’t have to tell Kentucky fans that Big Blue Madness is one of the most magical events in sports. After all, we played a huge part in making Madness the must-see event that is has become. Though the event bears very little resemblance to the original “Midnight Special,” the effect on fans remains unchanged. This is a night for the fans, a time when they can familiarize themselves with the new Wildcats and welcome back returning players as well.
When the players first burst through paper hoops and onto the court of Memorial Coliseum on October 14, 1982, few could have foreseen what a huge production Madness would eventually become. The first Madness was created to generate excitement for the upcoming basketball season. There were questions about whether anyone would even show up for a practice, especially one that began at midnight. They needn’t have worried though, as 8,500 fans were in attendance.
Over the years, attendance remained strong with fans arriving earlier and earlier each year to secure a prime seat. By 2005, Madness was moved to Rupp Arena for a couple of reasons. Memorial Coliseum was undergoing some renovations which had reduced the seating capacity to 5,700. This coupled with a growing interest in the event made the change to Rupp Arena a logical move. Since that time, Big Blue Madness has regularly been attended by 23,000 passionate Wildcat fans.
For a comprehensive history of Big Blue Madness, please check out this fantastic piece on Spam’s Wildcat Page.
The Big Blue Madness of the past has now grown into a full-blown professional production celebrating Kentucky Basketball. The Women’s Hoops team is now an integral part of the event, and Coach Matthew Mitchell’s now-annual dance is a fan favorite. The UK Dance team gets to strut their stuff and our 20-time National Champions cheerleaders get to wow the audience with their new and daring routines. Gone are the paper hoops, replaced with laser lights, smoke machines and fireworks. And, thanks to the incredible fan support, Big Blue Madness has grown into a very effective recruiting tool.
Make no mistake, Coach Cal knows how to use this stage to his advantage. Besides showing potential recruits the unmatched passion of the Kentucky fan base, he delivers a speech each year that is perfect for the current condition of the program. If you’re a talented high school player with aspirations to one day play in the NBA, how could you not be impressed when Cal can casually mention the presence of Anthony Davis (he of the recently signed $145 million contract) in the audience? It is clear John Calipari knows how to develop talent into legitimate NBA lottery picks, and it is even clearer that those players love Cal and genuinely enjoy returning to Rupp Arena for Madness. How can this not positively influence those recruits?
Of course, what Calipari does best is remind us of the great tradition that we have with Kentucky Basketball and finds a way to tie that to our present and future. Besides pleasing fans with videos and talk of Wildcat teams and players of the past, it sends a strong message to recruits: play at Kentucky and you are forever a part of the BBN. You are always a part of the Kentucky Basketball family. In 5-10 years, it could be you that returns to Rupp with the crowd going wild upon your arrival. If you think that doesn’t make a strong impression on teenagers, you’d be very mistaken.
But let’s put all of that aside for a moment and examine the impact of Big Blue Madness on the fans. For many, this may be the only time all season they get to see the Wildcats in person. Rising ticket prices coupled with the increasing demand for those tickets makes it financially impossible for some people to attend games. As a member of the Big Blue Nation, you know that feeling when you step into Rupp Arena. It’s that magical moment when you can feel the presence of UK’s tradition and the promise of the future. Just setting foot on this hallowed ground can bring tears to the eyes of some fans. Even without a game being played, we can still cheer loudly and enjoy all the festivities surrounding Madness. In some cases, attending Madness can take a casual fan and transform them into a bleed-blue-til-I-die enthusiast. A prime example of this was my daughter’s experience last night.
First, let me assure you that I have done my very best to raise my child to be an avid Wildcat fan. Those efforts, however, have not been wholly successful. Yes, she cheered for the Wildcats and she proudly wore her blue. But if she missed a game on television, it wasn’t that big of a deal to her. Last night was pure magic for her, though. Due to several lucky circumstances, she enjoyed a view from the front row. Sure, part of the appeal was knowing she would more than likely get her face on TV since she was seated directly behind the SEC Network analysts. However, being so close to the players and Coach Cal had a tremendous impact on her. She told me on the way home that now she “gets it” and understands how I could be so “crazy” about the Cats all these years.
As for me, it was a very special night as well. Madness is always special to me. It is the start of a new season, filled with hope and promise. It is the return of my favorite sport and it is the official coming out party for our new Wildcats. The icing on the Big Blue cake though, is knowing my daughter now shares my passion and devotion to our Cats. That to me is priceless.