There is something sacred about Rupp Arena. If you walk into the place as soon as the doors open, its strikingly similar to a sanctuary; beautiful yet haunting. As it fills with fans and the game day atmosphere begins to build, electricity permeates the air and you can feel it in your bones. You know you are somewhere special.
Then suddenly, the strangest thing happens: the crowd sombers. Not all of the crowd, but those in the best seats–the lower arena.
Where is the “6th Man?” Where are the fans who are so passionate that a Netflix-worthy documentary was made to celebrate their fandom? They are there. Although easily heard, you would have stand on the court and look up with a slight squint to see the “6th Man.” On one end of the court, you have the students who show up and show out as anyone would expect; and in the nose bleed seats, you have a fanatical bunch who rarely ever sit. There, my friends, is your “6th Man.”
Essentially, Rupp houses three sets of people: Those who pay hundreds or thousands of dollars on premium seats, students who wait in long lines to get eRUPPtion Zone tickets, and blue bloods who pay three and four times the face value for tickets online to cheer from the rafters. The latter two are the members of the #BBN that you hear on television. The “6th Man” are the people that Rupp Arena was built for.
It is very frustrating when watching college basketball on television and you see other storied arenas like Cameron Indoor Stadium and Phog Allen Fieldhouse with their student sections spanning one end of the baseline to the other, floor to upper deck. Annoying as the opposing fans may find them, they are important, without doubt. No matter where the action is on the court, always behind it is a guy with a painted face screaming until he has no voice. Rupp is desperately missing this.
It pains me to see, in the “House that Rupp Built,” an attendee being so disinterested in the game that they are seen on television playing about on their iPhones. We see her sitting directly behind the commentators, scrolling Facebook while dressed to the hilt. She may look beautiful but she can’t be a real fan, right? We see him on ESPN with the furrowed brow searching through his email. All the while, they both missed a courageous steal by Briscoe who dished a lob up to Lee for a rim-breaking dunk. However, what really gets my blood boiling are the spectators who sit emotionless throughout the entire game, minus the few instances where they break their vow of silence to give a underwhelming golf clap.
It’s distasteful, cringe-worthy, and (dare I say it) disrespectful to all that Rupp Arena was and is. It just looks and feels so wrong.
I am patiently awaiting the day when Tyler Ulis stands atop the scorer’s table and shouts, in true gladiator fashion, ‘Are you not entertained?’
I have had the honor of watching the Cats play in Rupp twice. The first time, I was around 13 years old and sat on the tip-top row. This is where my love affair with that old arena began. I stood on my seat the entire game so I could see beyond the man standing in front of me. My best friend and I waved our blue and white pom-poms and adapted a handful of cheers we knew from our middle school’s cheer team to rally the Cats. We were in good company with the “6th Man” crowd to our left and our right. They were enjoying the experience as much as we were. I will never forget it. It will be a day I forever hold in my heart.
I anticipated my second time at Rupp for weeks. I held in my hands tickets to premium lower arena seats. I had not stepped foot in Rupp for over a decade, which meant I was about ten years past due to return. I waddled my seven-months-pregnant-self down to my throne with an incredible view of all the action to come. But, as game commenced, it became obvious I was out of place. I would be the only one in the general vicinity who would jump, shout, and cheer; no other “6th Man” to be found. No one said an unkind word to me, but they did not have to. It was abundantly clear my neighbors did not find my enthusiasm cute. Bluntly stated, I felt unwelcome. That is a lonely emotion to feel in a place that you adore.
I do not know the solution to this dilemma. It doubtfully is simple. But, what I do know is that Kentucky Basketball and Rupp’s House deserves way more than what they get, especially after all they have given us. The thrills, the chills, the tears, and the memories ought to celebrated with more than half-hearted applause.
Our history’s only rival is our present, who is only rivaled by our future.
C’mon, Big Blue Nation! We are the home of college basketball. We stand tall among the rest. Our history’s only rival is our present, who is only rivaled by our future. No other program comes close! We employ the most electric head coach in the game who recruits the nation’s best like his life depends on it. Our boys hang banner, after banner, after banner in the hallowed rafters above.
We are college basketball. We are the Kentucky Wildcats and we call the Rupp Arena our home, y’all! Not everyone can say that. For the love of all we are, be thankful, show some respect, and be better. Be the “6th Man.”
Follow me on Twitter: @xKSYorkx