It all started when I was 7 years old. All I knew was my father was a mess, watching some type of game on the grainy, box television. Suddenly, everything changed. My dad, my mom, everyone was jumping up and down, perhaps the happiest Iíd ever seen them. One team in blue and white had defeated another in blue and white. I was confused, excited, and from that day on, my blood ran blue, Kentucky blue.
The game was the 1998 Regional final, a classic that saw the University of Kentucky Wildcats fall behind as much as 18 points to the Duke Blue Devils before storming back on their way to the title. The game was payback six years in the making for the ďLaettner shot.Ē But more importantly, it was my introduction to the passionate ó often to a fault ó fan base that supports the íCats, the Big Blue Nation.
When I made the roughly 2,100-mile trek out to Washington, I realized how much Iíd taken these basketball nuts for granted. In the Bluegrass State, itís hard to escape the Blue. Walk down any street, or simply drive down the road, and thereís roughly a 90 percent chance youíll see the precious ďUKĒ logo in the amount of time it took me to write this sentence.
Basketball is more than a sport in the Commonwealth. Itís culture. Itís religion. In 2012, Kentucky matched up with its bitter rival, the University of Louisville, in the Final Four on its way to another National Championship.
The week before the game, police were called to a dialysis treatment center in the state after a fight erupted between a pair of elderly gentlemen over the game. Now, take that moment and spread it across an entire state and youíll begin to get the picture.
Iíve seen weddings rescheduled because they conflicted with the basketball season. When I attended Western Kentucky University while I got my degree in journalism, the Hilltoppers were the second most popular team on campus. Standing out in the snow for 10 hours in December for second row seats for a game against the University of North Carolina, my only regret was not arriving early enough for the first row.
The Big Blue Nation unites people, brings families together. From October to March, itís still the first thing I talk about with my dad every time we talk. And now, even on the other side of the country, I still intend on watching every single game, screaming and fist pumping. I may not still be in the heart of the Big Blue, but my blue blood still runs strong.
Casey McCarthy can be reached by email at email@example.com. He is slowly but surely assimilating to the land of Cougs and Dawgs.