“Coming down here looking for a little bit of knowledge is like trying to get a sip of water from a fire hydrant,” explained Jim McGary, one of the regulars.
The lunch counter is a no-frills space where the decor is dated but the coffee’s fresh. And Kentucky basketball is always the topic of conversation — so much so that even Calipari stops in now and then. He came in earlier this week, in fact. The Wildcats coach certainly didn’t need a reminder, but the old-timers made sure he knew how big Saturday’s game against Louisville is — and never mind that it’s the first time two schools from the same state have made the NCAA tournament’s Final Four since 1991.
McGary, 73, works in the life insurance business, so he knows these things: “I can’t explain it. It’s not a matter of life and death,” he said of Kentucky-Louisville hoops. “It’s more serious than that.”
‘Two different entities’
There are more than 46,000 miles of interstate highway in the United States, but there’s no stretch like the 61 miles of pavement that separate Louisville and Lexington. Similarly, there are 344 Division I basketball teams and perhaps no two — not even that pair down on Tobacco Road — have a disdain quite like what you feel driving around Kentucky. The closest comparison in sports might be Alabama-Auburn football.
The rivalry isn’t apparent on Interstate 64, driving west from Lexington, because Louisville’s fan base barely stretches beyond its city limits. But all you have to do is flip on the radio. Any station will do. One morning last week, Jimmy from Louisville called up to sing a song. Rose said her town was devastated by recent storms but Saturday’s game has helped residents momentarily forget. And “Ronnie on a bucket,” with an accent thicker than molasses, shared the minority opinion: He hopes Saturday’s loser will support the team from the Bluegrass State in Monday’s title game.
“I think that’s something we can all wish for,” said Joe B. Hall, the famed Kentucky coach who co-hosts a daily radio show with Denny Crum, Louisville’s Hall of Fame coach. “Whether it’ll happen or not, we’ll have to wait and see.”
Not likely. These two schools don’t like each other. Never have. The game is still a couple of days away and tension is already heated. Local police, in fact, had to respond to a fight earlier this week — at a dialysis center, of all places.
“I didn’t talk to him about the ballgame,” one of the combatants explained to WKYT-TV. “I was talking to another guy about the game. He was meddling and told me to shut up and gave me the finger!”
The two schools didn’t play a regular season game against each other from 1922 to 1983. While both programs have a history of success, Kentucky has always loomed larger, both inside and outside the state.