Denny Crum, the Louisville basketball coach, had become pretty much resigned to the fact that his team would never play the University of Kentucky.
Louisville's years of pleading and bold challenges, and the governor and state legislature's threats of intervention had been unsuccessful.
But Saturday at 12:45 p.m. (WDVM-TV-9), Kentucky and Louisville will play here at Stokely Center for the first time since 1959--not as the result of a breakthrough of good will or common sense, but because fate has forced them to compete for the Mideast regional championship.
And Crum admitted today he is "extremely happy" to be playing Kentucky, especially when the winner will go to Albuquerque next week for the final four.
Those were some of Crum's mildest words at his morning press conference. When told Kentucky Coach Joe B. Hall had said earlier the pressure is on Louisville to win, Crum became a little excited.
"The pressure is on them," Crum said. "They're the ones who have refused to play us all these years. Our record is better than theirs over the last 10 years."
Hall had also said that Kentucky offered to play Louisville last November in the Hall of Fame game at Springfield, Mass. Crum was asked about those comments, too.
"They tried to con us into playing in November on a neutral court when they had everybody back and expected Sam Bowie back," Crum said. "I had just lost six seniors. He (Hall) wanted the best of both worlds. He wanted to play the game, but away from the state of Kentucky. His own fans had been on his back about playing us. Well, I don't blame him for trying, but I wasn't born yesterday . . . My name's Tucker, not sucker."
So at last, this will be "Game of the Century" for basketball fans in the state of Kentucky.
The simple fact is that Kentucky--haughty, some would say arrogant, Kentucky--has refused to schedule Louisville, hiding behind some unspecified "school policy" that administration officials say prevents the school from playing any in-state schools. Never mind that Kentucky plays Louisville in baseball and several other nonrevenue sports.
Players on both teams say things nobody believes, such as, "This is just another game," and, "It doesn't matter who your opponent is once you get this far."
But the fans won't let the players forget. The Hyatt-Regency Hotel here was abuzz at 3 a.m. Friday, hours after Louisville had defeated Arkansas, 65-63, which followed Kentucky's 64-59 victory over Indiana.
"This game has to be viewed as different," said George Bisig, a Louisville alum. "I'm a fan of both schools. I'm just tired of the state of Kentucky being deprived of seeing these two schools play."
Bisig was discussing the situation with Bob Stallings, one of the Kentucky boosters who feels UK has been wrong for refusing to schedule Louisville.
"Saturday, Kentucky is going to have to defend that antiquated policy; a policy which is dead wrong," Stallings said. "And he (Coach Hall) knows it. I'm convinced Adolph Rupp (the legendary Kentucky coach) was the source of that policy many years ago.
"The Kentucky administration has nothing really to gain from this, but a hell of a lot to lose."
Bill Olsen, director of athletics at Louisville, was asked what he thought of the rivalry.
"What rivalry?" he said. "The word rivalry is the biggest misnomer. What we have is a lack of competition. There's even been a lack of discussion lately between the two schools."
Little, if anything, will be lacking Saturday afternoon in terms of basketball. Louisville, ranked No. 2 in the nation, is 31-3. Kentucky, ranked No. 9, is 23-7.
Louisville, led by Scooter and Rodney McCray, Lancaster Gordon and Milt Wagner, is trying for its third trip to the Final Four in four years. Kentucky seniors Dirk Minniefield, Derrick Hord and Charles Hurt are tired of the criticism their team has received the last few years for having played poorly in the NCAA tournament.
"Choking? This is the first I've heard of it," Hall said.
If there is one noteworthy trend, it is Louisville's difficulty against teams with strong centers. The Cardinals' only losses this year were to Virginia and Ralph Sampson, Purdue with Russell Cross and UCLA on the night Stuart Gray had one of his few good games. Louisville had big trouble Thursday with Arkansas' Joe Kleine.
Kentucky's 6-11 Melvin Turpin could cause problems.
"It's great to be finally seeing this game," said Ed Lewis, a Kentucky booster. "But I think the notion that the fans from these schools hate each other is very much exaggerated. When this 'Game of the Century' is all over, we all have to go back home and live with each other, patronize each other, go to work with each other.
"Let's hope this can be amicable."