Fans young and old toast the Cats' accomplishment of 2,000 wins

awilson@herald-leader.comDecember 22, 2009 

If you didn't know better, you'd think this game was for all the marbles.

The place was packed. People were dressed up, kissing each other hello. Women brought noisemakers in their handbags.

And everybody who came through the Rupp Arena doors thereafter knew what was on Monday night's menu: A win for the record books, the bar bets and the bragging rights, and that great knowledge that you could say you were there.

On hand were 10-year-old girls like Caitlyn Burdine, who got these tickets as an early Christmas present. It was just her fourth real-live University of Kentucky game, but her daddy, Chris, was making memories.

Across a few aisles and down a few rows from Caitlin was 91 year-old Alta Wells, who has had season tickets since her employer transferred them to her in 1956.

Truth is, Alta was a football fan first and has sat through more than her share of losing seasons. But not in this arena, nor the one over on Avenue of Champions. Those seasons never disappointed — especially since she was a people-watcher who, in the old arena, had tickets seven rows up from Happy Chandler, who used to like to bring politicians and Col. Harlan Sanders around occasionally.

A life is made on these special kinds of moments, Alta says, and you don't want to miss them. She says wouldn't have missed the 2,000th victory unless the weather had kept her from driving or unless her knee, which sometimes gives her trouble when she bowls, had gone out.

William Pasco's idea was to keep it simple: Just buy Hanes T-shirts and paint a single digit — one and three nines — on each. Then, around the eight-minute timeout mark in the last quarter, when the cameras go swinging around the arena, he and his buds would do a simultaneous half-monty, 18-year-old chest flash.

All four guys — Pasco, Ben Horn, Josh Yeary and Andy Bessin — live in Holmes Hall, and they began standing in line at 2:30 Monday afternoon to make sure they got the first row. They did.

When the time came, they yanked up their shirts and swung them over their heads, baring their chests and the "2000" painted in bright blue.

It was not long before the moment was about to be real. But before the blue and white confetti flew and the silver and blue streamers fell, the crowd rose. The lights got brighter. The fight song was sung by every soul in the joint.

Tradition was everywhere. And it was what mattered Monday night.

Michael Jarboe would be here if it were No. 1792, he says. "If it's UK basketball, I'm there. The basketball program is the reason I came to Kentucky. I got more scholarship offers from other schools, but basketball is more important than that."

Nick Tewes "body painted myself for North Carolina. I got three hours of sleep, stood in the cold in nothing else but my shorts for that game. I skipped studying for tests for a game. I've camped out for hours. I've missed a test for a students-only practice."

So, no, he wasn't going to miss this game.

And, yes, at around 9 o'clock, after Calipari and Joe B. Hall had spoken, after some in the arena were afraid no fan would leave, Tewes was texting everyone in his cell phone book who was a Louisville fan with the same message: "In yo' face, it is now official. We are the number one program of all time."

It was sweet.

But wait — the boys in the stands were ecstatic, but they would not, they assured, be going home to burn any sofas tonight.

Sofa-burning is for March, when the college basketball world has to bow down — not just in appreciation for tradition, but in fear that Kentucky is not nearly done with it.

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