NEW ORLEANS — In the context of sports, I'm convinced it is impossible to overhype the magnitude of Kentucky's intrastate Final Four meeting with Louisville on Saturday in the history of our state.
"The most amped-up game in Final Four history," Louisville guard Chris Smith said Thursday.
"Really big for the fans and the state of Kentucky," UK star Anthony Davis said.
Even NCAA President Mark Emmert is in on the hype: "On Saturday night, we believe (the Mercedes-Benz SuperDome) will be one of the largest towns in the state of Kentucky."
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But where does the UK-U of L hoops Armageddon of 2012 rank in comparison to the original Louisville-Kentucky Dream Game in the 1983 NCAA Tournament Mideast Regional finals?
Seeking the answer, I have polled a series of Kentucky sports figures old enough to remember the original Dream Game — including the '83 coaching antagonists Joe B. Hall and Denny Crum.
On the floor for debate: Which UK-U of L matchup is bigger — 1983 or 2012?
The case for 1983
The problem with comparing the magnitude of basketball games separated by almost three decades is that the present tends to obscure the past.
Let's refresh ourselves on just how "big" the '83 Dream Game was.
Back then, Kentucky and Louisville did not play each other in hoops. Period.
Following a policy set by Adolph Rupp, UK refused to play other in-state foes regardless of the strength of their teams.
By 1983, Crum had already taken Louisville to four Final Fours, won the 1980 national title and clearly built a program that, on the floor, was at the least UK's equal if not its superior.
Yet the Cats wouldn't play the Cards.
The bad blood that arose from the fact the schools didn't play was more venomous than the current white-hot rivalry that exists because they do play.
So in 1983, at the University of Tennessee's Stokely Athletic Center, the NCAA Tournament finally produced what years of media agitation couldn't: A UK-U of L matchup, and one with a Final Four berth at stake.
It was the first time in 24 years that basketball teams representing Kentucky and Louisville had faced each other, the prior time being a 76-61 Cardinals win in the 1959 NCAA Tournament.
Everyone remembers then-Kentucky Gov. John Y. Brown Jr. showing up for the game in a sport coat that was half Wildcats blue and half Cardinals red.
"I think more people remember that coat than remember anything I did as governor," Brown said this week.
If you think the mutual loathing between John Calipari and Rick Pitino is intense, go on YouTube and find the CBS pre-game show that preceded the '83 Dream Game.
You'll find Crum and Hall — who today host a radio talk show together and genuinely seem like BFFs — trading caustic barbs.
At one point, CBS had dispatched a hard-nosed investigative reporter to Lexington to grill Hall about why UK wouldn't play U of L.
On that pre-game show, you see Hall ordering the reporter — John Tesh; yes, that John Tesh — to turn off his camera.
Looked in on 29 years later, it's one of the funniest things on the Internet.
But back then, emotions ran high.
"To me, you still have to go with the Dream Game," said former Lexington Legends president Alan Stein. "I was running a college bar, 803 South. I can still remember that day, we had one tap running blue beer and one tap running red beer. I don't think there's ever been a feeling like there was just because it had been so long since those teams played."
Both Crum and Hall rank the '83 meeting as bigger than the 2012 matchup.
Said Crum: "I'm probably prejudiced because I was involved in the '83 thing. At the time, we hadn't played Kentucky in (24 years). On top of that, the game was for the right to go to the Final Four. That made it a huge deal."
Added Hall: "No question, I think it was the first one. We hadn't played in over 20 years. The pre-game just got an unbelievable build-up."
The case for 2012
Unlike 1983, when Kentucky and Louisville fought for the right to go to the Final Four, on Saturday the Cats and Cards will face off in the national semifinals. The simple fact that it is deeper in the tournament argues for 2012 being the bigger game.
Now, UK and U of L play every year, so the mystery that was so much a part of the '83 build-up is absent.
Which is not to say that this year's UK-U of L NCAA Tournament meeting lacks compelling story lines.
Start with the coaches. Louisville's Pitino is a former Kentucky coach who subsequently chose to work for UK's biggest rival.
UK's Calipari, who is six years younger, has spent his entire career being measured against Pitino because the two share so many surface similarities.
"I think this time is bigger," said Brown, the former Kentucky governor. "From the (University of) Kentucky perspective, I don't think anything has ever generated the excitement and pride that Calipari has done since he came to this state. Then you have Pitino. One of the best parts of this is going to be seeing what each of those guys says (leading up to the game)."
The biggest difference between 2012 and 1983 has nothing to do with the participants. It is the number of media platforms available to hype the game. In 1983, there was no Facebook or Twitter. There were not Internet message boards nor a blogosphere. In 1983, ESPN was just getting started and the volume of sports-talk radio was much lower.
"The 2012 game is bigger than the 1983 meeting because the fan bases are connected worldwide via social media," said Terry Meiners, the WHAS radio afternoon disc jockey and former host of the Rick Pitino television show, "Getting teased is one thing. Having six billion others eavesdropping on the taunt, ouch. That's gonna leave a mark."
The 2012 game is deeper in the tournament. It comes at a time when there seems literally an infinite media capacity for creating pre-game hype.
Yet the 1983 game had mystery. At the time it occurred, few people had even seen a Kentucky-Louisville basketball game.
Because it turned out to be such a stirring event — a Louisville overtime victory in a game in which both Cats and Cards played well — the original Dream Game led to the start of the UK-U of L regular-season series.
That game is also the reason UK began playing other in-state schools.
It is not an exaggeration to say the original Dream Game changed college basketball in the commonwealth.
Which is why, as as much as there is on the line in New Orleans on Saturday night and as excited as our state, myself included, is about it, the '83 game was bigger.