This is a basketball state. The Baron. The Fabulous Five. Mr. Wildcat. The Fiddlin' Five. Pitino. The hanging of the banners. Cawood's Court. Midnight Madness.
Basketball is in our blood and in our history, those of us who have been born and raised in the Bluegrass, and all those who wish they had.
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So why is it that here, one scant week before they put toe to leather next Thursday, do we find ourselves again looking so forward to the football season?
I'll tell you why.
There's nothing else like it.
This is not to say football is better than basketball. That's like saying Bolt is better than Phelps. Why compare? It's apples and oranges, a round ball and an oblong one, a ball that bounces and a ball that kicks off in who knows what direction, which is part of the fun.
For a game played with a ball that has a point, the point is, football has a special appeal all its own.
And here's a touchdown (without the PAT) of reasons why:
It's an event: Football isn't baseball's daily grind of 162 games a year. Football isn't pro basketball's 82 then months of playoffs, or college basketball's any night of the week including the Sabbath if you happen to kneel at the altar of the ACC.
Football is one day a week, Gameday, usually Sunday for the pros, usually Saturday for the colleges, unless of course you are Louisville and you play any time TV tells you to. But still just one night. Event night.
Stadiums: OK, so baseball has its Wrigley Field and its Fenway Park. Basketball has its, well, used to have, its shrines. Now it has its user-friendly structures of luxury suites and exclusive restaurants, where you can wine and dine before taking your golden-circle seats. Pro football has its Lambeau Field. College football doesn't have structures, it has auras.
At Georgia, football is played “between the hedges.” At Louisiana State, it's played in “Death Valley.” Florida plays in “The Swamp.” Tennessee plays amid the constant clamoring of Rocky Top, with boats on the Tennessee River, and a blue-tick hound walking the sideline. Ohio State plays in the “Horseshoe.” Michigan plays in “The Big House.”
What's not to love about that?
Icons: On the pro side, there is Lombardi. On the college side, start with Rockne and continue with Stagg, Bryant, Paterno, Bowden, Spurrier. Just to name a few. Madonna understands. No first name required.
Helmets: Is there a sport that does not include Misty May-Treanor and Kerri Walsh where more attention is paid to what the participants wear?
There is nothing more distinctive than Notre Dame's gold helmets, or the Buckeye decals on the Ohio State headgear, or Alabama's plain white numbers, or whatever those yellow stripes are that makes those Michigan helmets Michigan.
Tailgating: Every time I think this particular angle is overdone, I think of a neighbor who, during the dregs of the Bill Curry era, confided to me, “I'd give up my season tickets if they would just let me keep my parking pass.”
Come on now, what other sport smells like football?
Television: As Phelps was harvesting his “Great Eight,” a great debate began as to which sport translated best to television.
Might it really be swimming, especially the way NBC's high-tech coverage brought the science and the artistry to life? Or is it baseball? Basketball? Racing?
If the late Pete Rozelle were still around, he'd tell you none of the above. Back in the early 1960s, the young NFL commissioner bet his league's future on television, and today it is football, not baseball, that is the national pastime.
College football followed suit, which is why we now have Notre Dame on its own channel, why CBS is emptying its bank vaults for 15 years of the SEC, and why we have the communal college phenomena that is GameDay.
A week from today it returns, and Pete Rozelle, wherever you are, Lee Corso's accountant thanks you.
We do, too.