“Olympic torch flaming, we burn so sweet. The thrill of victory, the agony of defeat.” – U-God
Once again, tournament time is upon us here in the Bluegrass state. Never Nervous kindly invited me to represent the Big Blue Nation.
The first Friday of every NCAA tournament is a special day for me and my fellow Wildcat friends. We have a long-running tradition of taking off from our jobs to assemble and watch the day’s games together. We compare tournament brackets, consume lots of unhealthy food, and generally root for the underdogs in every game. You won’t find a more enthusiastic group of spontaneous fans-for-a-day. Florida Gulf Coast Eagles. Richmond Spiders. Loyola Marymount Lions. South Dakota State Jackrabbits (my personal favorite). We’ve been all of them.
Talent, Heart and Upsets
Kentucky fans are well aware that the formula for success in this sport is to stack the odds in your favor as much as possible. The promise of professional success attracts the top talent to Lexington every year, with many recruits openly acknowledging their intentions of being “one-and-done”—the requisite one-year stopover in college before NBA eligibility. Despite considerable advantages in recruiting, UK fans have not forgotten that the sheer unpredictability of the sport is what makes college basketball so exciting. The enduring prestige of the Wildcats program effectively paints a target on the team’s back, ensuring that they draw their opponent’s best effort every time they step onto the court. I’ve watched benchwarmers and role players rise to superhuman levels trying to defeat my beloved Wildcats. And I’ve seen those same players uniformly receive standing ovations from the Rupp Arena home crowd. Because the fans understand that bearing witness to a player’s career-best performance is a truly special treat. The NCAA tournament is filled with such moments.
Reprogramming the Game Day Soundtrack
If you’re anything like me, nothing gets you going like a great playlist. Unfortunately, the music at most sporting events is atrocious and University of Kentucky games aren’t much better. With the exception of Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls” on third downs in Commonwealth Stadium, which I am quite fond of, I’d throw it all out and start from scratch.
Here is my breakdown of music routinely played at Kentucky’s basketball games vs. my proposals for a superior Big Blue soundtrack.
Currently played: “The National Anthem” by Francis Scott Key
Andrew’s counter-proposal: “Prayer To God” by Shellac
25,000 fans singing “Kill ’em, fucking kill ’em” (a slight lyrical alteration) in unison seems like a fitting welcome to the visiting team.
General hype music:
Currently played: “Cat Scratch Fever” by Ted Nugent
Andrew’s counter-proposal: “Cool For Cats” by Squeeze
It’s cool to be a cat! Ted Nugent, on the other hand, is an embarrassment who should be scrubbed from our collective consciousness.
Currently played: “Rock and Roll Part 2” by Gary Glitter
Andrew’s counter-proposal: “Plastic Bag” by Evergreen
“Plastic Bag” from Louisville’s legendary punks is an arena rock anthem waiting to happen.
Currently played: “Sandstorm” by Darude
Andrew’s counter-proposal: “Phoenix in Flames” by Converge
You can always count on Converge to bring the intensity. This one may need to be played three or four times to fill a single commercial break, though.
Currently played: “Turn Down For What” by Lil Jon
Andrew’s counter-proposal: “Peaches En Regalia” by Frank Zappa
Seeing the UK student band perform the Zappa classic would be a dream come true.
Currently played: “Mony Mony” by Tommy James & the Shondells
Andrew’s counter-proposal: “Magic Mountain” by Lightning Bolt
I still don’t know what “mony mony” means, but it doesn’t matter because Lightning Bolt means victory.
When an opposing player fouls out:
Currently played: “Na Na Hey Kiss Him Goodbye” by Steam
That fifth foul is always a heartbreaker. Sorry, but you’re dead to us.
After the final buzzer sounds:
Currently played: “My Old Kentucky Home” by Stephen Foster
No disrespect to our official state song, but the 1970 Elvis track is simply one of the best pop songs of all time, and considerably more uptempo than the 1850’s anti-slavery ballad.
I’m not really the superstitious type, but I’ve always been intrigued by the concept of pregame rituals and traditions. I’ve read that Kentucky men’s basketball coach John Calipari has a pregame ritual that includes Wendy’s chili, which must be acquired by his wife Ellen in order to properly replicate the preconditions of victory; former Kentucky assistant coach and NBA star Rod Strickland supposedly ate a hot dog before every game. Neither of these sounds very appealing, but you just never know: any dietary lapse could be unexpectedly locked into permanence.
Optimal Viewing Guidelines
While I don’t regularly engage in superstitions, I do have a few habits and preferences for viewing I’d like to recommend:
1. Put the phone down
Like most good things, the game-watching experience is more enjoyable without the running commentary of social media. It’s a distraction that undermines a deeper analysis of the game. And you will definitely need to put the phone away if you take my next bit of advice…
2. Utilize your broadcast options.
Only 40 of the 120 minutes of a college basketball game are actual gameplay. The rest is a combination of commercials, time-outs, free throws, and reviews. I like to let the DVR get a headstart before I begin watching. I still watch marquee games live, but cutting out the commercials can make a blowout or foul-fest a much more tolerable affair.
Another trick I learned from older UK fans is to sync the radio broadcast to the video stream—the radio commentators’ enthusiasm more than compensates for the grainy audio quality (old-schoolers may even prefer the analog aesthetic).
3. Everything in moderation
Loud, inebriated idiots are obnoxious in any setting, but they are seemingly ubiquitous in any sports atmosphere. Big mobs of humans are already dumb enough without the influence of alcohol. I’d recommend limiting the imbibing until after the game, which is really where alcohol is at its most useful anyway. If your team wins, celebrate with a shot! If your team loses, drown your sorrows with several!
4. The last 5 minutes of any competitive game will be spent pacing back and forth
The science behind this is mysterious, but just know that it helps you feel better and makes your team play better.
5. Don’t take it too seriously
This is obvious advice that won’t matter much in the heat of the moment. Still, it’s important to remember that sports fandom is really goddamned stupid. It’s a conscious choice to have a rooting interest in something you have no real involvement in, and no control over at all. The ideal thing to root for is an entertaining game with minimal fouls and no injuries.
Northern Kentucky University (Horizon League) has secured their bid to the tournament in their very first year of eligibility, a truly impressive feat. Go Norse! Northwestern University (Big Ten) also looks poised to make their first tournament appearance after decades in absentia.
So with that, here’s to a great 2017 tournament for all the teams, players and fans. Go Cats! (yay!) Go Cards! (boooo!) Go Norse! (yay!) And go Jackrabbits! (huh??)
This post was written by Andrew Padon who has been in a number of excellent bands over the years including Straight A’s and Kangaroo. His most recent project is called Body Double, a synth-heavy indie rock endeavor that you should absolutely check out. Go here to listen to it/download it on Bandcamp.