It's beautiful country, full of rolling hills, picturesque horse farms, big winding rivers and fans that hate one another with a fever pitch that would make Hollywood drama queen script writers blush.
It is Kentucky, home of the Louisville Cardinals and Kentucky Wildcats, two teams that will meet Saturday in the NCAA Final Four in New Orleans.
It will be like putting two scalded cats in a closet. And closing the door.
Two weeks ago, sports writer Jeff Call and I spent the better part of a week in Ohio and Kentucky covering the NCAA tournament and we were impressed at the fervor those two fan bases have for their teams. In one shoot-around-session in Louisville's KFC Yum! Center, Kentucky fans descended on the building by the thousands and almost filled the entire lower bowl.
It was a weekday, not a weekend, and it was before lunch.
We saw men, young and old. We saw mothers and daughters. We saw school children and babes in arms. We saw an army.
Kentucky doesn't have an NFL franchise or a Major League Baseball team. What they do have is basketball and it's like a religion — or like two nations inside one single state. To say they're rabid is an understatement.
Rupp Arena in Lexington is like a multiplex or mall and when you walk through the KFC Yum! Center lobby, you see escalators, restaurants, shops and you feel like you are in a New York City shopping center.
Call turned to me at one point and said, "Fans in Utah think they are die-hard fans of their teams, but it is nothing like this." He was right. The energy and money thrown by Louisville and Kentucky fans at their beloved teams is practically an out of control obsession. It's almost a force of nature in itself.
That may be why Kentucky coach John Calipari warned sports writers in New Orleans this week that regardless of what organization they worked for, or from what time zone, they better not tick off Kentucky fans.
"They are piranha," he said. "If you have an agenda, and you write a story that's agenda-driven, they will take out everything you've written and prove it wrong, and then look at your background and go over what you've done."
Calipari then made sounds like munching food.
"They'll eat your yard and they'll eat your house. These people are nuts."
Earlier this week came the story out of the Georgetown Dialysis Clinic that a Louisville and Kentucky fan got in a physical fight while having their kidneys cleaned. It is true.
"I think this is a first at a dialysis center," said police Lt. Robert Swanigan.
Apparently patient Charles Taylor, who was waiting to get hooked up to a machine, said he thought Louisville would win Saturday. Kentucky fan Ed Wilson said, "He just happened to think U of L would beat UK and he started to run his mouth. That's what started it."
Taylor countered: "I didn't talk to him about the ballgame; I was talking to another guy about the game. He was meddling. And told me to shut up and gave me the finger."
Taylor said he wasn't going to take that from Wilson, "So I hit him." Wilson said he was hooked up to the machine and couldn't do anything.
"I didn't hit him that hard, but I hit him," admitted Taylor.
Then came the online advertisement this week on Craigslist where a UK fan offered his wife in exchange for Final Four tickets.
"I've never been in a place in my life where they're so passionate," Calipari said Tuesday of Wildcat fans. "Yet, they've got a soft heart. They're not mean and nasty. They're not The Miserables."
What makes Saturday even more dramatic is Louisville's Rick Pitino, who previously coached at Kentucky. He and Calipari put on a good act, but in reality they've been sniping at each other for years behind the scenes as they mark their territory in the state through recruiting, fundraisers and camps.
Pitino, who lost to Calipari earlier this year, knows how to set up Kentucky fans because he knows their hearts. He has roamed the sidelines at Rupp as a UK coach and felt the fanatical blood boil. He's used this week to prime the pump and "stir up the paranoia" that resides deep in the soul of UK faithful.
What if UK lost to Louisville?
He throws that out there as if it were a poisonous snake hiding under a rock.
"There will be people at Kentucky that will have a nervous breakdown if they lose to us," Pitino told reporters right after the Cardinals won the NCAA West Regional.
"You've got to watch. They've got to put the fences up on bridges. There will be people consumed by Louisville."
Calipari acknowledges the emotional stakes but is trying to calm the setting before the storm that will come on Saturday.
"These people are crazy," said Calipari. "But it's what you want in our profession. But when you're in it, you're like, 'These people are crazy.' They're into this, and it's fun. What I'm saying (to Kentucky fans) is just worry about us. Don't worry about Louisville."
Especially if you are hooked up to a dialysis machine.
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