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Louisville Vs. Kentucky: A City Vs. A Nation

USA TODAY Sports

We are the city’s team.

A lot of other schools and teams like to describe themselves as "nations." There’s the Red Sox Nation, of course, and, up the road, the Lexington Basketball Academy Nation. The four letter network often loves to talk about "Sportsnation." Yet, although some use "Card Nation," for our team, I do not, will not, and will never.

For we, you see, are the city’s team. For me, that is far more special than being a nation.

Our city has always punched above its weight. Muhammad Ali took that literally and shocked the world. We shipped that same world some of the finest crafted bourbons. We were alongside all of the great sluggers of our national pastime and we gave the nation’s new national pastime the best quarterback it has ever seen. We had a baseball team in the National League before it was cool—and then gave baseball its first betting scandal before Shoeless Joe thought to. We had an ABA team (which, for you kids out there, had much more swag than David Stern ever dreamed of) and won a championship.

Being a partisan of the city’s team is, as Tom Jurich said, being a 6’7 little brother weighing 250 lbs.

We are the city’s team, and the city’s team is a family.

The city’s team is passed down, as a tradition, from father to son and from mother to daughter. For those of you who live outside the city, or have travelled outside of it for any amount of time, you know how odd it is to pull for the city’s team. If you are like me, you did not go to the University of Louisville. You have family members who did, friends as well. When someone from out of town, in an effort to make small talk at a party, restaurant, or on an elevator asks you, "Who's your team?" You answer: "Louisville," because the city and team are synonymous.

"Did you go there?" they say.

"No," you reply. This is usually followed by an odd look.

"So why do you pull for Louisville?"

"Because," you answer, "they’re the city’s team."

"Got a minute?" you add, "I need to explain."

Louisville, since George Rogers Clark first arrived to what would become the city in 1778, has never really fit anywhere. Before Austin was weird, we lived it. Of course, a city founded by a Brit and named after a French king should tell you something is askew.

Most can’t even talk about the city correctly. Our name doesn’t fit the pronunciations of those from the North or South: Loo-uh-vuhl. It has a certain smoothness to it, yeah? You have to live in the city for a bit, pull for its teams, live its rhythms and struggles from Smoketown to Butchertown, from Broadway to Bardstown Road—even all the way out the Snyder to Valley Station and around again to Okolona—to understand that Louisville has a flow to it.

Tom Jurich gets that. Charlie Strong does. Rick, too, as do Ken, Dan, Jeff, and all the other Cardinal coaches. It’s not just them, though. Schnellenberger lived it. Crum breathed it. Darrell leapt because of it. Wheat, Morton, Dean, and Gaines shot with it. Pervis stayed cool with it, Wiley too.

We are the city’s team.

Nothing has come easily for the city’s team. We didn’t get a land grant. We were urban. We were told that urban universities "didn’t matter." We won basketball championships before the NCAA existed—and then others told us that those championships "didn’t matter." We recruited black athletes at a time when others told us such competitors "didn’t matter." We were told that the state’s team wouldn’t play us because Louisville "didn’t matter."

And then, someone told us that we "didn’t exist."

To that I say, as a fan of the city’s team, "We play, we exist." And as long as the city plays like it played this season in football and soccer—and is playing in basketball—let me tell you this:

"Existence is a beautiful thing."

Here’s the story of our city now: the city’s team is 11-1 and our quest for number twelve will occur against a nation.

It won’t be easy. When cities fight nations, it never is. But it will be special. It will be special because we will be punching above our weight again. Don’t let those numbers fool you, and make no mistake, we are a city fighting a nation. Like Ali in Zaire, the sporting world and the state thinks all is against us.

"A team focused on the name on the front? What a quaint idea," it is said. "The game must have passed them by," it is added. "You see how many players we have in the NBA? We just added five more! But it’s cool, we’ll reload. I mean, who needs tradition anyway?" And then the nation does a dance, puts on its goggles, and gets a haircut.

But the city? The city keeps practicing, running laps, lifting weights.

Traditions, like families, take work.

We are the city’s team and what we have, we earned.

The one thing—and listen closely you fans of other nations, because without this, nothing matters—the one thing those others up the road will never understand is that we are not them, we have no desire to be them, and we have no desire to become them. Ever.

Because we are the city’s team.

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