I always yearn to be home more than usual during March in Chicago. I was already feeling a little sappy for Louisville, but then I re-watched the video of Patrick Hughes posted by twistedenglish77 and it pushed me over the edge. It occurred to me that it is not by chance that such an inspiring story happened in Louisville. The intrinsic values of Louisville's culture certainly played a role in cultivating such an outcome. As many of you know first hand, living away from Louisville provides a perspective that is difficult have until you have lived elsewhere. I assume that many of you, like me, are missing Louisville right about now. But before I get to my deep affection for our city, I'd like to give those of you who have not lived outside the Louisville area a brief sketch of what March can be like outside of Kentucky (and presumably North Carolina).
Every March since 2002, I have witnessed Chicagoans treat college basketball like a cheap parlor game used for nothing more than a distraction from the 15th straight month of winter (this year's mild winter aside). It became evident during my first couple of years how little Chicagoans actually cared about college basketball, including many of the people who held themselves out as serious college basketball fans. (Big Ten schools and ND are most heavily represented up here.) It became clear something was amiss on those frequent occasions when a self-proclaimed huge fan's team lost and I would express some mild but genuine form of sympathy (i.e. "sorry man, that is a tough way to lose," or something similar).
An apology in such a situation comes naturally to you and me because we know the incapacitating sensation that overwhelms us the very second we realize that a Louisville basketball season has ended. It clouds the mind. It constricts the lungs. The stomach feels acidic. It causes a mild paralysis due to shock. Depending on the nature of the loss, it may take up to 72 hours to regain full composure. Whether a UofL fan or UK fan, all of us know that feeling. It is rare, however, to find college basketball trigger such a reaction in a Chicagoan. Of the ten years I have been here, I have only seen fans of UofL, UK, Syracuse, UConn, Kansas and UNC incapacitated by a tourney loss in a way that would be familiar to us. Pretty much everyone else (which most everyone) has about as much passion for their team as they would for an American speed skater in the Olympics - they can go about their day unfazed no matter the outcome. Consequently, there are few people to celebrate the good times with and no one is ever aware after a devastating loss to take it easy on me for a few hours.
But I don't want to give the wrong impression: I don't love Louisville because I love college basketball; rather, I love college basketball because I love Louisville. I love that Louisville basketball puts our city under the spotlight and I know that I am dialed into to my friends and family and fellow Louisvillians for a couple of hours. In any event, the Patrick Hughes video just got me thinking about those qualities that distinguish Louisville from other places -- the qualities that make me so proud of where I was raised.
I've been living away from Louisville since I graduated high school in 1998, the last ten of which were in Chicago. During the last couple of years, I finally gave up on the idea that Chicago or any other city north of Louisville could feel like home. (I can't discount cities south of Louisville because I could comfortably settle in Nashville and possibly others). Despite having many good friends here, I have yet to find a group of people that display the confident warmth and graciousness of Louisvillians. Chicago has many wonderful qualities that it is proud of, including its buildings, infrastructure and cultural activities - but not much positive is ever said about the character of its people and they don't seem to care. In fact, the nicest and most interesting people I know in this city were raised somewhere other than Chicago. Based on my 10 years here, it is undeniable that Louisvillians are kinder, more selfless, more patient, more curious, more creative, more likely to possess self-deprecating humor, less judgmental of their neighbors and incredibly less materialistic. And independent of any other city, it is fair to say that Louisville is comfortable in its own skin and is proud to be who it is -- not all towns can say that.
Louisville seems to care about helping people that attempt to help themselves. These qualities and many others are what made the Patrick Hughes story more likely to occur in a place like Louisville than many other places. Although it could happen in Chicago, it requires mental gymnastics to imagine similar circumstances resulting in the same opportunity with the same amount of enthusiastic community support.
There is something uniquely special about Louisville. It is much more than just its patient and warm southern rhythms. It also has an intellectual and creative culture that is strong enough to raise children to be confident and competitive anywhere in the world, but not so intellectual and creative as to be arrogant or aloof. Louisville may not be perfect, but it is undeniably a special place that each of us is fortunate to have running through our soul.
I love Louisville and love our Cards. It has been a tough year for the fans and the players, and we all -- especially the this great group of guys -- deserve nothing more than to celebrate throughout the next few weeks.