When I first moved to Louisville, my husband – a lifelong Louisvillian – bought me a bumper sticker that read, “I wasn’t born in Louisville, but I got here as fast as I could.” That saying sums up my story of being a Cardinal fan: I wasn’t born a fan, but once I was introduced to U of L sports, I fell hopelessly in love.
Growing up in rural Northern California, with two sports-obsessed brothers as my playmates, my childhood included more basketball than Barbies. Summer days were spent pretending we were the 1992 Olympic Dream team. I couldn’t imagine life without athletics. In high school I played softball, basketball and volleyball.
Growing up where I did, the closest D1 school was a 5-hour drive away, and since it was the height of the Michael Jordan era, it was the NBA that captivated us, not college basketball.
Fast forward to my college years. I wanted to experience something different from California, so I accepted a scholarship to a small liberal arts college near Lexington, Ky. Central Kentucky was strange new land to this California girl; during a visit to Wal-Mart, I was stunned to overhear the cashier and the woman in front of me swap fruitcake recipes. Also striking was the fact that nearly every person in that Wal-Mart was wearing UK blue. Thankfully, it wasn’t long before I met my now-husband, who heroically swooped in and introduced me to Louisville sports before the UK fans turned me to the dark side.
The first game he took me to was the November 2004 football game against Cincinnati. It was absolutely frigid and raining. It was so cold I thought I was going to die of hypothermia. But there was a strange magic about the roar of the crowd and a thrill I felt after Louisville soundly thumped the Bearcats who were arrogant enough participate in a pre-game stomping of the Cardinal Bird logo in the middle of the field.
The football game piqued my interest, but it was the 2005 Final Four team that solidified my love and commitment to the Cards. It was spring break, March Madness, and my boyfriend brought me home to meet his family. We arrived at his uncle’s house to watch the first round game. The way his family watched was fascinating. They were so superstitious about everything. I wasn’t sure if they really believed in the superstitions, or if it was kind of like believing in Santa Claus: everyone plays along because it’s more fun that way.
At one point, the Cards were playing well, then my boyfriend’s aunt got up to get a snack and when she came back, she sat down in a different chair. All of a sudden the Cards started to miss their shots. The family turned on her, blaming her inadvertent change for the loss of momentum during the game. Strangely enough, when she returned to her original seat, the game turned back in our favor.
Later my boyfriend’s uncle accosted me: “Why don’t you have any U of L clothes on? If we lose, it’s your fault.” He was joking … I’m pretty sure … but I offered a meek defense. “I don’t have any U of L clothes. I’m from California.” (It’s been a joke ever since: Even though I’ve lived in the South for almost ten years now, he still makes fun of me for being a tofu-eating, tree-hugging Californian.) The next day my boyfriend’s aunt had a gift for me: my very first U of L t-shirt, which I wore proudly for the rest of our March Madness games.
You all know the rest of story. The Cards were able to pull out many amazing victories that March, eventually making it to the Final Four. It was a very special time for Cards fans, but for me those days hold an extra-special place in my heart. It was in those moments, watching the games, cheering wildly and jumping up and down like a fool, that I became a part of the family. That was when my now-in-laws accepted me as one of their own, and that was when I declared my allegiance to Louisville and joined the community of Cardinal fans everywhere.
I have U of L basketball to thank for helping me belong to such a fun, loving and Cardinal-crazed family. It's a debt I can only repay by loving the Cards forever. I can guarantee that won't be a problem.