For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.
When I was growing up, the annual game against Cincinnati in Freedom Hall was a mini-holiday. The Bearcats were always nationally ranked, the game was always on ESPN, and the tip was always slated for 9 p.m., which resulted in the ever-so-rare grade school late night (Letterman is on. I'm awake. It's a school night. This is awesome.).
I was fortunate enough to be able to attend a few of these games, and there are two things that I remember vividly about them. The first is the thought that even though I'm sitting about 25 rows deep, Kenyon Martin is going to find a way to murder me. To this day I have not been in the presence of a more intimidating human being.
The second thing I remember is missing long stretches of action because of an inability to take my eyes off of Bob Huggins. I knew that my focus should be elsewhere - there's a fantastic game going on and Lord knows Martin could be making his move into the stands at any moment - but what was happening on the visiting bench was just too enthralling. This guy is berating officials, he's berating his players, he's kicking the scorer's table, he's shouting things back at taunting fans. Simply put, it was the best theatre this city has seen in years (Sorry Actor's, Dustin Hoffman is not walking through that door).
The relationship was simple: Huggins would go crazy for some reason, we would boo, he would react in some way, and we would all leave wanting to punch him in the face. It was a hot rivalry, and the gruff man in the black pullover or sweater vest was one of the main reasons.
Then, out of nowhere, it was over.
Bobby got drunk and yakked in his car, UC got a new president eager to clean up the athletic program's image, and Hugs was off to K-State.
At first we celebrated because the villain in our conflict story had been slain, but we quickly yearned for the past when it became apparent how boring drama is without an antagonist. I think we all felt like Dwight from The Office when he was forced to resign from Dunder-Mifflin and gave Jim a bear hug before driving away for what he believed would be the final time.
We needed a hug, and we needed Hugs.
The rivalry immediately went into a death spiral and has been virtually nonexistent ever since. Part of that is because Cincinnati hasn't been very good, but anyone who thinks that U of L/UC as we knew it didn't die when Hugs left is kidding themselves. Andy Kennedy and Mick Cronin are both fine coaches, but both lack an inherent inability to graduate a single player, as well as a propensity for recruiting young men who will eventually punch horses or torture their roommate with a clothes hanger.
But the college basketball world works in a beautiful way that no mere mortal can understand.
Louisville was all set to move into the Big East without Huggins, and even found a replacement rival before the conference shift was complete. When the Cards earned a trip to the Final Four by beating West Virginia in overtime, it laid the foundation for a rivalry that would grow more rapidly than any other in college sports. In thee years the two have played epic games in the regular season, the Big East Tournament, and the NCAA Tournament. On top of that, they've also become fierce rivals on the gridiron.
There was only one problem with all of this: The basketball coach, John Beilein, he was just too nice. Like Tubby Smith, he was a guy you wanted to hit the road for the lone reason that you didn't dislike him enough. Rivalries are supposed to be about conflict, post-victory gloating, and unadulterated Schadenfreude, but it's hard to root for a team to lose if you know you're going to feel sorry for the head coach afterwards.
Thankfully Tommy Amaker underachieved at Michigan for the 27th time too many, and our little unhateable (word) problem was whisked away to Ann Arbor. Naturally, the only logical choice to replace Beilein was Huggins, one of three people on Earth with the ability to instantly ratchet up an already flourishing rivalry.
And now, a mere 30 hours from now, the prodigal rogue will return.
Part of me wants to clap when he's introduced. Another wants to throw something.
Huggins seems to be eagerly anticipating the reunion himself.
"I've always enjoyed coming to Freedom Hall," he said Tuesday. "The people are very classy and really understand basketball. I've always had a great time coaching there."
Part of me wonders if I'll be able to despise Huggins the same way I used to. Have I changed too much? Am I even capable of Huggy-scorn anymore?
I imagine this will be like meeting with an old girlfriend you haven't seen in five years, but I'm confident that when that first unnecessary outburst after an obviously correct call happens, those old instincts will kick-in without any conscious prompting.
Welcome back to Freedom Hall Hugs.