Every March, or April if we're all fortunate enough, on the day after final Louisville men's basketball game of the season, I write a post on my website titled simply "The Worst Day of the Year."
It's hyperbole only in the sense that there's no way for me to know what awful things are going to happen on other days. The truth is that, as far as guaranteed depressing occurrences are concerned, being faced directly with the knowledge that it'll be another 12 months before the dream of the mighty Cardinals cutting down the nets has a chance to be realized has always ranked right at the top (or the bottom) of every Mike Rutherford calendar year. It's something I don't really get over, or allow myself to get over, until Derby.
This year is different.
I'm not sure exactly what the worst day of this year will wind up being, but I do know that it won't be the Sunday morning after Louisville was pounded by Virginia in Charlottesville. That should tell you all you need to know about what life for UofL fans has been like for the last few months.
Like so many fans who are used to spending their March flying Cardinal flags and wearing out all the black and red they have in their wardrobe, I find myself unsure about how to best navigate the difficult four weeks ahead. This is uncharted and miserable territory for all of us, and whenever that's the case, the best course of action is difficult to discern. Watch the tournament as an objective viewer, adopt a team for the month, avoid the men's tournament entirely; whatever.
One thing I do know: I hope my first experience with a set end date to a Louisville basketball season is my last experience with a set end date to a Louisville basketball season. The last month five weeks have not been fun, and Saturday night's loss to Virginia, for both on and off-court reasons, was especially not fun.
If there's a positive to be taken out of all of this, it's that hopefully this painful feeling stays lodged somewhere in our subconscious and make us enjoy what will hopefully be occurring 12 months from now more than we've ever enjoyed a Cardinal March before. Perhaps this can serve as a necessary
During the primitive days of my life as a sports fan in the 1990s, I was occasionally jealous of my friends who were Big Blue Nation members in training. It was hard not to be. Rick Pitino had made Kentucky the "cool" program in college basketball, and the Wildcats were racking up conference titles and No. 1 seeds in historic fashion. Meanwhile, I was listening to my elders discuss how Louisville had done the same thing during a period I'd been cursed to miss by the narrowest of margins.
Even during those harrowing times, there was a similarity in the personas of my blue-clad classmates that I did not envy. You see, the morning after games had been played and UK and UofL victories had been secured, my Wildcat friends never seemed as excited about their wins as my Cardinal friends and I were about ours. They spoke loudly and thumped their chests in the same manner that's still on full display these days, but there was always an absence of joy wrought by the expectation of victory.
We, as Louisville fans, were thrilled about wins and saddened by defeats. They, as Kentucky fans, were satisfied with wins and angered by defeats. I always felt extremely fortunate to be on the former side of the rivalry if for no other reason than that it just seemed like it was the happier place.
In recent years, that tide has changed a little bit. Where Cardinal fans had once celebrated trips to the second weekend of the NCAA Tournament, they were now expecting them. While this mentality is a goal for most major programs in the country, it also comes with an inherent sacrificing of a certain level of joy. But now, the year that just took place, there's no question that Cardinal fans will react like a mid-major making its first appearance tournament appearance when they see the name "Louisville" pop up on the 2017 installment of Selection Sunday
It doesn't feel real and it doesn't feel right, but the beautiful journey came to an expected, but still screeching halt last Saturday night. It will return, it will be fixed, and it will be better.
A version of this column appears in the current issue of The Voice Tribune