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Fan Moments IV: Smackdown in Stokely, Sorta

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Verbal provocateur that I would consider myself, I’ve never been a street fightin’ man.

Most certainly not now that I’m firmly embedded in my dotage, nor in my youth, frankly, have I ever been inclined toward fisticuffs of the physical variety.*

*As if there is any other manner of fisticuffs.

Truth be told, I came close to being in a fight only once in my life. Ironically, my propensity for using language as an attack tool played a role.

In English class my junior of high school, we were discussing something or another. And apparently I was more than a bit too critical of a fellow student, whose name was Frank, if I recall.

So much so, that Miss Miles held me after class for a moment and admonished me not to be so openly sarcastic in the future about another student’s opinion as I had been.

I walked out of the classroom, and the next thing I realized, I was laying on the floor, having been thrown across the hall against the lockers. Frank was, shall I say, displeased with how I had commented on class input.

He was ready to get it on right there, between 2d and 3d period. I had the wherewithal to suggest we meet after school instead to settle the matter. To which fortunately he assented.

Of course, I, a chicken to the core of my soul, was a nervous wreck the rest of the school day. Should I go to the school nurse, feign an illness? Sneak out the other side of Atherton from where we were supposed to meet? Cut school for the first time in my life?

I was shaking. Literally.

Fortunately when we “confronted”each other after 6th period, he had calmed down, and I was able to talk him out of a fight. I’d like to say I apologized, but honestly I don’t recall that. But I sure should have if I didn’t.

Which brings me to the other time in my life when I almost came to blows. Or, so the tale goes.

March 24, 1983. Knoxville, Tennessee.

I had gotten my tickets and a hotel room for the iconic Mideast Regional from the wheeling dealing George brothers. The seats were pretty good in the U of L section.

On that opening Thursday night of semi-finals, UK’s victory over the Uwe Blab-led Indiana Hoosiers was the opening game. Most in the U of L section were urging the Wildcats on, if not openly cheering for them. The Cardinal Nation wanted the Cats.

But a few rows away, still in the Cardinal section, there were two college-aged yahoos in Kentucky gear, who were a whoopin’ and hollerin’ for their Cats, and generally acting like frat boy brats.

After UK had secured its spot in the regional final, the Cards struggled, well, during the entire Arkansas game, winning only at the buzzer after being behind the whole way.

During the first half, that duo in blue were seriously obnoxious. Openly rooting against the Cardinals. Hurling invective toward the team and the fans surrounding them.

The only specific thing I recall them screaming is something like, “You don’t want any part of the Cats!!!”

It was turning into a nasty situation, fraught with peril.

During halftime, some of the elders in the U of L crowd advised the twosome to got sit somewhere else for the rest of the game. Which they did.

That Cardinal tip — Scooter? Charles? — goes in.

The section was universally euphoric. It was Game On! Cards vs Cats finally Saturday afternoon.

I was seriously adrenalized. “Pumped to the max” wouldn’t adequately describe my state of being in the aftermath of that defeat of Eddie Sutton’s Razorbacks. Like most Cardinal fans I was floating out of Stokely.

Then, there in the vestibule by the exit doors, were those two in blue.

I lost it. I went full Ralph Steadman. Bug eyed. Spittle shooting from the corners of my mouth. Veins popping along the side of my neck.

Turning toward them, I must assume, in a significantly aggressive manner, I started shouting, “You want us, assholes*, you got us!!”

* I’m not sure if that’s the actual pejorative I used. My guess is I dug deeper into my derogasaurus for some more profane name calling.

I didn’t let up immediately.

Until I noticed how my venomous bluster had backed them up against the wall. Until I realized those exiting around us were giving us some considerable space, should a brouhaha actually ensue.

As with my untoward moment with Frank twenty years earlier, no blows were exchanged.

But those guys had some real fear in their eyes. That felt good, I gotta admit.

I exited door left with one last, “You want us, you got us.” And maybe a “You all are goin’ down hard on Saturday.”

I didn’t look back.

* * * * *

What I need to say here is that my interaction with members of the BBN in the day and a half between then and tip of the Dream Game was totally different.

The orange town was all red and blue.

My experience is that fans from both camps were deferential, cordial, and, in most cases, down right friendly. Everybody was stressed and nervous.

But the attitude seemed to be one of respect. Both ways.

It was actually kind of fun watching the semi-finals of the other regionals in the lobby of the hotel with fans of both schools.

* * * * *

As for the couple of guys from my section, they weren’t to be seen again.

Their seats in our section were vacant during Saturday’s game.

— c d kaplan