LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) — It’s Governor’s Cup week, Kentucky vs. Louisville in football at 7 p.m. Saturday night in Cardinal Stadium, and I must admit I’m approaching the game with something akin to Hunter S. Thompson’s “fear and loathing”. It’s because the potential for ugliness is the highest it has ever been.
It’s hardly a secret that our society has become increasingly dominated by incivility, hostility and divisiveness. Bullying and name-calling are in; mutual respect and good manners are out. We have become so polarized that the middle ground has vanished. Sadly, but inevitably, the venom has trickled into every aspect of our lives, including sports.
I suppose I might feel a bit differently if the teams were coming into the game off more or less similar seasons. But they’re not. The 8-3 Wildcats are nationally ranked and highly respected, while the 2-9 Cardinals have been so horrible that head coach Bobby Petrino already has been fired. Their defense has routinely given up more than 50 points, even to so-so opponents.
Given the fact that UofL has drawn no more than 20,000 or so to its last two home games, no matter what the “official” attendance figure might be, some pundits are speculating that there will be as many, if not more, Big Blue fans than Card fans in the seats Saturday night. That’s not beyond the realm of possibility, and it would only make things tougher on the UofL fans who have the loyalty to show up for what promises to be every Cardinal fan’s worst nightmare — an embarrassing loss the Cards were defenseless, literally, to stop.
Certainly, the Wildcat fan base is entitled to some gloating. That’s part of what makes a rivalry special. But if the buildup to the game becomes a Tweet storm of ugly, nasty insults, then some less-than-bright individuals might take that as a license to behave badly on a dark night in Louisville — especially if they’ve been fueled by hours of alcohol consumption.
The last thing we need is to see the our players or fans on the national news shows for something horrible that resulted from the football game. That sort of thing goes beyond sports. It can stifle economic development and out-of-state enrollment. Also, for you who see the world only in terms of sports, it can hurt recruiting.
Since the game is the Governor’s Cup, I’d like to see Gov. Matt Bevin declare this as “Sportsmanship Week” in the Commonwealth. Everybody in power, including civic leaders and university administrators, would join in a concerted effort to make sure the players, coaches, students, boosters, donors and fans understand the consequences of ugly behavior and strive hard to avoid it.
As a precaution, because some knuckleheads always will be knuckleheads, law enforcement in both cities should be on high alert and more visible than normal in the stadium. So, for that matter, should the game officials, who should warn the head coaches that they will have zero tolerance for dirty play or any other provocative behavior.
It’s probably too late, but it would be nice if the players from both teams could mingle at a dinner. Of if they could go together to visit hospitals or nursing homes. These sorts of things sometimes defuse volatile situations and remind the players to be thankful for their ability to play a game so well.
I wish I could say it will be a competitive game, but UofL has shown me absolutely nothing through 11 games to make me believe that’s possible. So I only hope that Coach Mark Stoops’ team wins with grace, and that interim coach Lorenzo Ward’s team loses with dignity.
But if that’s not the case, if something terribly wrong happens on or off the field, I’ll be the first to call for the series to cease. Whatever the outcome, the Governor’s Cup is just a football game, not an invitation to hate and vent.
Billy Reed is a longtime sportswriter from Louisville who contributes regular columns to WAVE3.com.