I had the pleasure and amazing opportunity last year to travel to Athens GA and spend a few days watching the Kentucky Wildcat basketball team as they took on the Georgia Buldogs on the road in the Stegeman Coliseum on campus. The SEC fans are very true to their schools and thus their sports teams. They show up at home and travel well on the road. We can debate how very few miles accumulate on the travel ledger each year but I digress.
What jumps out at you is how active they are prior to and during a game. We arrived in Athens on a Thursday night with a Saturday game day. The Stegeman Coliseum holds about 10k people but it sounds like 100k strong. I learned all about Bulldog barking that day. The game was intense and it was anyones game with under 3 minutes to go. Both teams playing to win with great passion and no regard to their physical safety in this one. D. Fox was the court leader for the Wildcats and his “cool” and keen court vision at the end of the day made the difference.
But prior to the game and even during the warm ups the sea of Blue was very apparent in the room. They know their team and the history deeply and are passionate beyond words. They never give up and on this Saturday the Bulldogs were in control until the final 3 minutes. For 37 minutes they were behind and showing no real sign that things would get better soon. The fans never gave up. The Kentucky faithful rose on every shot and rebound. They leaned in to every 3 pointer. Did I say this was my first Kentucky live game? Won’t be my last.
We got a chance to meet Coach Calipari and his staff during the four 3 days and listening to how he teaches and motivates was very special. Times like these you treasure. My nephew, Jake Castro, who is serving in our Army today traveled 4 hours to join us for the 3 days. We got to experience Coach away from the program and talk about old times. Many of us were from the western PA area way back when and have ties back to an amazing city of Pittsburgh. I will never forget how after the battle at Stegeman was over and the teams were heading to their bus for the flight back home, Coach was thanking everyone for coming and then he went to Jake and leaned in to his ear and not only thanked him for coming to the game but for his service to America and how all of this was because of our Military. A moment I will never forget and can never truly thank Coach Calipari.
We exited the arena to a sea of fans greeting the team and staff as they made their way back to their bus and we headed to our car for our drive back in to Athens for our last night on the town. What a great experience amont what I have to say are some of the best fans in sports, The Kentucky Wildcat Big Blue Nation.