Kentucky coach John Calipari is my new sports hero.
It’s not because his team was so spectacularly fun to watch beating No. 1 Tennessee and crushing the Volunteers’ dreams of completing a perfect season in the SEC.
Kentucky basketball teams have been crushing dreams long before Calipari began his coaching career by winning games at Massachusetts and Memphis. He inherited a Kentucky program that is supposed to enjoy annual success and win games against bigger basketball names than Tennessee.
That’s why he was having none of it when members of the Big Blue Nation began to taunt the Volunteers once the outcome of Saturday’s blowout became apparent.
With 1:35 remaining and Kentucky leading 76-63, Kentucky fans began to chant “overrated” at the Volunteers.
Calipari immediately began waving his arms in the universal sign for “no” while simultaneously screaming the word “stop.” The fans quickly followed his instructions.
Part of Calipari’s motivation may be that the Wildcats were only 14 days away from having to face the Volunteers again, this time in Knoxville. There’s no need to provide any extra motivation to the opposition, especially a good one.
But Calipari was motivated by more than that. He knows that just because the No. 1 ranked team in the country comes to Lexington and loses by 17 points, that doesn’t make that team overrated.
Every team that comes to Rupp Arena is supposed to lose by double digits. It doesn’t require the opposing team to be bad or overrated. It simply requires them to be on the same floor with one of the greatest programs in college basketball history.
Teams that are overrated, underrated and accurately rated are all supposed to lose at Kentucky.
You’re Kentucky. Act like you’ve been there before, because you certainly have.
The “overrated” cheer is just one example of fans not always understanding what supporting your team actually looks like. The Kentucky players certainly weren’t going to chalk up their win to Tennessee by being overrated. They were ready to bask in the excitement that comes with dominating a very good team.
Another example of fan exuberance gone awry involves recruiting. (Haven’t most all things gone awry when it comes to recruiting?)
When a five-star recruit decides to sign with one rival team over another, the cry from the spurned fans is as predictable as a multi-car crash on the last lap at Daytona. The disappointment always shows up in complaints about the player being on the take, which is the only possible explanation for why he could choose another school. The complaint is most overblown in writing, where the aggrieved fan can replace every “S” with a dollar sign, such as “He cho$e Ole Mi$$. $hocker!”
I’m not here to say illegal inducements never factor into where a recruit goes to school, but if you’re going to make these sweeping accusations you have to also wonder how your school ever signs a top prospect.
If there are two five-star recruits and School A signs one of those players by illegal means, then how did the second five-star recruit end up at the rival school? Are we supposed to believe that the first player took the money but the second didn’t because he liked your fight song and meal plan enough to turn down the cash from the cheating program?
But the “overrated” folks and the ‘everybody except us is cheating” crew are easily overshadowed by the worst and most destructive fans in sports. These fans are best exemplified by the old Aints fans, who wore bags over their heads while attending New Orleans Saints games.
At first glance it’s cute and clever. The team is playing so poorly that it’s an embarrassment for fans to show their faces. But the impact of this action is obvious, especially for a college program.
For me, the progression for disappointed fans should be as follows: Total support, complete with wild cheering; passive attendance; stay home to watch on TV; stop buying tickets and completely ignore the team until there are signs of improvement. Nowhere on that scale is the option to hurt the home team on the field and on the recruiting trail by booing and showing that you’re embarrassed to be associated with the team.
I’m not saying you don’t have a right to boo. You buy the ticket, you have the right to boo as much as you desire. The same is true for wearing a bag on your head and accusing opposing programs of buying players and chanting “overrated” at the opposition when your team puts on a tremendous performance.
You have the right. But that doesn’t make it right.
Randy Kennedy writes a weekly column for Lagniappe and is co-host of “Sports Drive” every weekday from 3-6 p.m. on WNSP 105.5 FM, the country’s first all-sports FM station.
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