I watched my first UK game at Freedom Hall when I was 11. My first trip to Rupp came a year later. I don’t remember who we played, although I am pretty sure that UK won. What I do remember is the sense of awe I felt as I came out the tunnel and saw the arena for the first time--the floor, the benches, the National Championship Banners, the retired jerseys. It was everything I had seen on TV my whole life, and more. I many ways, it was like coming home.
Our seats were not nearly as good as they had been the year before--think nosebleed, above the banners--but I didn’t care. I was in Rupp. If watching the team play live in Freedom Hall had made me a UK fan for life, watching them play in Rupp was my indoctrination to the religion that is UK basketball.
A few years ago, there was a fabulous article written by a reporter from South Carolina who came to Rupp for a USC game against UK. He likened visiting Rupp Arena to going to church. He talks about how those to get to attend the games feel privileged to do so. He talks about how the fans worship the program. He talks about the fanaticism that leads thousands of people to worship this team when they may never get to see them play, never get to attend the university they represent, never get to meet a player or a coach.
I read that article a few years ago. By that time, I had been a student at UK, I had seen countless games from the stands, I had even been on the floor during pre-game warm ups. But when I read about his experience at Rupp, it took me back to that first game. It took me back to the sense of awe I felt looking up at the (then) 5 National Title Banners and the retired jerseys bearing names like Beard, Groza, Mashburn, and Issel. It took me back and made me feel like that 12 year old again.
I keep that article bookmarked and whenever I start to lose the feeling of wonder that should accompany watching UK play, I pull it up and read it again. It reminds me what I love about coming to Rupp. Coming to Rupp is like coming home.
Here is a link to the Article I was talking about: Rupp Arena Like Going to Church