Monday, April 30, 2012

Its been a while

Since April 11th I have spent two nights in my own bed.  I have gone from Chicago, to a beautiful farm in Maryland, back to Chicago, to Lexington, to Bowling Green, back to Lexington, to Louisville, to Washington DC, back to Chicago, to Charleston, and now I sit in the Nashville airport.  I cannot wait to get home.  This trip has afforded me a lot of time to think about home and what home really means.  I am a lucky guy.  I was raised by two great parents.  I talked about them both at a dinner I was at on Saturday.  Even now, I can't speak of my parents without getting a little emotional.  I have a great big brother who always showed me the way.  Most of all I am thankful for what I am so anxious to get home to.  A wife and 4 girls that mean the world to me.  Thankfully she was raised by two great parents, and she too had a great big brother.  All of them helped set the foundation that Brooke and I now build our family on.  We have been married just about 9 years.  It hasn't always been easy. There have been times of anger, tears, and disappointment.  Mostly though, there has been love.  There was, has been, and will be, a lot of adjustments made by the both of us. Thankfully she has afforded me a lot of growing pains as I work things out. We continue to learn about each other and hopefully grow closer.  I haven't always been the husband, nor the dad, that my father taught me to be.   Im working on that though.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Happy 1st Birthday Hadley Blaine!

This is my first shot at something like this, I hope you enjoy it.  This is a tribute to my girls, particularly Hadley, on her 1st Birthday.  It is sort of a journey for Hadley, from the time we started talking about #4, to this week. (No, of course I don't own the copyright to the songs, which is why FB won't let me post this there.  I can only hope that fellow Kentuckian Steven Curtis Chapman's lawyers have mercy on me and don't send me a C&D).

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

My Old Kentucky Home, Far Away.

I was fortunate enough to be able to study abroad in college.  My father once made me a bet that if I didn't drink, smoke, or get into trouble with the law by the time I was 21, he would buy me a Rolex. Instead of the watch,  I took the money so that I could go to Ireland.  One of my favorite parts of studying abroad did not actually take place in the classroom.  I loved going to the local bars in the areas we were "studying".  Funny I know, considering I don't drink.  In my opinion, the local bars are some of the best places to find out about a different culture.  I would eat the food (much better in Ireland than people say), drink the overpriced Coke with only two ice cubes, and talk with all the local people.  Seriously, you could buy a beer cheaper than you could buy a Coke.  It was where I did the most learning, and I tried to be a good ambassador for the state of Kentucky and 'Merica.  When the locals found out I was from KY, they wanted to talk about either  1)Ali 2) KFC, or 3)horse racing.  I was happy to oblige them in any and all topics.  I love the state of KY, and I always enjoy talking about it with people who are not from here.  One of the best local routines in almost every bar was at some point someone would play the song O Danny Boy.  I was interested in this song because it was one of two Irish songs I really knew. The other song being Molly Malone.

O Danny Boy was an important song to my Irish grandmother,  a song she used to sing to my dad when he was little.  I never knew why because I never got the chance to ask her.  However, I always loved the melancholy lyrics and tune.  My girls love it as well.  So much so, it made Reagan say "I love this song, it makes me think of you when you're (me) dead."  I think I know what she meant...I think.  Anyway, when this song came on in the bar, everyone would stand along and sing.  This was very similar to what we do with our National Anthem or Sweet Caroline at a ball game.  I asked one local about the song and his response was very telling.  He told me the that most people who have never left Ireland don't care much for the song.  However, he said that once you leave the beauty of Ireland behind, along with loved ones, the song takes on a whole new meaning.  Then the song means much more to you.  Interesting.

Life for us in Chicago has been a big adjustment.  I find myself talking about Kentucky (and UK) all the time.  I don't mean to be obnoxious about it, although I am sure that I am.  I don't ever mean to imply that my state is better than anyone else's.  It is all just simply about pride and love.  I find myself missing my old front porch swing, the smells of spring time in Kentucky.  I miss sitting on the porch during a rain storm. I miss the farms and old plantation homes.  I miss it being hot first thing in the morning.  I miss the look of the Bluegrass, the feel, the magnolia trees, the beauty that truly is this great state.  I miss UK and all the Kentucky fans.  It has been well documented that I sing My Old Kentucky Home all the time.  That song has taken on a new meaning to me, almost the true meaning, since I have left.

My Old Kentucky Home is actually a very sad slave song.  The versus after the traditional version are extremely heartfelt.  While I certainly would never compare my fantastic journey to that of a slaves in Kentucky 170 years ago, there is something we both can relate to.  We both can relate to missing our homes/loved ones in Kentucky.  Life is about changing, nothing ever stays the same.  I get that.  Being back here this week really makes me realize how great of a state this is and a city Lexington is.  If home is where the heart is, my home will always be Kentucky.

To top it off, we are fortunate this week to be staying with Callie and also hanging out with Brooke Ward.  Brooke and Austin just had their first baby.  I remember meeting Brooke when she was in her third year at UK.  Now she is married with a baby boy.  Callie owns her own house, is a full time nurse, and we trust our kids with her completely.  Everything really does change. They have grown up with us.  While I have to work here every day, it is so nice to be surrounded by people we love so much.  It feels so comfortable, so warm.  We miss them as much as you can possibly miss anything.  You don't realize how much you miss someone until they are no longer part of your daily lives.  This weekend will be special because my parents will come down (with Uncle Patrick) and Brooke's parents will come up.  With them, Brooke, Austin, Baby Brayden, and Callie, we will all be together.  I couldn't imagine better folks to celebrate Hadley's first birthday with.  Today, Brooke Ward left her phone over at the house.  When Austin called the phone to tell me to bring her phone later, I noticed that her wallpaper on the phone was a picture of Brooke W., Austin, Brooke, and me.  That meant more to me than you can imagine.  I know we will soon be replaced by pictures of her new son, and we should be.  However, it felt so comforting to know that she had that picture of us.  Every time she used her phone, she saw the four of us at Rupp Arena.  Thanks Brooke, its nice to know you thought of us in that way.  My family loves you, your husband, your son, your extended family, and Callie, more than you could every know.

This time last year I would have never imagined we would be in Chicago.  It has been a hell of a ride, and we have made some great new friends.  No matter where life takes us, I will always miss and love my Kentucky home.  I am blessed and proud to have been born and raised a Kentuckian.  Leaving Saturday will be so hard.  I will have to say goodbye to almost everyone that I love.  Some I will see soon, some I don't know when I will see again.  Please know that wherever we travel we take you with us in our hearts. The sun truly shines bright here in Kentucky.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

It just means more to us.

Most of you think we (UK fans) are crazy, maybe we are.  You have seen the fans in the street, flipping cars, lighting cars on fire, looking more like a scene from the tv show The Walking Dead, than a celebration.  Are there some that take it too far with their celebration? Yes, but there are at every school that wins.  You get college students drunk and a reason to celebrate and people are shocked by what they see on TV!  It happens everywhere, almost every year.    Maybe we as UK fans are crazy but let me tell you why.

Its actually pretty simple.  Kentucky basketball means more to us than your sport means to you.  The only people who can compete with our obsession/passion are the Alabama football fans.  For the record, I am glad no one from UK poisoned a live oak.  However,  I believe UK/Bama are actually cousins in the sports nation.  When I say it means more to us than basketball does do to you, please understand that Im not trying to degrade how much you love your team.  Im not even saying we are better than you.  Kentucky basketball just means more to us than your basketball team (or just about any sports team) does to you, in fact, UK basketball means more to us than most anything else does to you.

We lived through "Kentucky Shame." This is why the UPS/Duke (a KY based company) commercial pisses us off so much.  Despite the fact that "The Shot" was 20 years ago, it still hurts.  Those were KY boys playing way above their head for the name on the front of their jersey.  Something most of us dreamed about but could never do.  We lived through the heartbreak when Pitino left us at the alter.  We lived through the awful Tubby years, and the even worse BCG years.  We constantly defend our program and its current coach.  We believe that everyone is out to get us.  We flood online polls, email inboxes, and opposing arenas with the BBN.  We attack people like Bobby Knight who says that our kids don't go to class in the second semester, despite the fact that we have the highest team GPA in the SEC.   We are tired of hearing that "you can't win with one-and-dones" even though we've gone to an Elite 8, Final Four, and now a NC.  "They (the one and dones) don't love Kentucky" yet this too has been constantly proven untrue.  All of this we knew wasn't true, but last night was the first night we could see it play out in front of the world. UK basketball is everything to us.  We gauge our self esteem as a state by this team.  This gives something else for all those who don't know, don't understand, or don't admit, the beauty that is the state of Kentucky, to talk about.  When you get outside of the city of Louisville, there is nothing else.  There are no pro teams, there is nothing else to live and die on, other than UK basketball.  I actually graduated from UK on time, which makes me a rarity.  But last night I was one of about 3 million strong.

We are just different at UK.  Lots of fans who pull for Duke didnt grow up wanting to play for Duke.  Every kid who plays basketball in Kentucky, wants to play for Kentucky.  Even those  high school ballers that are UofL fans (see Derek Willis) want to play for UK.  Most people who cheer for Duke, didnt have their grandfather get buried in a Duke casket.  Most people who cheer for Duke aren't event from NC.  If they were from NC, they would cheer for UNC.  Most people who cheer for Duke, graduate and move back to NJ.  Most people who cheer for UNC, don't live or die by the Heels.  They love it when they are in school, they want them to win, but they really hope that the UNC basketball game does not interfere with their wine tasting event later in the evening.  Florida forgets they have a team, Ohio State just likes to pass time between football seasons and when they can beat Michigan next.  IU has great fans, but they also have the Colts and Pacers.

This team had the bullseye on their back from day one and they never hid from that.  They played as team.  The two best players were ranked 4th and 5th in total number of shots taken. The MOP of the Final Four won the award with only scoring 1 basket.  This years version of the CATS were everything you could hope for in a team.  They have represented UK in every way you would want any student to do so.  That just adds fuel to the fire (so to speak).

I would never put last night on the same level as the day I was married, or the birth of my children.  But after that, it was one of the greatest nights of my life and I didn't even leave my living room.  Yes, I said it.  I meant it too.  In all of my victories as a player, all of my victories as a coach, in all the things I have personally accomplished in my life, last night ranks up there as the best.  Keep in mind, I fully realize I had nothing to do with what happened.  I enjoyed last night more so than when I was a student celebrating right along with the thousands of others after we won the 1998 National Championship.  That was our third year in a row in the title game, hell,  this happens all the time right?  14 years between championships is a long time for UK and builds up a lot of angst.  That in itself was reason enough to be so proud of UK.  But in reality, the reason why I am so excited about all of this is because I was never alone in this journey this season.  See the picture above.

My dad is amazing- I've blogged about him a number of times.  Growing up, Dad wanted to play for UK but went to UofL.  He says that the only thing that kept him from playing for UK was size and talent.  He is still one of the best basketball players I ever played for.  He has always said he cheers for both, I don't see how that is possible.  As you can't cheer for St.X and Trinity, you can't really be for both UK and UofL.  Anyway, my journey to UK was really my own.  I grew up in the 80's in Louisville when UofL dominated.  I didnt understand the "crazy, dumb, rednecks" who cheered for UK. However, Rex Chapman always seemed pretty cool to me.  It wasn't really until my HS days did I start to understand what UK is about.  UK is about a beautiful fall afternoon at Keeneland, then a night game at Commonwealth.  UK is about the greatest tradition in college basketball.  The team with the most wins, most championships over the most decades, the most championships with different coaches, and the most passionate fans.  UK is where I fell in love with my wife.  The other day I couldn't help but think of the crazy way she and I both ended up at UK and ended up together.  UK is where my core values as a man were completed and solidified.  UK is where I joined SAE which has brought me to Chicago.  My time at UK made me so much of what I am today.  Because of my wife, I have those beautiful girls.  While none of them like how pissed off excited I get during the games, one of them has become my UK buddy.  Reagan watches every game with me.  She always asks how they did the next morning if she couldn't stay up for the entire game.  She always asks if they scored 100?  I have helped teach her math via the games, and I have also taught her how to talk trash.  I have explained to her the difference between high school, college and pro sports.    She gets upset when they lose and celebrates when they win.  She has found a passion in UK, much like her daddy's.  The last thing she said to me before she went to bed last night was "Daddy, tell me if they win tonight."  I loved this season because I could share it with her.  Maybe someday down the road she will be sitting on a couch somewhere with her kids watching UK win a National Championship.  She can tell them how much her daddy lived and died by the Wildcats, and how much she enjoyed being right there with him during the process. I have been blessed to been a part of a lot of victories in sports and in life, no question.  Victories are so much better when you have someone like Reagan to share them with.  I was fortunate that my wife and in laws were here last night to experience it with me.  There were a lot of grown men who shed a tear of joy last night, I'm not saying I did....but Im not saying I didn't.  There were so many people today talking about sharing this moment with their dad, wishing their grandfather was still around for this, or celebrating for the first time with their kid.  This whole thing is bigger than just basketball for us.

So when you hear UK fans get all emotional and say that last night was one of the greatest moments of their life, it probably was. If you haven't been apart of it you can't understand, and if you can't explain it. Why?  Because it just means more to us.   Thats what makes us crazy and thats what makes us great.