It’s game day. The car is packed with camp chairs, cornhole boards, coolers, snacks, and beverages. Your Kentucky car flag is perched cheerily upon the window, ready to dance in the wind of the Bluegrass Parkway. It’s time to go to Louisville.
Pulling in to the Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium parking lot, you grimace. You knew you’d be outnumbered. It is, after all, enemy territory. You roll slowly past red and black tents toward your spot. Cardinal fans are already throwing “L”s in your direction, hardcore rap thumping despite the early hour.
You find your spot and you and your buddies unpack the car. The five of you set everything up relatively quickly to the sounds of Friday’s KSR podcast, anxious to get settled before enemy invasion. Once you’re in your seats with a cold one, you survey the scene with squinted eyes.
To the left, you see an older group of Kentucky and Louisville fans in what seems to be an amicable gathering. They’re here for fun, chatting about their grandkids and careers over “Cardinal Deviled Eggs” and “Wildcat stew.” You think you might have one of those eggs later.
To the right, some college students are clearly still waking up, slumped in their seats clutching Gatorade. One of them is attempting to hook a TV up to a generator, while another fiddles with the brim of his flat bill, frowning at a rogue curved corner. They seem harmless now, but once the hangovers wear off, watch out.
Right in front of you? Oh boy. It’s the mother lode. Three large red and black pickups have commandeered five spots, one complete with a screw in stripper pole in the bed.
No one’s up there yet, but a cluster of girls eyes it, sipping on their solo cups for courage. Their grill, shaped in the form of a Cardinal’s beak, is enormous, one of those you tow behind a truck. Smoke billows ominously around the grill master, who is wearing quite possibly the largest Louisville football jersey you’ve ever seen–including on the field. You point it out to your friend, who’s setting up the cornhole boards. A dozen Cards fans, decked in baggy UofL athletic gear, overhear and fall silent, stern faces under flat bills. The rap song thuds the air for a few tense seconds during your staring match before one of them starts the C-A-R-D-S CARDS chant, and they get back to what appears to be an ice luge in the shape of Charlie Strong.
As a row of bottle blondes line up under Charlie’s torso for some JÃ¤ger, you and your friends can’t help but laugh. You get up to play cornhole.
3 hours later...
It is a completely different scene now. The older group to your left is now cowering near their car in fear of the mother lode tailgate, which has escalated into a full-fledged riot. Luckily you got a deviled egg before the older women retreated inside the car, where they’re sipping their gin and tonics and eyeing the group warily through the window.
The stripper pole is the center of the party now, with two middle aged women attempting to twirl around it while still holding their drinks only to fall to the bed of the truck in a fit of laughs. The guys don’t seem to mind, raining purple Crown Royal bags on them like money.
There is very little football talk going on, aside from occasional Cards chants and “Chawlie STRONG” cheers. Some awful deathcore rock is playing, and the crowd bobs their flat bills in unison while swigging from their bottles. T-shirts are now optional. The thudding of the bass combined with the heat rising off the asphalt is sickening. The ice luge sweats water and Jager. You can’t remember the last time you saw a tree.
A pack of tatted up flat bills start throwing empties in your cornhole set. Well on his sixth Bud Light, your buddy Stan had had enough, and pulls himself out of his camp chair to go say something. Sighing, you get up to stop him when…
…a golf cart zooms onto the scene, with three guys and a lot of radio equipment. It’s Matt, Drew, and Ryan! The KSR Crew has come to save you from this tailgating hell!
The Cards fans hear Matt’s voice and freeze, slowly turning to face the golf cart. Matt is narrating the scene for the radio, particularly the stripper pole, from which an older man and two women now dangle like drunk spiders. Ryan Lemond cracks a joke and laughs nervously as the crowd circles the cart, bristling and clucking like roosters before a fight.
You and your buddies rush to the cart, eager to defend your Big Blue brethren, but as the crowd tightens, you know it’s no use. Even Drew Franklin looks worried. You catch your friends’ eyes and nod, and the five of you clutch onto the cart just as Ryan Lemond hits the gas and you slowly flee the scene, praying the cart can hold you. It buzzes and burps under the weight, but gains speed as you part the crowd of Cards, who are now flinging things at you. Chunks of Charlie Strong’s torso pelt your cheek, leaving slimy rivers of JÃ¤ger water dripping down your face. You can still hear Matt’s voice trill over the chaos as solo cups come flying at the cart.
Once you’re a safe distance away, Ryan stops the cart and you all sit and breathe for a minute, the radio show thankfully at a commercial break. You glance at each other and shake your heads, processing what the hell had just happened. You thank the KSR guys for the ride and carefully get off the cart, knees wobbling. You head towards the stadium.
The game hadn’t even started, but you felt as though you’d gone through a war.