Happy days for Louisville are stormy for UK fans

Monday morning dawned raw and rainy in Kentucky. Stepping outside, a nasty wind blew the drizzle sideways. You could see your breath.

All in all, as miserable a late-March day as you can have in the Bluegrass State.

That was metaphorically apt, at least in 119 of the state's 120 counties, where allegiance is pledged to Big Blue. Only in the red island of Jefferson County, home of Louisville and its Final Four Cardinals, did this rainy day deserve the Gene Kelly treatment.

A basketball-obsessed state's raw nerve endings are exposed. This is truly the epicenter of March Madness, evidenced by the fact that Louisville's CBS affiliate had the top ratings in the nation for the first two rounds of the NCAA Tournament. They care here more than anywhere, Tobacco Road included.

And on the last Monday in March, one school's agony is contrasted by its archrival's ecstasy.

Kentucky is out, after an epic struggle with Michigan State. Louisville dances on, after an epic comeback against West Virginia.

For the first time in 19 years, the Cards are Final Four-bound. For the first time in 11 years, Little Brother has advanced farther than Big Brother – and done it with the old coach of the Wildcats calling the tune.

This is the worst-case scenario come to life for Big Blue Nation, the very moment they knew in their guts would come when Rick Pitino was named the coach of the Louisville Cardinals four years ago. Someday – and probably sooner than later – the 'Ville would return to the summit of college basketball.

Conditioned to life on top, Kentucky fans develop rather stiff necks when they have to look up to someone – especially when that someone resides in the same state.

Incendiary Louisville afternoon drive-time jockey Terry Meiners, who loves to stick a 50,000-watt needle into UK fans who villify his good friend Pitino, describes this time as "schadenfreude two days a year" – which, for the non-Teutonic, means taking pleasure at the misfortune of others.

On the day Kentucky loses in the NCAA Tournament, Louisville fans rejoice. And on the day when red goes down, blue cheers up.

You never, ever want to be for the side that loses first. Because you have to suck it up and take it for an entire year.

"If your team lost, it's utter terror of seeing that person on the other side," Meiners said. "If your team won, it's can't-keep-my-mouth-shut euphoria that's coming out of you like fire from a dragon's mouth.

"From the moment you leave your house, every person you encounter is either soaring inside or is as deflated as when their favorite dog died."

Meiners' most famous long-running skit is a Joe B. Hall phone-in parody. Naturally, faux Joe called in on Black Monday for Big Blue. In a hilariously accurate imitation of the former Kentucky coach's rural twang, "the Beasman," as Meiners calls him, was lamenting the reversal of recent March fortune.

"Tell me I is havin' a nightmare. It ain't posed to be like this. It's posed to be that the Wildcat fans get to call their Cardinal co-workers and tarmint them when they lose while the Cats play on in the Final Four. But when U of Smell wins and we don't and their fans git to tease us then they is bein' jerks. But when Cat fans do it to the other people, we is just bein' humorous. Yeah. Because Cat fans is classy, God-fearing people and Loserville fans is all food-stamp-takin', carjackin', crackhead criminals who got babies with six different people that they don't remember their names. Yeah. But somehow God picked Easter Sundee to break the hearts of classy Wildcat fans and thrill all the convict Loserville fans. It don't make no sense."

When it comes to college basketball, the whole state don't make no sense.

Meiners' parody is more over the top than Sergei Bubka, but it plays on the cultural divide that makes the Kentucky-Louisville rivalry so impassioned. Louisville is a city school with a narrowly concentrated fan base. Kentucky's fan support is largely rural and ranges from border to border. And the mutual mistrust – racist hicks vs. Thug Life U. – stokes the fires.

So, of course, does the presence of Pitino.

"In poker, it's a double-down bet," Meiners said of Pitino. "It heightens the intensity on both sides of the aisle."

A recent scientific state poll by The (Louisville) Courier-Journal showed that a larger-than-you-might-believe number of Kentucky fans say they've forgiven Pitino for taking the job at Louisville. You just have a hard time finding those people in the feral environs of the message boards.

I asked Pitino Monday if, given his history of losing an epic regional final, he felt some empathy for this Kentucky team.

"The same way I do for West Virginia," he responded. "Obviously, I feel for Tubby [Smith, a former Pitino assistant]. It's disappointing, but they didn't lose. Same as it was in 1992: We lost to Duke, but we didn't lose.

"If you lose in the first round, you feel bad. It's very difficult for a Kansas, but not for Kentucky, for Arizona, for West Virginia. They played great games. … If their heads are not high, they're not true fans. Nintey-five percent of those (UK) fans will have their heads high."

But will they be rooting for Louisville?

"It's only the really fanatical fans who can't root for both teams," Pitino said, not terribly convincingly.

On the blue side of Terry Meiners' aisle, they ask the doomsday question, as seen on the fan message board at Catspause.com: "If U of L wins the title?"

Among the responses:

"I will never watch basketball again."

"I'll puke."

"They will deserve it."

Kentucky fans have seen their team eliminated in three straight NCAA Tournaments by teams with lower seedings. They have seen Tubby Smith now finish a seventh consecutive season without a Final Four – while Pitino has gotten Louisville that far in Year Four. They point out that Smith's lone Final Four appearance (and national title) came with a team of Pitino recruits.

Hence the other message board topic:

"How long does Tubby have to get us back to the Final Four?"

The judge-and-jury respondents generally agreed: three years, or until the current stellar crop of freshmen had finished their run. (Of course, some of these McDonald's All-Americans figure to finish their run sooner than that).

"I think he has three seasons left to get us back to the Final Four," one fan said. " … I hope he can do it. I really do. But just because I like Tubby doesn't mean I'm going to tolerate our program sliding."

Especially when that other program 75 miles west is rising.

In Lexington, you wonder whether the rain ever stopped on the last Monday in March. In Louisville, by the time Pitino was done entertaining the media for an hour with stories and jokes, the rain had stopped and the skies were clearing.

Pat Forde is a senior writer for ESPN.com.