Louisville Cardinals vs. Kentucky Wildcats: Dream Game or Nightmare for UL?

Jeff PhelpsContributor IDecember 30, 2011

Peyton Siva Rejected By Darius Miller
Peyton Siva Rejected By Darius MillerAndy Lyons/Getty Images

It's tipoff time!  The most heated rivalry game in all of college basketball is about to commence.  No, it isn't UNC vs. Duke. 

It's the Kentucky Wildcats vs. the Louisville Cardinals and it's on for tomorrow night.

This is the biggest game of the pre-conference schedule for both teams.  Yes UK and UNC have become a hot ticket in recent years, but that matchup just doesn't have the spark that "The Battle of the Bluegrass" does. 

Duke and UNC play twice a year.  Which game is the big one?  There's only one game for bragging rights in Kentucky every year. 

Of course, many would argue that last season it should have been between Morehead St. and Kentucky.  But it's a rare thing to see any of the state's other programs step up and beat one of the big boys. 

Western Kentucky University sometimes has a say in the battle for state bragging rights, but nine times out of 10 or more it will be the Louisville Cardinals and the Kentucky Wildcats.

The game was once known as "The Dream Game," but that title wears a little thin when it's a recurring nightmare.  And for Louisville that seems to be the case: Kentucky has won 19 out of the 30 modern series meetings between the two beginning with the first "Dream Game," and there is a state law mandating that the two play every year. 

In the old days, Adolph Rupp refused to play the Cardinals or any other state school for that matter.  That drew a massive amount of complaints from the redbird fans. Their team was among the best in the nation during the early 1980s.  Rupp always said it would be bad for the program at Louisville if the two teams played each other often. 

Terrence Jones Stuffs Cards In The Yum!
Terrence Jones Stuffs Cards In The Yum!Andy Lyons/Getty Images

And it seems he might have been right. 

Louisville garnered two national titles in the 1980s: the first one in 1980 and the second in 1986.  It was 1983 when Kentucky and Louisville first played each other after a 24-year hiatus.  At first, the new annual series was pretty close.  But as Kentucky began to build a big lead in the number of wins, Louisville began to slip from national prominence.  Rupp had claimed that it would hurt recruiting for Louisville if they lost a series of games to Kentucky. 

And like many things Rupp said, it turned out to be true. 

Denny Crum, who had been the protege of John Wooden and the popular selection to succeed Wooden as the nation's best coach, slowly began to fade from the limelight as Kentucky won the games of the series more and more often. 

Was Rupp right?  The record will have to speak for itself. 

Louisville wasn't the only area team that suffered after finally getting their shot at the big program of the region.  Cincinnati was another program that clamored for a chance to play the Cats.  The press in Cincinnati often said that UC could compete year in and year out with the Cats. 

When they got their chance to play when a home and home series contract was signed, Cincinnati responded by stalling the ball for the entire game because they thought they had no chance to win any other way. 

The halftime score was 11-7 and UK went on to win 24-11. 

There's a popular saying: "Be careful what you wish for.  You just might get it."  UK quickly cancelled their contract to play Cincinnati, and that program regained stature. The media in that town went back to claiming UK was not a better program than UC. 

But Louisville had no way to hide from the obvious: They could not compete with UK and many said it hurt their program.  Coach Crum retired a few short years later and UL has never regained the national prominence they had during the 1980s.

Is the connection solid or tenuous at best?  There's no way of knowing, really.  But the speculation is out there.  Could it be that the Cardinals would return to their former glory by giving up their annual "Dream Game" with UK?  Maybe it really is a "Nightmare Game" for the Cards.