Kentucky's annual rivalry game against Louisville inspires feelings in players and fans that often aren't felt for any other game of the season. The game can take on an even greater importance when it's the season opener, as it is this year. Kentucky and Louisville kick their seasons off on 3:30 on Sunday, Sept. 2.
To better understand the rivalry, Cats Illustrated asked several UK players and coaches a simple question: What does Louisville mean to you?
Here are their answers:
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Sophomore offensive tackle Darrian Miller: "It's a rivalry game. A lot of emotions. A lot of negative emotions going into this game. Me personally? I'm angry. I really don't know why."
Senior cornerback Martavius Neloms: "A win means everything because it's a very heated rivalry. You always want to win your rivalry game, especially since it's my last year. I definitely want to go out on top."
Junior linebacker Avery Williamson: "It's a lot, man. It's the opener of the season and if we win this game, it puts us out on the right foot. Last year it seemed like it kind of went downhill from there. It's a lot. State pride. Recruiting. Everything."
Secondary coach Mike Cassity, who was defensive coordinator at Louisville from 2004-07: "They're our first opponent. I know the importance of the game having been on both sidelines. I think it's great from the standpoint that we get a national spotlight. Two very good programs playing each other on Labor Day Sunday."
Senior center Matt Smith, a Louisville native: "It means everything to me, because I've grown up watching this rivalry. I grew up watching Louisville go to the Orange Bowl and dominate Kentucky and then in the years before I got here and when I was here, we won four in a row against them. Last year, to lose, wasn't a good feeling."
Junior defensive tackle Mister Cobble: "It's a big game. It's in my home town. I lived there and I know most everybody on the team. To be able to go over there and play for the first time at Cardinal Stadium since my high school days is big for me."
Offensive line coach Mike Summers, who coached at Louisville from 2003-06: "On a lot of different levels… As the offensive line coach at the University of Kentucky, they are the first opponent that we have to defeat this year. They are the enemy. They are the team we have to go defeat. From a personal standpoint, I had some very good times when I was there, met some very good people and will always cherish my time that I spent there. But I'm at Kentucky now and they're the enemy."
Some Kentucky players, especially natives of the state, were recruited heavily by Louisville. Others never heard from the Cardinals, or didn't consider them seriously. The players' history with both schools is a factor in their emotions. Some have strong ties to UK and have understood the rivalry for years, while others are still learning what it means.
Neloms, a Memphis, Tenn. not recruited by Louisville: "I'm not really a red guy. When Kentucky came to me, they were in the SEC. How could you turn that down?"
Cobble, a Louisville native: "In high school, UK was the first one to give me a scholarship. I didn't hear from Louisville until the end of my senior year and that's when Coach Nord was there recruiting me. I was talking to him about it, but in the end I chose big blue."
Cassity, who didn't consider Louisville an option when choosing where to play college football: "I had the opportunity to come to Kentucky and that's where I needed to be."
Miller, a Lexington native: "I was never really a fan of either team growing up. I always had negative emotions toward Louisville for some reason. I have no idea why. It could be something as simple as my favorite color is blue and I don't really like red all that much … They came to my high school. I'm pretty sure they offered me. I wasn't really interested."
Smith: "They did recruit me. Actually, Coach Nord recruited me when he was there and I was a senior in high school. But I was a Kentucky fan all my life. I was looking at them in case things didn't work out here, but when Kentucky offered it took maybe a week or two to turn around and tell them I was coming here."
Williamson: "I got invited to a camp, but I never really wanted to go. I just wanted to go SEC."
Preparations won't be any different than for any other game, but there might be more on the line. The intensity of the UK-UofL game spills over from the stands and on to the field. At stake is a 1-0 start, the Governor's Cup Trophy and the prospect of an uphill battle all season long for the loser.
Neloms: "I think it is, especially since it's such an intense rivalry. Everybody is going to go out there and scratch and claw and do everything you want to do to go out there and win."
Williamson: "Yeah, it is. It's like they turn another switch on. Once I get through that first play, I'm all right. Once I get the butterflies out of my system I'm good to go."
Smith: "Everybody that's from the state, everybody that's been following it knows. A lot of these guys on the team that are young and out of state, they have no clue what this rivalry means to the state and what it means to guys who are from this state. I'm trying to remind them every day how big this game is. It very well could mean if we go to a bowl or not at the end of the season. It has in years past, recently. It's important in many ways, but especially to me being from this state."
Cobble: "It's all mental. The game is never going to change, but you have to go into it with the same mindset for every one of them. Not because it's Louisville, but because it's another team you have to play."
Summers: "Just personally, I think it's a great game and it's great for our state. It provides a lot of football emphasis that the state doesn't have and that's very exciting. I really enjoyed my years at Louisville and we were really successful when I was there. I was fortunate to be able to come home to Kentucky and I'm proud to be here now. It's a great opportunity for me to be able to be involved in something that, personally, is so important to me."