“I am more than just a serious basketball fan. I am a life-long addict. I was addicted from birth, in fact, because I was born in Kentucky,” claimed Louisville native Hunter S. Thompson.
He may have been talking about his allegiance to his beloved Kentucky Wildcats, but he no doubt came across Louisville Cardinals fans of like mind in his hometown. March Madness television ratings consistently paint Louisville as the nation’s capital of college basketball fandom.
While the Hatfields and McCoys may be relegated to the history books, the Cats and Cards rivalry continues to inflame, especially here in Louisville — ground zero of red versus blue. Louisville fans may make up the majority, but Kentucky fans are a boisterous minority.
The story has been covered extensively locally and even nationally, but it’s never been told on the big screen.
That will soon change when the documentary film “The Rivalry: Red v, Blue” premiers in December.
If you’ve spent any amount of time in Kentucky, you get it: You’re either a fan of the Cats or of the Cards, but never of both.
State motto be damned, divided we cheer.
WHAS 11 sports anchor Adam Lefkoe simply calls it, “The greatest rivalry in sports.”
“Other places don’t talk about the rivalry all year,” he continued, “With UK and UofL, they talk about it every single day to the point I wonder whether anything else matters.”
They played but 12 times between 1913 and 1959 and not again until the NCAA tournament in 1983, the original Dream Game. Later that year, political pressure from the Kentucky General Assembly finally forced them into an annual series.
Our own Mark Coomes wrote about the acrimony surrounding the early days of the annual rivalry back in March.
And now you faithful UK and UofL fans can help make sure this story gets told on screen by contributing to the $40,000 Kickstarter campaign established to close the final gaps in the film’s budget, and get some awesome red and blue swag to boot. As of today, 220 backers have pledged a total of $22,500, with four days to go.
“The two fan bases are so proud of their teams because there are no professional sports teams in Kentucky, they’re the biggest game in town,“ said “Rivalry” Director Rory Delaney about reaching out to fans to help fund this film, “ They have such a voracious appetite for success and we believe both fan bases want to see this movie get made.”
Los Angeles-based documentary filmmaker Delaney grew up in Louisville after his father, a KFC executive, was transferred here when the younger Delaney was in the second grade. Though he moved away before finishing high school, he spent enough of his formative years here to become a diehard Cardinals fan.
After graduating from high school in Dallas, he was off to Yale and then New York University, where he earned a Master’s in Fine Arts, and finally on to L.A. to become a filmmaker.
His aspiring film career brought him back to Kentucky in 2008 while shooting a documentary in Eastern Kentucky called “Toxic Soup.” While making his film, he met environmental consultant Wade Smith, a Paintsville native, lifelong UK fan and modern renaissance man.
Smith was recommended to Delaney as an expert on local environmental issues but the two quickly struck up a friendship and remained in touch after Delaney returned to L.A., though Smith claims he had yet to learn of Delaney’s red leanings. Nonetheless, a long distance friendship persevered driven largely by UK-UofL trash talking via text messaging.
One bout of such trash talk in late 2010 piqued their curiosity as to whether anyone had ever documented this caustic rivalry on film.
All they could find was a 20-minute YouTube mini-series entitled “The Rivalry.”
The odd couple decided they’d make a full length documentary about red versus blue and went to work on it in 2011, with Delaney as the director and Smith as the producer. They eventually reached out to the creator of the YouTube series, who turned out to be Lefkoe.
There’s no better way to put it than to say Lefkoe is kind of a big deal around Louisville. In April, he was named the 2013 Associated Press “Best Sportscaster in Kentucky”
and his YouTube series established his bona fides on the local sports scene despite being an outsider.
Lefkoe was excited to hear that Delaney and Smith had already started making their documentary and wanted to get involved.
“Crap, this is my idea,” Lefkoe thought to himself, “I need to be a part of it!”
He came on board as a producer in 2012 and with Delaney in Los Angeles and Smith in Paintsville, he has become the local point man in Louisville for the film.
A Philadelphia native who ended up in the Derby City by way of Nebraska, Lefkoe quickly picked up on the impact of the UK-UofL rivalry on daily life in his new hometown.
The first question he was routinely asked, “Are you a Cards or Cats fan?”
“I grew up a college basketball fan in a pro city. I loved Temple, I loved St. Joe’s … Louisville wasn’t on the map that much then but I knew about the great ’96 Kentucky team that won it all,” Lefkoe explained, “When I went to Syracuse University, I learned all about Louisville basketball.”
He is simultaneously awed by both the passion and division that the rivalry creates, “It’s like the fans think this is my life and that is your life and I’m going to allow a basketball team to represent me in this fight.”
“I find it endearing because they genuinely care about it, there’s a true passion for it and it makes my job (as a sportscaster) more important,” he concluded.
Lefkoe’s fascination and enthusiasm for the rivalry is clearly evident and has been a valuable addition to the production team, especially in terms of lining up interviews with various local basketball and media celebrities.
He adds one more benefit.
His network spreads across both fan bases, as evidenced by arranging interviews with Mike Rutherford and Matt Jones, who run the fan-centric Card Chronicle and Kentucky Sports Radio sites, respectively.
“Adam is neutral, he just likes sports, so he acts as the referee between Rory and me and makes sure both sides of the story get told,” explained Smith.
Given that UK and UofL have captured the past two national championships, the timing couldn’t be better but a lot of work remains to be done.
The Kickstarter campaign is looking to raise funds primarily to cover final production, post-production, distribution and marketing.
Costs are adding up quickly, such as clearance to show both university logos in the film (every time UK and UofL appear in the film, the schools get paid royalties) and purchase of archival footage, which can get expensive as it’s billed on a per second basis.
An environmental consultant by trade, Smith’s diverse interests (he’s also a licensed pilot) and business acumen (he owns a general contracting firm and is a partner in another business venture) have put him in charge of the financing and marketing side of the film’s production.
“We have some investors and sponsors in the mix, but are looking for more,” Smith said, “The total projected budget on the film side is in the neighborhood of $250,000 with another $50,000 for marketing and advertising later this year.”
A successful Kickstarter campaign would be a big piece of the financial puzzle.
“We’re on schedule for simultaneous December premiers in both Louisville and Lexington and with red and blue carpets,” Smith explained, “I’ll be with my people and Rory with his.”
The goal is to premier the film in early December and have it in theaters for the rest of the month leading up to the December 28 clash between the past two NCAA champions at Rupp Arena, which promises to be another game for the ages.
According to Lefkoe, “This will be the game of the past 30 years. Both coaches are set up for the game with teams that perfectly reflect what they’ve tried to do since getting to these universities: Pitino with experienced guards, four-year players, a couple studs and championship experience; Calipari, known for his recruiting, comes in with possibly the greatest recruiting class in college basketball history—this is basketball royalty.”
“Our promise to you, because we want you to be part of it, it’s completely neutral. Louisville and Kentucky, you’re both represented … This is a movie for the fans of Kentucky by fans from Kentucky and we need your help,” Lefkow explains in the Kickstarter video.
While trash talking is a year-round activity between Cats and Cards fans, “The Rivalry: Red v. Blue” will intensify it that much more in the final month leading up to this year’s showdown. Yet ironically, getting this film made may be the only thing for which red and blue ever stand united.