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Mike Morrissey, Fargo, Published January 26 2013

Letter: Indeed, it is more than a game

‘It’s more than a game,” said The Forum editorial of Jan. 13. Indeed, it is. Those interested in seeing resumption of the North Dakota State University-University of North Dakota football rivalry should take their case to Gov. Jack Dalrymple. Here’s why.

In the late 1970s, we moved from Illinois to Kentucky for a new position at Fort Knox, about 25 minutes south of Louisville. As we settled into the new culture, we began to absorb all things Kentucky, including salt-cured ham, red-eye gravy, okra and having to travel good distances to have a cold beer. (In those days, nearly 80 of Kentucky’s 120 counties were dry.)

Included in the assimilation was an understanding of the madness that surrounds Kentucky basketball. As a newcomer to the state, I found it fun to cheer for both the University of Kentucky and the University of Louisville, except when they were playing the Hoosiers from Indiana University, my alma mater. As we made our way through the first season, I discovered “the chasm” that separates fandom in Kentucky. I learned that you were required to support one team or the other, but not both. That would make you just plain weird. I learned that you were expected to denigrate all manner of things relating to that “other” team, including the coach, the recruiting, the schedule, the home court, IQ, et al.

At some time in earlier years, the teams had met occasionally, but during the reign of Adolph Rupp, those highly anticipated match-ups ended. Rupp’s excuse for not scheduling Denny Crum’s Cardinals was flimsy: Well, if we schedule one state university, we’ll be expected to schedule Eastern, Western and any other local comer. Rupp’s successor, Joe B. Hall, was faithful to the party line. Crum wanted to be on the UK schedule to showcase his frequently dominant group of ballplayers, but his requests went unheard.

Then the inevitable happened – thanks to NCAA schedulers, UK and U of L managed to find their way to a match-up during the NCAA tournament in March 1983. Dubbed the “Dream Game,” fans across the state went nuts. After all these years, it was finally going to happen. Joe B. Hall could avoid the Cardinals no more.

Enter Gov. John Y. Brown, Kentucky Fried Chicken mogul, former owner of the ABA Kentucky Colonels and erstwhile husband of former Miss America Phyllis George. An astute businessman, he understood the value of the game to the state; he attended the game dressed in a suit that was half red and half blue. Following that game, which lived up to the hype, John Y., as he was often called, took the side of fans everywhere, including Cardinals followers. As chief executive officer of the commonwealth, he put pressure on all stakeholders, including university presidents, regents, alumni and coaches. In the end, he prevailed, and after a half-century or more, the annual rivalry resumed, much to the delight of Kentucky fans from Appalachia to Paducah and across the U.S.

Do we in North Dakota deserve less? I think not. It’s time for Gov. Dalrymple to rip a page out of John Y’s playbook. Let’s get ’er done, governor. If for no other reason than it makes good business sense; hotels, motels, restaurants, gas retailers and purveyors of sports materials all stand to profit. The more, the merrier.

Oh, yeah, that Dream Game? UK forced an overtime. With a last-second shot, the Cards ran the first 14 points in the OT and managed to hang on for a win. (And they’ve both been losing to the IU Hoosiers for years ... in my dreams.)