Heartbreak At “The Grove”

Heartbreak At “The Grove”

I traveled down to Mississippi with my good friend and media colleague, Lonny Demaree (right). The Ole Miss fan in between us gave us a personal tour of “The Grove.” The people tailgating were super friendly. Unfortunately, there were just way too many of them.

(OXFORD, Ms.) – When Kentucky first released its current 2022 football schedule, there was one road game I circled immediately. Ever since I started this media gig, a trip to Ole Miss remained at the top of my bucket list of SEC venues to visit. Not only had I never been to Oxford, but stories I heard of tailgating in The Grove were legendary in my mind.

Described frequently as the “Holy Grail of tailgating sites,” The Grove takes on a life of its own during Ole Miss football Saturdays. Geographically speaking, it’s located right in the center of a picturesque college campus and consists of stately oak, elm, and magnolia trees providing the perfect mixture of ambience and shade. What really distinguishes it from any other park-like setting, however, is the massive mix of partygoers and football fanatics reveling within its boundaries on gameday.

When I first walked through the maze of tents, TVs, and tailgaters three hours before kickoff, I was a bit taken aback. I immediately sensed that this place was out of control. Because in my mind, I somehow pictured ornate canopies in spacious meadows filled with aristocratic gentlemen and southern belles. Everyone’s dressed to the nines with unlimited access to their favorite food and drink (think Picnic with the Pops on steroids).

Instead, I was greeted by a virtual madhouse of sweaty football humanity. Frat boys, slick donors, soccer moms, average Joes, grandmas, former jocks, and current drunks all crammed shoulder to shoulder under an assortment of cover you might find in the various tent cities of worldwide refugee camps. It’s only 8:00 a.m., and the area is already so jam packed that there’s no room to walk, turn around, or breathe. Fifty feet into the morass, and I had seen enough.

Life in the press box at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium turned out to be just as unpleasant. With their heartbreaking 22 – 19 defeat at the hands of their Rebel hosts, the Wildcats once again snatched defeat from the jaws of victory.

What was maddingly frustrating for the 12 – 15,000 Big Blue faithful who made the trip down South was that despite the inopportune red zone fumbles, the lack of protection by the O-line, and the kicking game meltdowns, Kentucky still had a chance to win the game at the end. Sure, Barion Brown’s 245 all-purpose yards, Chris Rodriguez’s return to action, and the defense making some critical stops are continued causes for future optimism. But make no mistake—this loss hurts. It hurts really bad.

Many say to rejoice and be glad because Kentucky had never been ranked this high (No. 7 in the nation) before. I say cry and lament because it’s an opportunity squandered as the Wildcats may never find themselves in this lofty position again.

But I’m here primarily to report on the tailgating, so immediately upon hearing the final horn, I hightail it back over to The Grove to meet a few of my friends who have traveled down from Kentucky. It’s a miracle I’m even able to hook up with them amidst the exuberant masses pouring forth from the stadium exits.

We finally settle into our pre-purchased spot at The Grove, our feet navigating the mound of dry dirt and dirty straw masquerading as the plush carpet of green grass I had previously imagined in my dreams. As reality hit, I realized there would be no chandeliers nor champagne, no caviar nor Cuban cigars. Maybe I was still sulking from the Ole Miss beatdown, but to be honest, The Grove was ridiculously overrated. The tailgating around the bucolic rolling hills surrounding Kroger Field—with plenty of room for cornhole and tossing footballs—was far better in my mind.

Then suddenly, I noticed a subtle change in my mood. As I chatted with my friends and they introduced me to their friends, I discovered that the thoughts of despair surrounding Kentucky’s loss magically dissipated. This was exactly what the doctor ordered. No longer was I lamenting “what could have been.” Now I was savoring the moment—good times with good people, good food, and good conversations. The final score no longer mattered. Enjoying the journey is what ultimately counts.

Here’s what I learned on my trip to Oxford. When experiencing The Grove, it’s not about the fancy tents, or the majestic oaks, or the renowned party atmosphere. It’s more about the company you keep. Seriously, you can have a fabulous time tailgating under an asphalt bridge. Just make sure it’s with people you like and care about.

For that reason, I hereby anoint Kroger Field as “the mecca of tailgating sites.” I’ve been to the “holy grail.” Trust me, Kentucky Football tailgating is as good as it gets.

Dr. John Huang covers professional sports for Sports View America. He’s also a columnist for Nolan Group Media and serves as editor-in-chief of JustTheCats.com. Check out his latest Kentucky Basketball book, KENTUCKY PASSION, at https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669 . If you enjoy his coverage, you can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

I Still Can’t Stand America’s Team

<strong>I Still Can’t Stand America’s Team</strong>

(ARLINGTON, Tx.) – Old habits die hard.

During the Dallas Cowboys’ nationally televised opener in 1979, the lead CBS announcers introduced the ever-popular NFL franchise as “America’s Team.” I didn’t like the reference back then. Forty-plus years later, the moniker still resonates with me like a root canal gone bad.

I’ll confess, I’ve always rooted fervently against the Cowboys. I’m not really sure why. I just knew that in my mind, Coach Tom Landry was public enemy number one. Back then, there was a lot NOT to like about the Cowboys. While Bob Lilly and the “Doomsday Defense” stalked you like evil personified, Roger Staubach and Cliff Harris stayed busy eating your lunch.

Deep down inside, I suspected my outright disdain for the Cowboys was based on envy, jealousy, and discontent more than anything else. Dallas was good, and the teams I cheered for were not. Their fans were loud, supportive, and passionate. In return, Cowboys’ management spared no expense in treating everyone like kings. One marketing gimmick—the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders—became (and remains to this day) every schoolboy’s fantasy dream come true.

To add insult to injury, my best friend growing up was a die-hard Dallas fan. Week after week during football season, he’d subject me to endless taunts, tales, and torment about how great his team performed. Honestly, he got to me. I loathed those stupid lone star helmets so much that I became a Washington Redskins fan for life.

Despite my deep-seated issues with the green-eyed monster, I’ve always wanted to attend a Dallas Cowboys’ home football game. When the Cowboys popped up on the Bengals’ schedule this year, I knew I was destined for Jerry World.

AT&T Stadium sits like an other-worldly UFO rising majestically from the flatlands of northeast Texas. With its massive size, unique architecture, and oversized high-definition scoreboard, the entire structure screams “overcompensation.” Nevertheless, the Jerry Jones’ monstrosity remains one of the premiere showcase venues of the NFL. Built in 2009 at a cost of over a billion dollars, the one-hundred-thousand-seat arena still retains much of its initial luster and draw.

Hospitality wise, it’s by far the best stadium venue I’ve encountered in all my travels. The natives are friendly, and the media buffet is sublime. Prime rib, barbecue brisket, grilled asparagus, and the lobster mac and cheese are all tantalizingly laid out before you as the main event unfolds. Finish strong with the dessert bar, and a diabetic coma is sure to follow. Food in Texas never disappoints.

As I’m stuffing my face like an eating machine, the same couldn’t be said for the Bengals’ dismal performance out on the field. For the second straight week, an unproductive offense and an inconsistent O-line resulted in six Joe Burrow sacks on the way to another crushing, last-minute 20 – 17 defeat.

To make matters worse, the Cowboys entered the contest with a backup quarterback, just one starting NFL caliber receiver, and the entire left side of their O-line nursing injuries. Still, the Bengals couldn’t capitalize. The AFC champions thus start the season at a stunning 0 – 2 while embarrassing themselves at the hands of the team I despise most.

Together with Kentucky Basketball’s loss to UConn in the 2014 Final Four, my two trips to Jerry World have both been crash and burns. I keep telling myself, however, that it’s not the result but the journey that counts. The truth is that AT&T Stadium remains a sight to behold. Fill it with 94,944 crazy Cowboy fans waving white towels, and even I have to admit that it becomes something magical and surreal.

I asked Dallas head coach Mike McCarthy in the postgame interview about all the hype and hoopla.

“You go out there pregame and see the white towels on the seats, it brings a smile to my face,” he explained “They’re on it. There’s nothing like these Cowboy fans. Just from the time you arrive, all the way through, what an incredible atmosphere today. What a competitive arena they create for us. The stadium was rocking today. They did a phenomenal job.”

When it comes to America’s Team, it really is all about the fans. McCarthy should know. He’s had the privilege of coaching both the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys—two organizations at the top of the NFL food chain when it comes to fan appeal.

McCarthy’s words made one thing crystal clear. Passion in sports is a two-way street. Fans care most about a team when they know that team cares for them. Love them or hate them, that’s certainly been the case in Dallas all these years.

Thank you, Jerry Jones, for the wonderful hospitality. I still can’t stand America’s team, but I sure as heck loved your barbecue brisket.

Dr. John Huang covers professional sports for Sports View America. He’s also a columnist for Nolan Group Media and serves as editor-in-chief of JustTheCats.com. Check out his latest Kentucky Basketball book, KENTUCKY PASSION, at https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669 . If you enjoy his coverage, you can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Wasting Away in Cincinnati

Wasting Away in Cincinnati

Is watching Cincinnati take on Pittsburgh in an NFL/MLB doubleheader on consecutive days awesome…or weird?

(CINCINNATI, Oh.) – You might say I’m a glutton for punishment. After watching the AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals stumble out of the gate against their hated divisional rivals from Pittsburgh, I decided to stick around the Queen City for another day and watch the lowly Reds take on the even lowlier divisional rival Pirates. You might call it the Cincinnati versus Pittsburgh doubleheader from Hell. It’s a one-two punch for the desperate sports fanatic with way too much time on their hands.

The contrast between an NFL opening day spectacle (where Cincinnati is coming off their magical Super Bowl LVI appearance) and a regular weeknight MLB clash (where the perennial bottom feeding Reds are squaring off against their fellow cellar dwelling Pirates) couldn’t be greater.

On the football side, you’ve got 65,000 or more fans jacked, packed, and stacked three hours prior to kickoff—tailgating in the most ridiculous manner possible. They’re hunkered underneath overpasses, spilling over into concrete parking garages, and scrunched creatively into all these urban nooks and crannies.

Navigating through the morass to the stadium gates was no small feat. Parking alone can set you back fifty bucks. Engaging with all the drunks, panhandlers, and obnoxious terrible towel-waving Steeler fans further robs you of your dignity.

Once inside the sanctity of the Paycor Stadium press box, however, the NFL experience was definitely first class. As always, the hospitality, food, and locker-room access easily rated five stars in my book.

Unfortunately, the Bengals didn’t uphold their end of the bargain on the field, squandering away several opportunities to win after turning the ball over five times, missing a chip shot field goal, and getting a potential game-winning extra point attempt blocked in the process.

You had to feel bad for Bengals fans. They came into the season with such high expectations (rightly so), only to be punched in the mouth right out of the gate. I’m not sure if it was the alcohol speaking or what, but I heard several threats uttered by disgruntled patrons exiting the stadium that probably needed to be reported to the FBI. There’s nothing like passion for your NFL team, or outrage when they crash and burn.

On the baseball side the next evening, the mood and circumstances couldn’t have been more different. Even with the never-ending construction along the I-75/I-71 corridors, getting downtown was a virtual snap. You could park right next door to the stadium for a mere $12 a pop. Is there tailgating in baseball? I didn’t notice any drunken revelry on my casual stroll in.

Looking around the field-level seats on a leisurely Monday evening, I spotted a lot of young families with children, numerous couples on dates, and the usual mix of baseball die-hards donning Joey Votto jerseys. Conspicuously missing was the boisterous group of Pirate fans usually seated along the third-base line. It seems that even Yinzers have their limits.

When the game finally started, there were the obligatory loud cheers when Aristides Aquino blasted a two-run homer in the bottom of the fourth inning, but other than when the Reds closed out an inning, you could easily have mistaken the crowd noise for a casual summer night watching the fireflies on your back porch. The Bark in the Park promotion only added to the backyard-like ambience, especially when the number of furry four-legged friends easily outnumbered the hairy two-legged variety.

For the record, Cincinnati (56 – 83) lost to the Pirates 6 – 3, but the reality is that none of the 12,083 in attendance at Great American Ballpark really cared who won or lost. The Reds were mathematically eliminated from the National League Central race on Saturday. With their loss this evening, their elimination number for a wild-card spot is rapidly dwindling as well.

Remember, the Reds must win seven of their remaining 23 games to avoid the dreaded 100-loss season. After their disastrous franchise-worst 3 – 22 start, it’s miraculous they’re even poised to make that final run. It’s also ironic that despite the fact the team stinks to high heaven, there are still more fans in the stands by far than you’ll see at church on Sundays.

I guess the overarching lesson for me these past two days is that sports—for many—remains a welcome distraction. It doesn’t matter whether your team’s in the hunt or just playing out the string, it’s the experience of following them faithfully that counts. Unless your livelihood is based solely on winning or losing, consider it a blessing to be able to just regularly sit back, to cheer on the victories, and to lament the defeats. All the better if you can spend time doing it together with friends and loved ones.

In the end, there’s nothing at all wrong with passion for sports, as long as it’s not misdirected toward others or taken to extremes. In fact, passion for sports is totally awesome. I’m convinced it’s good for your psyche. It’s certainly not wasting your life away—even if you’ve spent that entire life as a loyal Cincinnati sports fan.

Dr. John Huang covers professional sports for Sports View America. He’s also a columnist for Nolan Group Media and serves as editor-in-chief of JustTheCats.com. Check out his latest Kentucky Basketball book, KENTUCKY PASSION, at https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669 . If you enjoy his coverage, you can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

But the greatest of these is FOOD

But the greatest of these is FOOD

And now these three remain: sex, sleep, and food. But the greatest of these is FOOD!

I’ve always loved food. Not only does eating food satisfy one of man’s basic biological needs, it can also give rise to one of his greatest earthly pleasures. That’s certainly true for me. Whether traveling the world sampling international cuisine or vegetating on my couch watching NetFlix, gluttony sadly sits atop my seven deadly sins list.

When it comes to food, I don’t discriminate. I’m as comfortable chowing down at any hole-in-the-wall burger joint as I am at a three-star Michelin fine dining restaurant. Fast food, comfort food, ethnic food, or junk food, it doesn’t matter a lick to me. I can handle vegan, vegetarian, sweet, or savory. If the food is good, bring it on. I’m like a Chinese Andrew Zimmern swooping in on his next delicious destination.

That’s why I’m heading down to the Asian Food Fest in downtown Cincinnati this weekend. This vibrant community festival celebrates culture and cuisine from the entire Pacific Rim and beyond. For me, it’s like a nostalgic trip down memory lane. I grew up eating all sorts of Chinese delicacies, so I’m looking forward to reconnecting with some of my fondest gastronomical delights.

In the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t drive up here solely to attend the food festival. I’m here on assignment covering the Cincinnati Reds. It’s the doubleheader from hell as the Reds are taking on the Pittsburgh Pirates in a drawn-out twin bill. Twelve consecutive hours in purgatory is a bit too much for anyone to sit through, so I’m taking a break between games to gorge myself silly.

As I approach the plaza on foot, I get my first whiff of paradise—the scintillating smells of simmering spices serenades my nostrils. This is what heaven must be like. But instead of streets paved with gold, the streets are lined with food vendors serving the tasting menu of my dreams. There’s no fake chop suey like you find at your local Kroger deli. Nope—you’re talking Malaysian Chicken Rendang, Kalua Pork Nachos, Vietnamese Empanadas, and the most delectable tofu Pad Thai this side of Bangkok. Where do I even begin?

There’s a definite strategy involved in approaching these food festivals. You can’t waste calories by making bonehead choices. The days of eating as much as I want without expanding my waistline are long gone. There’s no more tapeworm or hollow leg to fall back on. In other words, I’ve got to pace myself, be selective, and loosen my belt accordingly.

My strategy, then, is to start slow and to look for the longest lines. I queue up behind several Asian couples at this one place claiming to serve authentic Chinese fare. One bite into the barbecue pork steam bun stuffed with quail egg and Chinese sausage tells me I made the right choice. The sweet fluffy dough evokes a flood of memories from my youth. I can’t help but think of my dear Mama, rising up early to painstakingly hand knead the flour, roll out the dough, and lovingly craft those magically delicious baos.

A revelation suddenly occurs to me. Not only does everything taste good, but each item I choose has an indelible memory attached to it. The spicy coconut-based broth of the Curry Laksa reminds me of the first of many meals my beloved bride cooked for me. The authentic Nepalese Momo Dumplings spur recollections of food binges with my brother. When I marvel at the delicate scallion pancake holding together my Chinese Pork Taco, I’m reminded of the importance of solid life-long relationships. Never mind the Caucasian dude beside me choking on the spices, I’m in my happy place.

The food we eat is more than just sustenance. It’s our life as well as our lifeblood. It’s all the sights and smells and textures and tastes joining together to form a symphony of life experiences. You vividly remember exactly where you were when you bit into that first soup dumpling or tasted the crispiness of Peking Duck for the very first time.

Food speaks to you—just like a soothing musical ballad—in ways that words cannot. It takes you back to all those special times, to all those memorable places, and reconnects you with every person you’ve ever broken bread with over the course of your precious lifetimes.

Try saying that about sex, or sleep, or shelter, or any of our other basic human needs for that matter. You can’t. That’s why the greatest of these is food.

I’ll have the Mung Bean Noodles to go, please.

Books and Pizza

Books and Pizza

Two of my favorite life activities are writing books and eating pizza. Whenever I combine the two passions, it makes for one glorious day. Occasionally, my joy overflows and I feel compelled to share. Sunday was one of those times.

It’s Palm Sunday, and I’m headed out riding—not on my ass—but in my trusty white convertible. The temperature’s not quite warm enough to cruise with the top down, but the sun is shining, and the central Kentucky countryside is resplendent in all its verdant glory.

Beside me is Kyle Macy. Yeah, THE KYLE MACY, arguably the most popular Kentucky basketball player to have ever worn the uniform. Kyle and I did a book together titled From the Rafters of Rupp, and we’re headed up the backroads of horse country to Cynthiana, Kentucky, to do a book signing.

You never know how these appearances will pan out, so I’m wound tighter than a banjo string. Kyle, however, is just Kyle—cool, calm, and as collected as ever. We arrive about twenty minutes early at our pre-arranged venue. Kyle is confident we’ll sign a million books. I’m just hoping we won’t be the only ones there.

As usual, my worries are unfounded as a nice crowd materializes. Kyle dazzles them with his wonderful gift of gab. It amazes me how surprisingly candid he is when talking about UK Basketball. It’s obvious he loves the program—but as you’ll see in the book—he’s not afraid to speak his mind either. I, on the other hand, have been guzzling the blue Kool-Aid. I know the people aren’t here to listen to me anyway, so I stick to the party line whenever I’m asked a pointed question. Kyle rolls his eyes and tells me I’ve still got a lot to learn.

The Next Chapter Bookstore (thenextchapter41031.com) is a real gem. It’s relatively new, having opened in November of 2020…and having expanded to their fabulous new location in October of last year. The three owners—Jennifer Renaker, Ashley Peak, and Sherry Judy—greet us like long-lost cousins. You can feel the love they’ve poured into this business enterprise, as they bounce around energetically making everyone feel welcome. I see my other UK basketball book, Kentucky Passion, prominently displayed on the front shelf. Yep, this place is awesome. THIS PLACE IS AWESOME, INDEED! I’ll be back for sure.

After the books are signed and everyone’s happy, Kyle and I prepare for part two of our Sunday afternoon doubleheader. We’ve been invited for some homemade pizza at the house of the King. Doug Hampton is a former basketball referee and world-famous auctioneer. He’s also a New York Pizza School graduate and is well-known for his mouth-watering pies.

Before we indulge, however, we stop off on a parcel of holy ground. This is Joe B. Hall country, and no visit to Cynthiana would be complete without a visit to his mural. It’s much bigger and grander than I had imagined. Prior to his recent passing, many considered Joe the most beloved coach in America https://huangswhinings.com/2020/02/20/the-most-beloved-coach-in-america/. Kyle played for Coach Hall on that 1978 national championship team, and he assures me that Joe B. was as classy as they come.

The Dugan’s Pizza experience was downright heavenly. To be perfectly honest, it may just be the best pizza I’ve ever had. The dough was exquisite—tantalizingly chewy on the outside with a delectably airy and fluffy middle. The sauce was orgasmic, a puree of ripened tomatoes enhanced with the perfect blend of basil and garlic. And man…that cheese…the thought of that caramelized specialty brick cheese oozing together with the stringy mozzarella and sprinkled liberally atop with parmesan has me quivering as I write. Top everything off with a thick juicy slab of bacon or some flavorful pepperoni, and let’s fight to the death for that last corner square.

Predictably, Kyle and I gorge ourselves. He has four slices. I’m five-and-done. We both then cruise back towards Lexington disgustingly fat and happy. But WAIT…Kyle has a sweet tooth. He’s not done yet. We go for broke, pull up to the nearest Dairy Queen, and order our Blizzards. Just our luck—their ice cream mixer is broken.

I’m a bit ticked off, but Kyle shrugs it off. The guy is literally one cool cat. I figured with all the accolades and adoration he’s received over the years, these types of outings would get old in a hurry. I ask him if he enjoyed the day.

“Absolutely,” he answers me. “It’s always fun meeting people and talking about UK Basketball.”

I’m no Kyle Macy, but I’ll second the motion. Life is all about relationships—nurturing existing ones and formulating brand new ones. That’s easy to do with the folks in Cynthiana. They’re some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Plus, they bought all our books and fed us the best pizza south of Brooklyn. You can see why I’m feeling truly blessed. I’m living the dream.

Kyle and I will be at it again next week. Bullitt County, here we come. Crank up those Oreo Blizzards.

Books and ice cream, anyone?

Head on over to The Next Chapter Bookstore and pick up your signed copy of #FromTheRaftersOfRupp or #KentuckyPassion. Can’t make it out? Order here https://www.acclaimpress.com/books/from-the-rafters-of-rupp-the-book/

or https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669

and we’ll find a way to sign it for you next time you’re in town. In the meantime, be sure to follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Super Bowl Dreams

Super Bowl Dreams

The Cincinnati Bengals are Super Bowl bound—and Lord willing, SO AM I!

As someone who has faithfully covered the team for the past five years, the National Football League has graciously granted me an official media credential for the press box at SoFi Stadium. For a football junkie like me, that means a journey to the pinnacle of the NFL, a once-in-a-lifetime visit to the mountaintop summit of the entire sporting world.

Ever since Jim O’Brien kicked the Baltimore Colts to a 16 – 13 win over the Dallas Cowboys in Super Bowl V, I’ve dreamed of going to this iconic event. Year after year, for over half a century, I’ve longed to experience the world-renowned glamour and pageantry with my own eyes and ears.

The undefeated Dolphins, Pittsburgh’s Steel Curtain, Joe Montana and Jerry Rice, the ’85 Bears, America’s Team with Aikman and Smith, the Greatest Show on Turf, Brady and Belichick—all viewed through the lens of that distant and detached boob tube screen.

Regardless of who was playing or where I was, I’d always make it a point to somehow tune in. Whether at a large social gathering or alone in my man cave, I simply couldn’t miss. Those 1:00 am kickoffs while stationed in Germany were especially difficult. One year while traveling, I remember frantically searching for a television at a seaside bar off the coast of Thailand (early on a Monday morning) just to get my Super Bowl fix.

Each year, after the final credits rolled, I promised myself that next year would be the one that I would finally make the in-person plunge. And yet, the plunge never came. Like so many other well-intentioned plans, this one careened into the backburner of misplaced priorities and dashed hopes. As the Super Bowl itself ballooned in stature and as ticket prices subsequently soared, my dream coincidentally vaporized.

And just as suddenly—as improbable as it sounds after all these years—I’m riding triumphantly to Super Bowl LVI on the backs of the Bengals. It’s a serendipitous ride of sorts, the Super Bowl venue at SoFi Stadium beckoning to me like a fairytale fantasy of my pre-adolescent youth.

You see, the Bengals are playing the Los Angeles Rams in LA. I’ve always loved the City of Angels. When I was young, my dream was to move to Los Angeles and become a movie star. Unfortunately, I didn’t have the talent, the looks, or the teeth to be a Leonardo DiCaprio—so I became a dentist instead. I guess things worked out okay, but I always wondered how different my life would have been as an Asian Brad Pitt.

Having missed out on Hollywood, I did the next best thing. I became a fan of everything LA—including the Los Angeles Rams. Yep, those Rams—the early Rams—the Rams who played in the glorious LA Coliseum. Posters of the Fearsome Foursome, Roman Gabriel, and Jack Youngblood adorned my bedroom walls. Vince Ferragamo, “Hacksaw” Reynolds, and Eric Dickerson populated my card collection. My daily moods and outlook on life sadly fluctuated with the fortunes of Pat Haden and Jim Everett.

When the team moved east, however, the Rams lost a bit of their luster for me. Budweiser Clydesdales and Gateway Arches couldn’t hold a candle to the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood Bowl, Rodeo Drive, and Venice Beach. I discovered that my love for the team was as fleeting as my hopes for movie stardom.

Therefore, there’ll be no divided loyalties this coming Sunday. I’ll be cheering wildly for the Cinderella Bengals. What a heartwarming story it will be when the midwestern team of my midlife sports-writing career takes on the west coast team of my youthful Hollywood dreams. It’s funny how things work out sometimes.

Here’s what else has worked out. My daughter, Katie, lives in LA. Unlike her dear old dad, she followed her heart and took the west coast plunge early on. Now I get an unexpected visit with her while working the game of my dreams–in the city of my dreams. It simply doesn’t get any better than that. I feel so blessed.

Super Bowl LVI, here I come. Please don’t wake me up.

Dr. John Huang covers professional sports for Sports View America. His latest book, KENTUCKY PASSION, is available in bookstores and online at https://www.amazon.com/Kentucky-Passion-Wildcat-Wisdom-Inspiration/dp/1684351669

The Prince Turns Six

The Prince Turns Six

For my sixth birthday, my parents gave me a new pair of tennis shoes. These were nothing like the latest Air Jordans you can buy online nowadays for over $300 a pop. But rather, these were your friendly K-Mart specials retailing for the fabulously low price of $4.95.

You see, Mama and Baba just weren’t much into frivolous gift-giving when it came to birthday presents for their children. Don’t get me wrong, they’d sacrifice the world to pay for practical things like our college educations or a down payment on our house. But if I asked for something like a fanciful trip to the beach, they’d probably just laugh in my face. I knew better than to even ask.

So, when my brother and his wife said they were taking their son, Gabriel, out to Disneyland in California to celebrate his sixth birthday, I couldn’t help but cringe. I asked Michael and Michelle if I could come along. I realized that I’d become more and more like my mom and dad—a royal Scrooge when it came to acknowledging milestones in life and significant rites of passage. That shackled me more than I cared to admit, and this trip with Gabriel was going to be my ticket to freedom.

For those who don’t know him, let me tell you a bit about my nephew. The kid’s predictably precocious and smart as a whip. He’s the sole male descendant on this side of our family tree. I was there when he was born and appropriately appointed him at the time as the “emissary of the Huang family jewels.”

I was part joking and part serious. Gabriel doesn’t quite grasp it yet, but our expectations for him are through the roof. As someone who’s getting ready to be put out to pasture, I’m already rolling all my unfulfilled hopes and discarded dreams into the opportunities still lying ahead of him. That’s a heavy burden for anybody to bear—and it’s certainly not fair to Gabriel. In his six short years on earth, he’s already brought our family enough smiles, hugs, and joy to last two or three lifetimes.

When you see the word “spoiled” in the dictionary, however, you’ll see Gabriel’s picture as part of the definition. His mom calls him “The Prince,” if that tells you anything. Whenever there’s a new toy that’s the latest and greatest craze, there’ll be two of them in Gabriel’s playroom by Tuesday. There were times that he had so many toy cars strewn across the family room floor that I was sure my ninety-year-old father would undoubtedly slip and fall to his death. Whether stuffed animals, air rifles, or model rockets to the moon, nothing was too expensive, too outlandish, or too good for The Prince.

Not even a Disneyland trip—a blow-out-the-budget foray that would have his grandparents rolling over in their graves. This journey of extravagance was my best chance of vicariously experiencing everything that I had missed out on in my youth of parental-denial. For once, I’d finally see how the other half lives—squandering my life savings with nary a thought for tomorrow.

As if Disney itself wasn’t enough, we’re scheduled for a Pre-Disney day at the neighboring Knott’s Berry Farm in Anaheim. Bubbling with anticipation, The Prince is up early with his royal entourage trailing in his wake—Mom and Dad, Uncle John, Cousin Katie, Aunt Mary and Uncle Robin—all ready to indulge and coddle.

Here’s my beef with Knotts Berry Farm. For a place that started out as a roadside berry stand, it has way too many thrill coasters for a six-year-old prodigy. Gabriel won’t ride many of them, and neither will I. The Prince pines instead for the rigged arcade games, and he predictably melts down when his daddy can’t bring home the hardware. Fifty bucks for park admission and the kid’s whining about missing out on a fifty-cent CLAW toy. Jesus, help us!

The next day, it’s more of the same at Disneyland—only it’s Gabriel’s daddy who’s doing most of the sulking. Missing out on the 7 a.m. virtual queue for the Rise of the Resistance ride sends Michael—a Star Wars fanatic—into the throws of depression. He walks around the park with an unrelenting frowny face as he misses out on the noontime virtual queue also. It seems our best laid plans have been unceremoniously hijacked.

The Prince, however, seems totally unfazed. He’s happy as a Jedi cruising Galaxy’s Edge. And why wouldn’t he be? His dad just dropped $150 watching him build a droid. He’s munching on $10 corn dogs and sporting a new $24 hat. An overpriced character meal with Goofy at the Disneyland Hotel is also lurking in the wings.

But you know what? As his late Grandpa would often say, “Gabriel is a good boy.” Despite the apparent over-indulgence, I find myself marveling at the kid, nonetheless. He waits patiently in interminable lines for rides, walks over ten miles crisscrossing the park without a single complaint, and keeps us all entertained with his never-ending commentary and wit. Most importantly, he makes everyone around him happy. And it is his birthday after all.

Even the Disney gods relent. Miraculously, we get a last-minute call-up for the Rise of the Resistance, and we hightail it over to board with our group. As I look over at Gabriel wondrously eyeing the Death Star, I can’t help but see my child-like self in him. Fifty years ago, I walked these exact same streets of Disney. I remember those magical moments with my family like they happened yesterday. I treasure those memories more than life itself. I’m hoping that Gabriel will treasure his time with me in the very same way.

His mom was right. There’s nothing too good for The Prince. I love you, Gabriel. May the force be with you.

Dr. John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Group Media and editor-in-chief of JustTheCats.com. His two newest books, KENTUCKY PASSION and FROM THE RAFTERS OF RUPP, are now available online and wherever fine books are sold. If you enjoy his writing, you can follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

Kentucky Passion

Kentucky Passion

Writing books is somewhat akin to winning national championships. After tasting it once, you develop an insatiable craving to do it all over again. The second time around gives you even more joy. As a bona fide author, people no longer regard you as a flash in the pan.

With the release of my newest book, Kentucky Passion, I’ve not only joined the multiple book club, but I think I’ve created something exceptionally special. Kentucky Passion isn’t just your ordinary run-of-the-mill compilation of game scores and player quotes chronicling the program over the years. Rather, it’s a labor of love to all my fellow UK fans; a book for the fans written by a fan—a true-blue, dyed-in-the-wool, card-carrying member of BBN for the past fifty years.

I know that basketball books are a dime a dozen. Here are three specific reasons why I think this one stands out.

It’s a Kentucky Basketball book

The program with the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball is chocked full of memorable moments. The Mardi Gras Miracle, the night the Goose was golden, the Laettner shot, Rick Pitino bolting for Boston, Tayshaun Prince and his five three-pointers—those are all iconic events indelibly etched in the minds of every Kentucky fan. Whether you were there or not when they happened, over the years they’ve all become important milestones marking Kentucky Basketball lore. I was lucky enough to have lived through all of them. My goal is to now take you courtside with me to experience the monumental joys (and occasional heartbreaks) all over again. You won’t just read about them—you’ll live them.

It’s not just a Kentucky Basketball book

John Calipari tells us all the time that Wildcat fans are crazy. I prefer the word passionate. My coauthor, Del Duduit, and I wanted to channel that passion into something that all the Kentucky faithful could use in their everyday lives. Del is a renowned Christian writer, famous for his sports devotional books, who has interviewed famous athletes from all around the world about their spiritual beliefs and faith journeys. In Kentucky Passion, Del takes my basketball narratives and transforms them into practical guides for negotiating the everyday challenges of life. What life lessons can we learn from the University of Jodie Meeks, or the Dream Game turned nightmare, or the Rise of the Jorts? I guarantee you won’t find wisdom like this outside the book of Proverbs.

The book has pictures…and a foreword by the most popular UK player ever

Most of you know my brother, Dr. Michael Huang, the photographer for Kentucky Sports Radio. What you may not know is that he’s just as big a Kentucky Basketball fan as I am. We’ve always wanted to do a joint project on the Cats. A picture is worth a thousand words. Kentucky Passion contains two full-color sections spotlighting fifty of Michael’s notable prints. That alone is worth the price of admission.

Kyle Macy is arguably the most popular player to have ever worn the Kentucky uniform. Back during the days of the ’78 championship, I worshipped the ground he walked on. If you told me then—that forty years later—he’d be penning the foreword for my book, I’d have told you that you were certifiably nuts. I guess that’s the kind of turn of events that dreams are made of. I’m living that dream with Kentucky Passion—and I’d be honored to have you be a part of it.

Here’s the link to get your copy.

Here’s a bonus reason—probably the best reason—to purchase this book. Kentucky Passion was published by—of all people—Red Lightning Books, a subsidiary of Indiana University Press. If those hoops-crazy Hoosiers would bend over backwards to publish and publicize something about their hated border rival, you know the book must be pretty Pulitzer worthy. They released their own book spotlighting IU earlier this year. C’mon BBN—let’s show ‘em who’s king.

Thanks again for being so passionate…and being an integral part of Kentucky Passion.

Rupp Arena Upgrades Will Blow Your Mind (and blow up your wallets)

Rupp Arena Upgrades Will Blow Your Mind (and blow up your wallets)

The President’s Lounge area at the newly renovated Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center. Here’s where UK President Eli Capilouto will be hosting all the deep-pocketed donors and bigwigs prior to tipoff.

It’s about time.

In their effort to keep up with the Joneses, the powers that be in charge of the Central Bank Center expansion have finally put their money where their mouth is. A $241 million construction upgrade—which began in the Summer of 2018—is well underway and is targeted for completion in Spring of 2022.

They tell us that when finished, the newly-refurbished convention center will house over 200,000 square feet of exhibition, ballroom, and meeting space (nearly a 40 – 50% increase from before).

As far as our beloved basketball home is concerned, we’ve already seen the brand spanking new chairbacks added to the upper levels of Rupp Arena as part of the radical redesign. What they’ve yet to reveal to the public eye, however, are the state-of-the-art luxury lounges, the expanded concourses, and the environmentally friendly and energy-efficient features of an iconic (but dated) building looking to blast off into the 21st century stratosphere.

I got a chance to take a sneak peek behind the scenes today to see what all the fuss is about. Sure, I was impressed by all the planned highfalutin amenities, but I’ve got some mixed feelings about all the changes about to be unveiled.

You see, I’m a bit of a traditionalist at heart. I remember Rupp Arena back when it first opened in 1976. I recall Rick Robey hitting the first basket while Adolph Rupp looked on from his mid-court recliner. Through the years, my mind goes back to all the many memorable games and championship runs. Minniefield to Bowie’s halfcourt alley-oop dunk; Tayshaun and those five three-pointers versus North Carolina; John Wall in his debut against Miami (OH). I don’t want any of those memories to fade.

A part of me wants to remember Rupp Arena just as it was: Big Bertha, rafter banners, regular fans packed in like sardines in the upper decks—in their seats an hour before tipoff just soaking in the rarified atmosphere. I want to remember record-setting crowds of 24,000+—not the reduced-capacity 18,000 or so that now pass through the turnstiles.

Will the newly updated Rupp Arena at Central Bank Center conjure up the same type of sweet memories? I’ll let you be the judge. Here are my top-5 significant changes I see coming into play.

1. If you’ve got deep pockets, your pre-game experience will be out of this world. Imagine being invited to the President’s reception. You’re rubbing elbows with the bigwigs, choking down shrimp cocktails, and helping yourself to endless shots of Pappy Van Winkle. As you make your way into your seats in time for tipoff, you’re so tipsy that you don’t care who the Cats are playing. I made sure I walked around every square foot of these opulent luxury lounges. Unless I win the lottery, it’s probably the last time I’ll set foot in one of these VIP havens.

2. The outside of Rupp Arena will no longer be the brown corrugated box we’ve all come to know and hate. Instead, they’re replacing it with a modern, sleek veneer like something out of the Jetsons. The triangular-shaped glass projection design above the entrance to the grand lobby promises to be the most dominant architectural structure anywhere in Kentucky. At least that’s what Bill Owen, Lexington Center President and CEO, tells us. If you’ve driven past High Street any time recently, you know the entire construction area still looks like a war zone. I guess I’ll believe it when I finally see it with my own eyes.

3. If you’re  hosting an event and want to further entertain and impress, there’ll be multiple options to choose from within the center. Picture this: having your reception on an elevated outdoor concourse overlooking the garden grounds of the Mary Todd Lincoln home. It’s happening (and I thought my back deck was looking nice). This’ll be something out of a fairytale, so make sure to book your plans early.

4. You want concerts? You got them, beginning with Eric Church on September 17 of this year. I learned today that many top musical acts (i.e. Bon Jovi) wouldn’t play Rupp previously simply because of the upper-level bleacher seating arrangements. As I mentioned earlier, that’s no longer a factor. Also, now with the numerous additional loading docks and the two giant drive-in doors, concert efficiency has improved a thousand percent. Even a Taylor Swift over-the-top production—with its multiple mobile dressing rooms and semi-trailers loaded with Taylor Swift type stuff—will now be able to maneuver seamlessly throughout the streamlined convention center grounds.

5. So what about the “average Joe” fan just wanting to take in a UK basketball game? If you haven’t made it into Rupp the last couple of years, you probably won’t recognize what you’re seeing. There’s a new video scoreboard, a circular ribbon board, and of course the new chairback seats up above. The arena is still as spacious and as symmetrical as ever, but it’s got a completely different feel than the Rupp of the past. The upgraded culinary facilities are certainly top notch, but I’m not sure if that will ever trickle down to any of the game-day concessions. I hope so because Rupp Arena still has some of the worst concession food of any of the college sports venues I’ve visited.

There you have it. You’re up to date now. Better convention hospitality, better concerts, better food (maybe), and better basketball (hopefully). It’s the new Rupp Arena at Lexington Center. I can’t wait to see the final product. Get your wallets out, folks. Whether you like it or not, you’ll be footing the rest of the bill.