When Ed Neely was telling Carol Allen about the documentary “Red V. Blue” about the Louisville-Kentucky basketball rivalry that would be showing at the Paramount Arts Center, she could hardly keep from smiling.
Allen’s late husband, colorful State Sen. Nelson Allen, was one of the sponsors of a bill that eventually forced the hand of the UK Athletic Association to start playing an annual basketball and football game against each other.
Carol Allen remembered having a photograph of her husband holding a Kentucky basketball and a Louisville basketball. She found it after searching through hundreds of other pictures.
“He always felt that U of L and UK ought to play,” said Carol Allen, the director of the Highlands Museum. “He thought they were missing a major opportunity. The fans of Kentucky needed this ballgame.”
State legislators had tried resolutions in the past but the drafted bill seemed to get more action.
“When it was on the floor for the first reading, he had a ball from each school,” she said. “He was holding one in each hand with a big grin on his face. The bill passed and the rest is history.”
The defining game that mostly gets credit for getting the series rolling was the 1983 Mideast Region final that Louisville won 80-68 in overtime in Knoxville. Many believe if the Cardinals hadn’t won that game the series may have never launched. If UK had won, it would have advanced on to the Final Four and Little Brother would have remained Little Brother.
Starting in 1984, with a UK win in Rupp Arena, the teams have played every year with the most notable coming in the 2012 Final Four semifinals in New Orleans. The victory sent UK to the finals where it eventually secured its eighth national championship. Last year, of course, Louisville won the national title with Rick Pitino as coach. He also won the national title at UK in 1996.
The “Red V. Blue” documentary, whose visit here was sponsored by Citizen’s National Bank where Neely is the regional president, explores the rivalry in depth starting with the 1983 game. Former Fairview High School star played in that game as a freshman at Louisville and also in the restart of the regular-season series in 1984. UK is 21-12 since the series restart.
Carol Allen said her husband, who was an outstanding college and high school basketball referee, always enjoyed watching the Cats and Cards go at it.
“Every time the game came on he was excited. He loved basketball and he loved people,” she said. “He’d be thrilled about this documentary, that the rivalry meant so much that somebody would take the time do make it. He would have loved it.”
Allen, a longtime educator in the Russell school system, also served as the chairman of the Senate Education Committee for 18 of his 20 years as a state senator. “He was one of the architects of the Kentucky Education Reform Act,” said Carol. “His heart was in that. He got a bus and put a major number of the senators and took them to rural Letcher and Martin counties to schools that were struggling so they could see how disadvantaged some of those children were.”
Allen died in 2005 at the age of 72.
MARK MAYNARD can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (606) 326-2648.