by Duane Watson
Many will argue that North Carolina versus Duke is the greatest rivalry in college basketball, but in the Bluegrass State, nothing is as divisive as Louisville vs Kentucky. Only in Louisville, will you find two seniors coming to blows over their respective schools at a dialysis center. Yet despite their close proximity, both universities have only faced each other 46 times since 1913. The competition intensified with the annual Battle of the Bluegrass, which started in 1983, however, games take on a deeper meaning with the National Championship on the line. Both schools are in the Sweet 16 and face off in the Midwest Regional semi-final, No. 4 Louisville will face No. 8 UK with more than just state pride will be at stake.
Red V Blue started filming as the Wildcats made their 2012 championship run, and the subsequent season as the Cardinals not to be outdone, won a national championship in 2013. Yet the documentary goes far back into the history of the state and it’s climate on a cultural level, providing a deep understanding of how this feud came to be, and why it still rages strong. While conflicts didn’t permit for the most coveted sit down Rick Pitino, the only person to have coached at both schools, there are a dearth of interviews, from former players, coaches, historians and most importantly their passionate fans.
SLAM spoke with Rory Owen Delaney, the director of Red V Blue about the film.
SLAM: Is this the biggest rivalry in basketball and why?
Rory Owen Delaney: Yeah, I think it really is the biggest rivalry in basketball. One of the big reasons is they only play once a year, as they’re not in the same conference. So you don’t get that Duke/North Carolina deal where they play twice and may play in the ACC tournament. They just have this one game and you got to get it right, and maybe you’ll get a meeting in the NCAA tournament. The other reason is there are no pro sports teams in Kentucky, so those two universities are the equivalent of pro teams. I think even Forbes Magazine has analyzed this and I believe both of those teams generate more revenue than most NBA teams. (Louisville has topped Forbes list for most valuable college basketball teams the last two seasons, but the program doesn’t generate more revenue than pro teams—Ed.). Lastly, I think this whole history of where they didn’t play for decades and where there was this urban rule, almost even a little bit of regional tension to it. Even though it’s not like it used to be, there still a little specter of it and fires people up a little bit more.
SLAM: The film did a great job chronicling the history of these two schools, how much research was involved?
Delaney: There was a lot of research, as you go along doing these interviews with these different experts and read the Denny Crum biography, the Rick Pitino biography, different books, surfed the internet, read a lot of articles and whatnot. And learning so much from the actual interviews themselves, from people like Jim Host and Denny Crum, their memories are unbelievable. Jim Host did a whole countdown of the final minutes of a game in 1975 for example, same with Denny Crum and Joe B. Hall. These guys just remember exact moments in time that are 30 years past, so it’s pretty crazy.
SLAM: When you started shooting, did it feel like the stars were aligning when UK won and then Louisville?
Delaney: It was too good to be true. So often companies and directors work on sports related films, and they do really well and they get to the semi-finals but they won’t win because of course you’re trying to make a film about it [laughs]. When Kentucky first won, we got that Final Four matchup with Louisville, which was unheard of, so that was already a good sign, then luckily polished it off and beat Kansas. Then Louisville comes into the season as a favorite so, it was tough because I’m a Louisville fan and I’m making this documentary, so I felt even more pressure. Especially going into that Tournament with Kevin Ware going down, it was nail biting to go down 12 against Wichita State and to go down 12 against Michigan, it did my nerves in. It just really was incredible we got the back-to-back, what more can you ask for?
SLAM: Is there a bias toward a school in regards to the crew on the film?
Delaney: I’m a Louisville guy and the producer is a Kentucky guy. So we kind of counterbalanced each other as much as we could. We’ve had Louisville fans say that the film was biased toward Louisville and we’ve had Kentucky fans say its biased towards Kentucky. So its kind of part of the rivalry, it shows the movie and people see it differently. We tried to make it as balanced as we can so that the fans can get enjoyment out of it and even Kentuckians and sports fans in general. Even as a Louisville fan I have to admit that Kentucky does have more history to it. So we did do that and kind of pay homage to some of the history. But Louisville has a cool history, not quite as deep as Kentucky, but hopefully moving forward that will change.