published Saturday, March 31st, 2012

Wiedmer: Final foursome fans faithful

NEW ORLEANS -- Ritchie Jones entered the Louisiana Superdome on Friday afternoon clad head-to-toe in Kentucky Blue. His girlfriend, Rhonda Minch? Not so much.

From her black-and-red streaked hair to her Louisville Cardinals T-shirt to her black shorts, Minch left little doubt for whom she'll cheer when Kentucky's top-ranked Wildcats square off against the Cards in their Final Four semifinal this evening at 6:09.

Talk about your mixed courtships.

"If anybody plays UK, I'm always for that team," said the 35-year-old Minch. "At least until last Sunday against Baylor. Then I was for Kentucky so we could beat them in the Final Four."

Not that Jones is much more accommodating.

"I've never rooted for Louisville," he said. "But I am happy we're playing. It's a win for us."

To help that along, Jones has even concocted a special outfit for tonight's game.

"I'm going to come as a UK superhero," the 37-year-old said. "The Big Blue Avenger. I've even got a sword if they'll let me bring it in."

Minch has no such elaborate garb planned. But she does have one Cards T-shirt she no longer wears because of Jones.

"It says, 'Cardinals are the best kissers,'" she said with a grin. "After I started dating Ritchie, I had to quit wearing that one."

Chattanooga resident Betty Gary has been wearing UK T-shirts for good luck for decades. The 77-year-old former schoolteacher says she has close to 40 of them, including the one she's picked out for tonight.

"It says, 'Kentucky basketball -- It's feeding time,'" said Gary, who grew up in Clinton, Ky. "I hope it works. If it gets really tight I'll probably turn the sound down. I know I'll be nervous."

Gary has a friend who drinks ice water each time the Wildcats shoot a free throw, "so they'll have ice water in their veins."

That same friend, whom she chose not to identify, once wrote a book as a child titled, "Big Blue Riding Hood," in which the central theme was former Louisville coach Denny Crum attempting to poison former UK All-American Kyle Macy before a big game, even though the Cards and Cats never played each other during Macy's career.

And you thought all this Bluegrass bitterness between the two schools began when former Kentucky coach Rick Pitino went to Louisville after a failed stint with the NBA's Boston Celtics.

Said Pitino on Friday afternoon in a statement that may or may not calm the Commonwealth's fever pitch: "If we can't bring [the national championship back], I hope [the Wildcats] do."

They haven't called him Slick Rick all these years for nothing.

Yet pardon Doug Etzler for hoping Ohio State brings home the trophy. A guard for the Buckeyes from 1992 to '95 who lost a heartbreaker to Michigan in an Elite Eight game in '92 in Kentucky's Rupp Arena, of all places, Etzler is in New Orleans with his family this weekend to watch the Buckeyes attempt to win it all.

"I'll have on all Buckeyes stuff," said the head basketball coach at Teays Valley High School in Ashville, Ohio, just outside Columbus. "But I'm not that superstitious about the Buckeyes.

At least not like he used to be, when he used to eat the same meal before every game -- "Lasagna was my favorite," he said -- whenever his team would go on a winning streak.

Then there's 54-year-old Joel Engelbrecht of Spring Hill, Kan.

This is his third straight Final Four, and to help celebrate the moment he wears a cap covered in more than 20 Final Four pins he's collected through the years.

He doesn't expect any of those to help Kansas as much as the shirt he intends to wear when the Jayhawks face the Buckeyes about 30 minutes after the Kentucky-Louisville game.

"It's a championship T-shirt from when we won it all in 2008," he said. "I'm hoping it still has some good luck in it this weekend."

You can say all this is silly, that nothing you wear or say or drink or eat is going to have an impact on the players or coaches attempting to cut down the nets Monday night inside the Superdome.

Just don't expect Betty Gary not to be ready if her Wildcats prevail.

"When we won it all in 1998 I got a T-shirt that said, 'Got 7 [national titles]? We do.' If we win on Monday, I'll have to X-out that 7 and paint an 8 above it."

Or maybe the Big Blue Avenger could wave his sword and magically correct it for her.

about Mark Wiedmer...

Mark Wiedmer started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press on Valentine’s Day of 1983. At the time, he had to get an advance from his boss to buy a Valentine gift for his wife. Mark was hired as a graphic artist but quickly moved to sports, where he oversaw prep football for a time, won the “Pick’ em” box in 1985 and took over the UTC basketball beat the following year. By 1990, he was ...

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