Kyler Hodson was standing in a hotel elevator with his mother when he noticed a friendly couple nearby. They happened to wearing Kansas gear, which could have made for an awkward moment, given Hodson’s dedication to Kentucky.
Even though this was a few days ago, before they knew the Wildcats would play the Jayhawks for the national title on Monday, Kyler, 18, and his mother, Heather, were struck by the friendliness of those KU fans, and the well-wishes didn’t end there.
“Since then, just in our hotel,” said Heather, 42, “we’ve had at least seven people (Kansas fans) tell us the same thing.”
This is the tone on the streets of New Orleans, where Kansas and Kentucky fans have largely been playing nice before their teams’ showdown in the Superdome.
“I don’t mind Kansas at all,” said Kentucky fan Kevin McKinney, 34, of Louisville. “There is no bad blood.”
“There’s mutual respect between these two programs,” said Kansas fan Matt Smith, a 19-year old from Lenexa. “Kansas and Kentucky are two of the winningest programs in the history of college basketball.”
And that’s not the only perceived parallel between the two fanbases.
“They sell out every one of their games; we sell out every one of our games,” said Trevor Patterson, 18, a KU student from Atlanta. “We’re both very loyal, very passionate and both teams travel.”
That’s not to say there aren’t differences. Eli and Jon Underwood, both of Lenexa, came away from Saturday’s games thinking Kentucky fans are as boisterous as any in the country — even more than their fellow Jayhawks.
“They’re a loud fanbase, that’s for sure,” said Eli, 22.
“I noticed that Kentucky fans booed every call (Saturday),” said Jon, 19. “I think KU fans boo the calls they should.”
Of course, Jon is a little biased. That’s part of being a fan, part of rooting for your favorite team. And while there will only be one winner tonight, it seems as if the two fanbases are willing to play nice.
After all, history and tradition mean something in college basketball, and it’s hard to find two programs with more of each than Kentucky and Kansas.
“I think everyone realizes how important we both are to basketball,” said Joe Gates, 30, of Kansas City. “It’s a great matchup.”