LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky basketball coach John Calipari stood behind a glass lectern in Rupp Arena prior to "Big Blue Madness" back in October. Calipari stood with a blue glow behind him and a crowd of nearly 24,000 periodically interrupted his speech with loud cheers. His words would serve as an introduction for the team's scrimmage and mark the unofficial start of the 2013-14 Wildcat basketball season.
In his 10-minute-long speech, Calipari delivered a line which has become cliche for the Kentucky basketball coach.
"We are everyone's Super Bowl," Calipari said to an eruption from the crowd.
That's Kentucky basketball. A program with eight national championships, countless NBA stars and tradition that stretches back to the early 1900s. When Kentucky basketball travels, there is a target on its back.
"Not in football, though," said David Wade, a manager at Kennedy's Wildcat Den, a local merchandise store in Lexington, Ky. "We're everyone's homecoming."
Kentucky's football tradition is bleak. The Wildcats have been among the bottom feeders in the Southeastern Conference each year. 'Big Blue Nation' still finds a way to get excited about Kentucky football, though.
On Saturday morning, a few hours prior to kickoff for Kentucky's game against Missouri, the parking lots surrounding Commonwealth Stadium begin to fill up. The cars entering the parking lot and the fans walking toward the stadium are hardly in a hurry. There's nothing frantic about the pregame atmosphere.
On the surface, the tailgates look like any other in college football. Fans flood into the parking lots, blue tents sprawled across the land surrounding the stadium in every direction. Children are playing touch football, while the older crowd is enjoying food and refreshments or watching a pregame show on television. Music blares, and nearly everyone is wearing blue.
Kentucky fans are missing one key ingredient: expectations. Mark Stoops was hired as the new head coach this offseason and brought with him some reason for hope, but Kentucky has been down for too long for anyone to get very excited.
Instead, Wildcat fans end up fixated on the opponents that come to town. Top-ranked Alabama was in Lexington on Oct. 12, and Florida visited before that. Kentucky football fans' fondest memories at Commonwealth Stadium have little to do with Kentucky.
"I remember I was here when Peyton Manning played for Tennessee," Wade said. "You see the best players come through even though you know you're going to be at the lower level of the SEC."
Missouri provided that attraction Saturday. Sitting at No. 8 in the BCS rankings, Missouri has become an intriguing opponent for other SEC fans. The Tigers are new to the league and boast a quick-strike offense that has put up points in a hurry.
While Missouri's turnaround season provided heartache for fans in Athens, Ga., Kentucky's fans are just looking forward to getting a look at another top-ranked team.
Kickoff approached Saturday, and patches of empty seats remained in the upper level of Commonwealth Stadium. Kentucky would need a win to keep any hope of a postseason bowl game alive, but fans were already resigned to the Wildcats' fate.
The fans filing into the stadium did so more out of responsibility and appreciation than out of optimism for an upset. As one of 14 schools with a football team in the SEC, Kentucky fans appreciate what they have and attempt to act accordingly.
They just don't seem to expect much more.