SIMPSONVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Governor's Cup Luncheon is the most anticipated, most welcome non-news event in the state of Kentucky. Its purpose, of course, is to get the football staffs from the University of Louisville and University of Kentucky together to announce results of a fundraiser for the Dare to Care Food Bank, and in general to signal that our long, hot nightmare of a college football offseason is almost over.
Former players are honored. ESPN's Lee Corso is a faithful attendee. And the two head coaches take turns trying to string together lines of responses that will pass through your eyes and ears on the evening news without ever causing you a second thought.
I'm not going to lie. Sports journalists in these parts spend most of June and July living lives of quiet desperation. You're praying for John Calipari to say something wild. Stephan Van Treese at U of L made the summer journalism Hall of Fame this year for not only transferring out of U of L, but then coming back. Double the news.
Calipari and Pitino can't help making news. They do it when they roll out of bed in the morning. Joker Phillips and Charlie Strong? Not the same.
Strong is one of the few coaches that will get his team together to do a community service project and, before leaving, tell everybody not to Tweet it, or put pictures on Facebook. U of L football players have been off limits to the media for most of the summer. When they brought out Will Stein for a Cardinal Caravan stop a couple of weeks ago, I have to confess, I interviewed him like he was Peyton Manning. It was like Watergate. I couldn't have written his biography by the end of it, but I had a good start on one of the chapters.
I say all this to provide you context for the experience of covering the Governor's Cup press conference. And also because the press conference itself provides little.
But there were two moments from today's event at U of L's Cardinal Club Golf Course that I think were telling, one from each coach. And they both hit on a similar theme.
Someone asked Joker Phillips about the rivalry with U of L, and he thought back to his own playing days.
"I'm a Kentuckian," Phillips said, "and I'm just so happy that we play. For many years we didn't play. Dwayne (Woodruff) mentioned that last night, that he didn't get a chance to play (in this rivalry). I didn't either. I'm just so happy that we play."
After Phillips said that, the room erupted in applause. Phillips looked around and said, "Dang, what'd I say?"
What Phillips tapped into was an acknowledgement of what the game has meant to football in the state, and football fans in the state. It's easy to forget what it was like in the years before the football game was played. The preseason buildup was nothing close to what it is today, even when one team or the other was expecting a good season. And many will tell you that high school football has ratcheted up since the inception of the rivalry.
After the news conference, Strong was talking with a few reporters when I asked him about his yearly coaches' retreat, which he'll hold this weekend. The entire U of L staff will head out, and each coach will be responsible for a presentation on some aspect of the game.
"We go over our handbook and each coach has a topic that he has to present," Strong said. "More than anything, what I tell them, just treat me like a player, so you're coaching me. Coach me on fundamentals. Coach me on technique. It's your room, I want to see you coach me."
I thought it was interesting that with each coach, probably his best line of the day came when he was harkening back to himself as a player.
Beyond that, the luncheon also kicks off the official all-clear for pregame buildup for the state rivalry. The event is a little flat in those years when the teams won't play until the season's third week.
Predictably, Phillips got up and indicated that he thinks expectations for his team should be a bit higher than what they are. Strong got up and said that expectations are relative. When someone asked if he thought his team would have the same expectations if it played in the Southeastern Conference, Strong just laughed. "I don't want that schedule," he said.
Beyond the hamburgers served at the luncheon, there's not much red meat. But that's all right.
The game, and the season, are now officially in sight. And that's more than enough for now.