When Coach Joe B. Hall decided he needed to boost enthusiasm for the upcoming 1982-83 season, he remembered a special practice Lefty Dreisell had conducted nearly a decade before. He would invite the fans to a midnight practice on the first day college teams could begin preseason practices. So in October 1982, Kentucky held an event that was billed as “Midnight Special.”
More than 8,500 fans attended that first practice in 12,000-seat Memorial Coliseum. Entry into the gym was somewhat easier then – those still arriving near the stroke of 12 a.m. had no problem getting a seat. But the seed of growth had been planted for what is still an annual, free event.
For many years, until the term was trademarked, the event was called Midnight Madness. Over the past several seasons, Kentucky fans flock each October to “Big Blue Madness.”
Madness unveiled as “Midnight Special.”
More than 10,000 supporters arrived to watch a highly rated Kentucky team led by Sam Bowie, Melvin Turpin and Kenny Walker. That team went on to a Final Four finish.
Introductions were in order as a new troop of fresh-faced Wildcats took the floor after the graduations of Bowie, Turpin, Dickey Beal, Tom Heitz and Jim Master.
The Coliseum was rocking as first-year coach Eddie Sutton ushered in a new era.
By the time the band started pounding out the fight song at 11:30 p.m., the fire marshal had already ordered the doors closed at 9:50 p.m., leaving hundreds of fans outside. Inside, more than 12,500 fans caught the first glimpse of super-frosh Rex Chapman and the Wildcats.
Rick Pitino was introduced for the first time to a capacity crowd of more than 8,700 (the Coliseum capacity dropped from 11,500 because of renovation). Fans were caught trying to sneak in the windows and any opening they could find.
Lines began forming at 8:30 a.m. as a capacity crowd helped Kentucky celebrate a “Big Blue New Year.”
Fans lined up 36 hours in advance as the Cats were “Back in the Spotlight,” eligible for postseason play for the first time in the Pitino era. Doors were closed 45 minutes after they opened, the earliest ever. All four recruits who attended Madness that year – Rodrick Rhodes, Jared Prickett, Tony Delk and Walter McCarty – verbally committed to Kentucky the next week.
“Big Boo Madness – A Monster Bash” fell on Halloween night since the NCAA had moved the start of practice back to Nov. 1. Once again, doors closed only 45 minutes after they opened, as a capacity crowd watched Jamal Mashburn and company usher in the new season.
The first fans arrived on Wednesday – three days early – and at 12:01 a.m. on Oct. 29, the Cats were “Rockin’ after Midnight” as a popular senior foursome – Travis Ford, Rodney Dent, Jeff Brassow and Gimel Martinez – led the 1993-94 team.
The father and son combination of Robert and Ronald Vallandingham of Smithland, Ky., formerly of New Albany, Ind., arrived on Oct. 10 – a full five days early. Coach Pitino was the headline attraction. Playing to the theme “Born To Be Wild,” Pitino arrived in the gym dressed in leather driving a Harley-Davidson motorcycle.
Wally Clark of Lexington was determined to be “first in line” and arrived 17 days early. The preseason No. 1 team in the nation was introduced with the premier of “Cat Fan Forever.” Seniors Walter McCarty and Tony Delk swooped down on ropes from high above dressed as “Catman” and Robin. They finished their careers by swooping down on UK’s sixth national title.
Clark parked himself by the front door on Sept. 10, a full 38 days prior to Big Blue Madness. In the pre-Madness celebration, the “Back to Tradition” theme honored the championship teams, as well as former stars.
Tickets were passed out five days early – a Monday morning – and were gone within the first 75 minutes for “Late Night with the Cats.” It was the official introduction of Coach Tubby Smith to the Wildcat faithful, as he made his appearance high above the floor in the second deck.
The tickets were again distributed a week early and vanished in 27 minutes for “America’s Team of the Century.” Making a very special, and surprise, appearance was newly crowned Miss America, Heather Renee French, from Maysville, Ky.
Tickets were offered on the Internet for the first time and all 700 were distributed in 13 minutes. The remaining 8,000 were gone in 10 minutes to those waiting in line. “Survivor,” a take-off from the popular television show, was the theme for the annual event..
Kentucky celebrated the 20th anniversary of Big Blue Madness with a look back at the previous events. Fans were entertained by “Shagadoo,” and 80’s band before greeting the new squad at midnight.
The Wildcats kicked off the 100th season of Kentucky basketball with a historic celebration. Equipment manager Bill Keightley jumped out of a giant birthday cake and many former UK greats were introduced to the crowd prior to the first midnight practice.
UK used the theme “The Future of Kentucky Basketball,” spoofing the movie “Back to the Future,” as Coach Tubby Smith and and Equipment Manager Bill Keightley appeared in a Delorean car at the stroke of midnight. The event also saw the first-time introduction of new women’s basketball head coach Mickie DeMoss as she was carried out by the UK Cheerleaders to the Toni Basil tune “Mickey.”
“This is Kentucky Basketball” was the theme for the 2004 Madness. The fun-filled evening was packed with contests, specially-made videos and spoof commercials featuring the men’s and women’s players, plus special guests like former UK players Kenny Walker, Sam Bowie and Richie Farmer, and Cats fan Ashley Judd. Rajon Rondo was everybody’s choice in the slam dunk exhibition.
Due to construction on the new basketball practice facility at Memorial Coliseum, Big Blue Madness was held at Rupp Arena for the first time. 23,000 tickets were distributed in less than 48 hours and fans helped break a national attendance record for a practice. Scrimmages, 3-point contests, a slam dunk contest and lots of pyrotechnics provided a booming atmosphere in which the men’s and women’s teams were introduced.
Because of the overwhelming success of holding Big Blue Madness in Rupp Arena in 2005, the decision was made to have the event in the 23,000-seat arena for the second straight year. Once again, all tickets were distributed in record time – within hours of availability.
Billy Gillispie and his first Wildcat team were unveiled in front of more than 23,000 fans during Big Blue Madness at Rupp Arena. Madness was also televised live throughout the region via FSN South.
Kentucky’s first madness under John Calipari was full of hype: new coach, new players, new system. Arguably the best recruiting class in the history of the school was introduced: DeMarcus Cousins, Eric Bledsoe, and John Wall. In addition, the John Wall Dance, perhaps the most famous dance in college basketball history was spawned.
Enes Kanter stole the show with his UnderTaker entrance in what might be the best entrance at a Big Blue Madness ever.
John Calipari’s first Kentucky Final Four banner is raised. Player introductions of what would become a national championship team were made. Calipari gave his State of the Commonwealth speech and spoke about the Kentucky Effect.
Rupp Arena’s floor became a 92-foot high definition projection screen displaying a highlight reel video from the program’s past through the present. Kentucky brought back stars from previous National Championship teams to join Calipari in re-raising the banners to the rafters and to raise the new 2012 National Championship banner.
This year’s show cost “just north” of $400,000, a record. There was a giant, spinning, firework-spewing video screen suspended above the court at Rupp Arena. As the men’s players were introduced, they appeared to levitate from beneath a massive, temporary stage. They emerged through jets of smoke, wearing warm-up suits with buttons and jersey numbers that glowed in the dark. A “fan stunt” lit up the crowd’s phones and synchronized their strobe with the music.
Fireworks ignited and smoke machines went off inside Rupp Arena, and the crowd went wild as Drake, the Canadian rapper, singer, songwriter, actor, entrepreneur and prominent figure in popular music, who has adopted the Cats as his favorite team and been an occasional visitor at their games, appeared at the end of elaborate player introductions. Drake then introduced John Calipari, calling him a close friend and one of the most important people in his life. He also called the coach “the Godfather of those that bleed blue” as well as “the George Clooney of the hardwood,” because of Calipari’s well-kept hair.
After an infamous appearance at Big Blue Madness the year prior, Drake showed up again, only virtually this time. The rapper and Kentucky fan provided John Calipari’s introduction in comedic fashion, closing by calling him the “most luxurious coach in NCAA basketball.”
Using what resembled a WWE stage with a titantron and ramp, the 2016 Wildcats squad was introduced by Michael Buffer, the ring announcer for boxing and professional wrestling matches known for his trademarked catchphrase, “Let’s get ready to rumble!”.
Drake returned to Rupp Arena wearing a hoodie that read, “Kentucky Dad.”
Flanked by his team and right after a video celebrating the history of Kentucky basketball, John Calipari delivered a speech on the Greatest Tradition in the History of College Basketball. He reflected on his first decade at UK and the many more than came before it. He talked about all that has been achieved. The wins. The championships. The All-Americans. The NBA Draft picks. But as much as anything, Coach Cal’s address this year was about turning the page to the future. To the next decade of the Greatest Tradition the sport has ever seen. It was a challenge to his current team and the fans who will support them.
Madness was held in its original home, Memorial Coliseum, instead of Rupp Arena, one of the changes brought on by restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic. There were also masks, gloves and social distancing, all of which are part of today’s world but also items that have never been a part of Madness. The other, and obviously most noticeable change, was that there were no fans permitted to attend this year’s event, which is an annual sellout. Nevertheless, the two basketball teams and the UK cheer squad put on their annual show.
Big Blue Madness returned to a normal schedule, and venue. Thousands of blue-clad Kentucky fans got their first look at the UK men’s and women’s basketball teams, as well as the 24-time national champion cheerleading squad and the national runner-up dance team. And it was as if the Cats and the Big Blue Nation never missed a beat. The excitement and the passion were evident all night long at the first open practice opportunity for both UK basketball squads.