Sunday, October 14, 2007

Do You Believe in Blue?

There are not many things in this world that can trump UK Basketball's Midnight Madness celebration (especially this year with a new coach and all kinds of new excitement) but what happened Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium was one of them. I would wager that by the time they left the field Saturday night, most UK fans weren't thinking about Patrick Patterson or Alex Legion. They weren't worried about March Madness or Final Fours. And many of them, if you had asked their thoughts on Billy Gillispie probably would have responded with Billy Who?

Why all this madness you ask? Because Saturday was the day that football was King in the Bluegrass. Not forever, mind you, but at least for awhile. Certainly for the day. After all, it's not every day that your team beats the #1 team in the nation. And, if you are a UK fan, it's even more rare that your football team wins out against #1 (the last time was back in 1964). That is a call for celebration!

Now, I will be the first to admit that when I saw the new slogan for this year's football team was "Believe in Blue" I had to laugh. After all, I have been a UK fan for most of my life and so far the one thing I could believe about our football team was that no lead, no matter how large, was safe (at least when we were ahead). The running joke for at least the last five or six years has been "UK, home of the come from ahead loss." Why should I think that this season would be any different? True, we did finish strong last year with a victory over Georgia and a bowl win, but would this team really be any different?

Then the season started. There was an easy victory over EKU and a game with more than a few scary moments vs Kent State and I thought that season was headed the same direction as so many before it--to a land of close games that the Cats should have won but didn't. After all, if we can barely beat Kent State, what would happen when we played U of L? of LSU? or Florida?

Then came the U of L game. It was the day before my birthday. The Cats have never lost a home game played on the weekend of my birthday since I've been in Lexington. And yet, I still didn't have high hopes. I had prepared myself to lose. But we didn't. We won (although we didn't yet know how bad U of L really was). After that game, I started to believe, just a little bit.

Up next was Arkansas. At Arkansas. This would be a real test. Could we win on the road in the SEC? This time, I thought we had a chance, but it was a slim one. After all, this is Kentucky we are talking about here--we always play below expectations. And we did, at least for a little while. We had turnovers. We had bad plays. We let them run a kick back for a touchdown IN THE 4th QUARTER after we gave up a safety! The Cats I know and love would never be able to recover from a 9 point swing that close to the end of the game. But they did. They battled back and scored and scored and scored. Some little guy named Locke came in a just ran away with it. And now I began to believe just a little bit more. Maybe, just maybe this team was different.

After a cupcake game against Florida Atlantic, came South Carolina on a Thursday night on National TV. By this time the entire country was talking about us and our turnaround season. But were we for real? This game would be another test. A real test. But could be do it? Lexington was ready. I've never seen this town that excited about a football game before. That kind of excitement is usually reserved for March Madness and Final Fours. We believed, didn't we? Or maybe we didn't because it seemed, for about 10 days between the disastrous South Carolina game and the LSU game that maybe the clock had struck midnight for this Cinderella and we had turned back into a sooty kitchen maid. It looked like a season that started 5-0 might quickly turn into a season of 5-3 with games against LSU and Florida coming up next.

The LSU game was the one game that I felt from the beginning that we really had no chance to win. I had watched the Tigers play several times this year and each time I was amazed by how good they were. How strong their defense was. And after last year's nightmare of a 49-0 game, I felt like we might be lucky to score this year and we certainly wouldn't win. Then the game started and we scored first and I thought "Hey, good job guys, we got on the board."

LSU exploded for 17 points (and we only managed 7) in the second quarter, and I figured that at least we had scored twice which was 2 times more than we had scored the year before so that was something after all.

And then, after the half, LSU went up 27-14 and I thought there was no way our offense (no matter how good they are) could make up that many points on the best defense I'd seen play all year. I had never expected to win, but I was still disappointed that it looked like we were going to lose. And then something strange happened. We started our comeback. Woodson threw a touchdown pass. And then there were two field goals (from a kicker that still makes me hide my face every time he steps on the field) and we were tied. But really, this was UK we were talking about, so there was still plenty of time for us to screw things up. After all, we proved in 2002 that we only needed :08 to lose a game. And for a minute there, it looked like we might have. But then Colt David's kick went wide left and we were going to overtime and chanting "We Believe."

And, of course, I thought of the 7 overtime marathon vs Arkansas a few years ago that nearly killed me (even though I wasn't at that game, I had gone to Louisville to see the Lion King Broadway show instead) and which we lost anyway. This time the first two overtimes ended up with us trading points, and the third meant that when we scored our touchdown (my boy Stevie Johnson with another big catch) we had to go for 2. When we didn't make it, I was sure that would be the end of us. After all, LSU would score and get the 2 and win right? I mean, there was no way our defense could stop them with the game on the line, right? After nearly 4 1/2 hours of game and seeing the Cats come back from 13 down in the last quarter of regulation, I still didn't believe. Even when we stopped them on the first three downs in that final overtime, even when I saw Braxton Kelly make that final tackle a yard or so short of the first down, I didn't believe. I stood, staring at the field, looking for a flag, trying to see if there was a review or a measurement, not really believing that we had won.

Then some guy pushed past me on his way to the field and I looked at the Jennys and decided we needed to get out of there unless we wanted to go on the field. We made our way to the tunnel and then just stood and watched the pandemonium. We sang along to "Celebrate." We took pictures with the scoreboard. And then we walked back to our car, had a beer, and finally, finally I began to believe.

I don't consider myself to be a non-believer most of the time. I've had faith in the basketball team even in the darkest hours. But this time, with this football team, I couldn't quite find the strength to believe. I apologize for that. I do believe now. This team is won of the greatest teams in the history of Kentucky football. They have been beaten down, smacked around, and trample on but they have come out the other side with an iron will and enough heart to put the great Secretariat to shame. They have proven over and over again that they know what it takes to win and they have the ability to do it. They are destined to do great things this season and when they do, I will be proud to say I Believe in Blue.

Yes, I know it's blurry, but give me a break. I'd been on my feet for 4 1/2 hours and was on such an adrenaline high that I was lucky I still knew how to work the camera.

Fans on the field after the game.

Picture to prove that I was actually there.

Post Game celebrations back at the car. Good thing we decided to tailgate for the game.

The most wonderful cake ever baked by my friend Sarah for the tailgate party. We didn't know at the time that she was psychic.

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