I will always heart UK. - Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE
This year is producing a lot of hand wringing among the UK faithful. Let's go back and look at a season, with the future, in the afterglow of our last championship run.
Just for giggles this rainy Sunday morn, I decided to form an opinion of what life would have been like for the rabid Kentucky Wildcats fan circa January 1999, the middle of the 98-99 season, with tools from the future. You know, back in the day when we weren't afforded the interaction of social media and news was not available to us 24/7.
Back in '99, there was no A Sea of Blue, no Facebook, or no Twitter so if we wanted to talk about our 'Cats in the middle of the night, we had to call up our friends from our land line. Thing is, in 1999 most of us had caller ID so by the third middle-of-the-night call to the same friend, I found that no one answered.
In case you are really young and wondering why I picked January of 1999 to go back to the future, it was the year immediately following UK's three year run at the top. National Champions in '96 and '98 and second place in '97. That is about as close as back-to-back-to-back as anyone will see, especially in today's reloading atmosphere.
Kentucky finished the 1998-1999 season with a record of 28-9. Dear Lord, you are telling me we lost 9 games? The pharmaceutical companies had to make a fortune on antacids and blood pressure medications that year. Heck in 94-95 we only lost 5 games, including a 2 point loss on New Year's Day to an unranked Louisville team. Dr J's (Dr. Jeffrey Neil Burch) UK Newsletter about the game, started like this,
UK looked like a team playing a season opener, rather than its 8th game, as it went down to defeat at the hands of the Louisville Cardinals by an 88-86 margin at Freedom Hall on New Year's Day. UofL set a team blocking record with 17 (versus 3 for the Cats), and allowed Samaki Walker a triple double with 23 points, 10 rebounds, and 11 blocked shots. [JNB note - according to the CBS announcers, Billy Packer and Jim Nantz, this was a home attendance record for Louisville too, but their broadcast was so poor that I must admit I have my doubts about this claim. If so, it was a Freedom Hall record for UofL only - Kentucky has had over 20,000 in FH on multiple occasions.] CBS mentioned that Crum had never lost 5 in a row to any opponent, and this non-losing streak stood him in good stead for this game.
Okay, let's put this in my study too because the interwebz would have crashed with teeth gnashing by 'Cat fans that had celebrated a little too much in a 24 hour period that started in 1994 and ended in 1995, and I'm not talking solely about intoxicated fans here. That is one postmortem I would have skipped entirely, well only the comments, Glenn.
Getting back to 1998-99, 3 days before Christmas #3 Kentucky lost to #2 Duke in the Jimmy V Classic by 11 points. Dr J penned:
The Cats started off well enough, even taking a 6 pt lead early (at 8-2), but once the Blue Devils settled in, they had no difficulty matching Kentucky. A great deal of very physical contact was permitted by the referees in the opening half. Once Magette hit a 3 just after the 1st TV timeout, Duke led 12-10 and they would not trail again.
Most of us survived this game without an extreme amount of fretting. (The refs didn't fare as well.) The Blue Devils out ranked us and I did say extreme amount, but sure, it was post the 1992 Duke game, so you know how the postmortem comments of that game would have went.
Next up for the 'Cats, four days later, was 1998-99 Dream Game. Unranked Louisville had come into Rupp Arena the previous year and beat our #4 ranked Wildcats. We fans were tasting sweet revenge. Our #3 ranked team was traveling west to hand a home loss to the unranked Cards. Or so we thought. Dr J started his newsletter out asking:
What More Motivation Do You Need?:
The listless 3rd ranked Wildcats lost their 2nd consecutive game to the Louisville Cardinals, this time by an 83-74 score in Louisville's Freedom Hall. UK had not lost 2 consecutive games since Feb 9 and 12, 1994, against Arkansas and Syracuse. The game was televised by CBS.
The sky was falling on that day , without a doubt. The postmortem was titled: New Years Eve Cancelled 5 Days Early and parties around Lexington were cancelled in record numbers because there would be no celebrating this year.
Kentucky went on to win their next four games fairly easily and fans learned how to breathe again. The next CATastrophic event came on January 12, 1999 when an unranked Volunteer team came to play our then #6 ranked 'Cats in Rupp Arena. It was an extremely low scoring game that Dr J summed with this:
Vols Finally Win in Rupp:
6th ranked Kentucky lost to Tennessee for the 1st time in Rupp Arena since 1979, by a 47-46 margin, in a game televised by ESPN.
Oh. Em. Gee. Certainly the end was upon us. It was the middle of January, 'Cats fans had had enough of this slumping team, the season had come to an abrupt end, and all 'Cat fans had to live for was football season. At this point, Glenn's postmortem read something like this: Congrats to the Vols ... End of story.
That team dropped to as low as #14, went on to win the rest of the home games, lost a few more on the road including 2 in three days at Florida and at Alabama. They ended the regular season going into Knoxville hoping for revenge and losing that game by seven.
A saving grace was perhaps a team that went on to win the SEC Tournament that year. That allowed us to enter the NCAA tourney with a #8 ranking. In the second round game it was UK vs #22 KU and our Cats handed Roy Williams' Jayhawks a loss in overtime. Of course we celebrated and we danced on. A week and two games later our #8 'Cats were up against a tough #2 ranked Tom Izzo MSU team. After being ahead by one point at the half, we fell and ended the game down by seven. It was the end of all the agony. The season could now die in peace. We still believed in blue but October of 1999 was nigh.
Moral of the story, we are a very predictable bunch, we know our basketball, we will still support blue, we have a great place here to vent and/or reason, and we will be okay. Now excuse me while I try to scrape my tongue from my cheek. Forever ring Go Big Blue and Go 'Cats!