The day started with plans to leave work early and head off for Commonwealth Stadium with plenty of time to relax a while before the gates opened. My plan would work just fine, or so I thought. One would think I would have learned by now that a lot of times that doesn't go as planned. Near disasters arose and I did not slip away as early as I had wanted to. Alas, the Kentucky Wildcats prevailed.
As I drove up Alumni and got in sight of the blue lot, I instantly noticed that many others had not been able to slip away either. More than anything I had hoped the new coaches would feel the continued support they had felt at the spring Blue/White game. Mother Nature wasn't going to let this just happen. A good chance of rain and storms had been forecast all week. After all, we had had a gorgeous day in April for a great first turnout and it is still an outdoor sport. I knew it would be okay, regardless.
This year I was particularly interested in observing our new coaches and seeing how they interacted with the fans. With no time to study the map of the table setup , I parked and entered the nearest gate. As usual, there were lines for autographs. Young and old alike awaited their turn at what I have termed as Cat Scratch Fever. Getting a player's autograph has never interested me. I would ten times over rather mingle around and take in the atmosphere than stand in line for a blotch of ink on a poster or a ball or a shirt. My time during the autograph session at Fan Day is always spent taking pictures, talking to other fans, and watching others interact with the players. My favorite ones to watch are the little fans. They wait line for their turn to hand an item they've chosen to their favorite player to autograph. The magic happens when that player signs it and hands it back, always with a smile. The joy that spreads over that child's face is priceless in my eyes.
I had almost made my first complete circle of the concourse when I found where Coach Stoops was signing autographs. He was settled at his table, alone, and the first thing I noticed was he looked smaller than I had imagined. Someone sitting behind a table usually throws off my calculations though. I also noticed he looks good in blue. He was smiling to each request for his token and appeared to be very approachable. He broke out in conversation when prompted and returned the signed items with a smile. As I stood there and watched I also chatted with another fan also observing his interaction and she told me that she and her husband had driven in from out of town because they found Kentucky football exciting again. Again I smiled.
I decided to venture out onto CM Newton Field to see if the grass was still as soft as I remembered, but when I entered the tunnel I saw it was pouring the rain so another circle of the concourse was in order. I stopped along the way to snap some more photographs and to feed off the interactions of the players with the fans.
The second time I noticed Sandy Bell she seemed to not be on a mission and more or less just observing things as well. As I've said many times before, I have total faith in her to make sure our athletic program is doing things right and I wanted to tell her how I felt and I saw my chance to do so. I've always believed that if someone is doing a great job, we should make sure they know we think so. I politely approached her and spoke her name. She was very friendly and responded as if we knew each other. I'm sure she thought we had met before because I called her by name. How else could I have known her name, right? Anyway, I told her that I was not alone in my thinking and that many here shared my feelings about the stellar job we think she does. We talked a little about her duties being soon shared with an assistant, among several things. I was most impressed by how she highly praised the players more than once. I had to agree with her. We heard them announce ten more minutes of autographs remaining and I sensed her need to do something, so I thanked her for her time and went about my stroll.
I once again found myself back to deduct if Coach Stoops' demeanor had changed after an hour and a half of signing autographs and posing for photos with babies only to find him still smiling and still cordial. It's probably a good thing I'm not a public figure because I'm not so sure I still would have been as pleasant.
A few fans left after the autograph session but most of them stayed for practice. Judging a headcount estimate in Commonwealth is not my strong suit. We will liken it unto judging the height of someone sitting at a table. But I have seen Commonwealth empty and I have seen it full. My best guess is that there were about six or seven thousand fans that stuck around for the practice. All-in-all I think it was a fairly good turnout. After a tiny shower, there was a rainbow on the east end of the stadium from one side to the other and I'll take it as a good sign.
Practice was just that, a practice. There were some team exercises and several position drills scattered about on the field at the same time. I spent the remainder of the evening watching the new coaches instruct, the players performing some fancy footwork, listening to the fans discuss the team and the tough schedule, and watching the equipment managers tirelessly be great at what they do. Maybe I should stop sitting where I notice how well they attack their assignments, but I do notice their enthusiasm every year. If you expected me to detail what I saw from the offense and defense after my mind taking in all of these on-field festivities going on at the same time, you could be out of luck. If you wanted to know that Mother Nature held her temper until the last fifteen minutes or so and that the fans made a good showing for Mark Stoops and company's first Fan Day, then thank you for reading.