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Where I Come From: How I Became a Kentucky Fan

This post is sponsored by EA Sports NCAA Football 2011.

Those of you who have been here a while know that I write little about myself.  That's about to change a bit.

I was born in enemy territory, in Abingdon, Virgina, just across the state line from Tennessee Volunteer country.  My family moved to Richmond, Indiana at first, but we shortly wound up in the place I would spend all of my childhood -- Bristol, Tennessee.

Those of you who are familiar with Bristol know that it straddles the state line between Tennessee and Virgina right at the wingtip of Tennessee.  My mother's family was from Virginia just across the border on Lee Highway, and my father's family was from Kentucky.  Naturally, we settled first near my mother's family.

Becoming a football fan was easy in Tennessee -- everybody is a football fan there.  I grew up playing nothing but football in sandlots and middle school fields.  I was small and fast, and wound up where most small, fast people go -- in the backfield, and on the ends of the lines.  Never good enough to start, I played sparingly in games, but my fanhood was all about professional football -- the Oakland Raiders for me, and the Kansas City Chiefs for my little brother.  The rivalry, lived out every Sunday in our living room when either the Raiders or the Chiefs were on the tube.

As for college football, we mostly watched it during bowl season.  Of course, in those days I pulled for the Volunteers, when they were on, but I was a bigger fan of watching the great names of the day -- the Nebraska Cornhuskers, the Oklahoma Sooners, Ohio St. Buckeyes and Michigan Wolverines.  These were the teams I saw most often, but I would not have called myself much of a college football fan.  I was just a plain old football fan, and I would watch it regardless of the level upon which it was played.

In 1971, my family moved away from Tennessee and settled in Shelbyville, Kentucky, home of my father's family.  I played football on the football team at Shelbyville High School (now long since assimilated into the Shelby County school system), but soon discovered that football in Kentucky was different than football in Tennessee.  People went to the football games, and cared about the football team.  But the passion for football paled in comparison to the passion for basketball, even at the high school level.  Every basketball game that SHS played would have people hanging from the rafters of the tiny gym, and it is shocking how much noise 1500 people could make in its intimate confines.

Before long, I lived and breathed basketball, not football, and very quickly I discovered the University of Kentucky basketball team, one of the most storied programs in the nation.  That was my introduction to UK, and I became a UK fan from 1971 until present.

The beginning of my fandom for Kentucky football was in 1973 when Sonny Collins burst onto the national scene.  Collins still leads Kentucky in rushing for his career, and I will never forget the excitement around the Bluegrass when Collins began his great run.  Suddenly, we were all Sonny Collins on the sandlot, and the Collins-led Wildcats managed 5 wins that year, Head Coach Fran Curci's first, after seven straight years winning 3 or fewer games.  Football was suddenly resurgent in the Bluegrass, and Curci and Collins were names on everyone's lips.

Three years later came 1976.  Derrick Ramsey led the Wildcats to an SEC title (only Kentucky's 2nd ever) and 9-3 record, including a victory over North Carolina in the Peach Bowl.  I'll never forget that year, and never forget that team, because a Derrick Ramsey bomb against the Tennessee Volunteers sealed a 7-0 victory over the Vols in Knoxville, the SEC championship, and a Peach Bowl bid.  That was maybe the greatest year ever in Kentucky football in my lifetime.  I remember listening to it on the radio, and what a celebration we had following the Ramsey-Greg Woods 62-yard strike that put Kentucky in front for good.

The following year in 1977, the Wildcats went on probation but returned a talented and powerful team that went 10-1, a record marred only by a loss to the Baylor Bears in Waco.  But by then, my fanhood for the Gridiron Felines was part of my soul.

My attention for Kentucky football has waxed and waned as I attended Western Kentucky, joined the Navy for six years and traveled here and there.  But since the days of the great Sonny Collins, I have been a UK football fan, even through the dark years of the early 1980's and 2000's.  UK football is back, bigger and better than ever now, and it will forever be and important part of my University of Kentucky sports life.