The Kentucky Wildcats football fan is a creature that should not, by all rights, exist. In fact, many loyal SEC football fans have taken it as an article of faith that Kentucky football fans are a legend rather than a reality.
By channeling my inner Indiana Jones, I have braved the dangers of uncovering the truth of the Kentucky football fan, and discovered that, far from being mythical, they are more numerous and passionate than our SEC brethren might have imagined.
As proof, I offer Hoboat33, a member we all know well who comments frequently and eloquently on Kentucky football, and the deep, abiding roots of his passion for the sport here in the cradle of SEC basketball country. What follows is not really a Q&A, but an email conversation between us.
GL: Of all college sports, football is probably the most social. What other sport encourages you to camp out, pre-game, and cook your own food, invite friends over to your camping area, share in the discussion of games, and even mingle with rival fans on a social basis that they might otherwise never meet?
Basketball can't touch that - you show up just before the game starts, and any socializing is done in or near your seat. Food? Hot dogs, jalapeño nachos, maybe a beer if you are not at an SEC game. Otherwise you have to arrive properly lubricated, a dangerous prospect unless you have a designated driver. Football players can have a few drinks before the game and sober up during -- a win-win, I say.
What say you, Hoboat33?
Hoboat33: You clever dog, you. First comment out of the bag and we already have basketball in the discussion. Alas, the burden a football fan at Kentucky must endure. If only football used a round ball, life would be easier.
When I first saw this contest I figured someone from a football blue-blood program will be the winner in this thing. But really those places are easy to be football fans. How’s the team doing? "Great." They ranked? "Of course." They do OK last year? "Hell yes.". It’s as easy as being a UK basketball fan. Just how hard is it to be a great fan for a successful program?
On the other hand, try being an ardent fan for a program that is, shall we say, challenged? At Kentucky, football fandom requires blind faith, blind belief and sometimes just being blind to the events unfolding on and off the field surrounding football. I’m not talking just recent years, I’m covering 60 years of futility that few fans could withstand. Once every 10 or 15 years there appears a little ray of hope which gets extinguished quicker than a cat can lick its backside.
It’s hard for outsiders to appreciate the innumerable hurdles faced pulling for our beloved Wildcats when football season rolls around; especially when there’s that basketball success casting a beacon of warm light enticing Kentucky partisans along the easy path to fan Nirvana.
UK football fans are not your stereotypical fans, we are fans that have witnessed enough misfortune to qualify for martyrdom and we simply must have some masochistic flaw in our DNA. Disappointing seasons? Plenty. Heartbreaking losses? Call the Guinness Book of Records for the total. Recruiting busts? We could field multiple inept teams. Inopportune injuries? It would take three days to cover. Questionable calls by refs and coaches? There’s another three days.
There are simply no sane reasons to remain a Kentucky football fan, but I will until I draw my last breath. It’s what I am. I will continue to keep up with all things Kentucky football 24/7/365 whether it be pregame, game, post game, recruiting or, the dramatic highpoint of any program, a coaching search. A fan’s open license to dream of the future and the near term success that will definitely occur. I’ve seen this change happen about 7 times and I’m still anxiously waiting for that success. I’m as confident now as the other times that this time we’ll get it right an success is just around the corner. I’m a fan.
GL: So you think this is more "blind faith" than anything, eh? When it comes to Kentucky, there has been precious little to justify faith lately. I think many fan's "blind faith" was developed back in the 1970's when we had that good run with Sonny Collins and Derrick Ramsey.
I must admit that I enjoyed Kentucky football during the Hal Mumme years, and as a Jimmy Buffett fan, I kind of got off on his whole "Parrothead" thing. I would even watch the Sunday football show, something I haven't done since Mumme left. Is that what you mean by "ray of hope", or are you talking something more substantial, like actually competing for an SEC title?
Hoboat33: In my case the blind faith certainly has its roots in the '70s. I attended UK when Commonwealth Stadium opened and we had some fun times with a non-characteristic string of successful years. I missed the Mumme years while getting out in the "real world" but my renewed interest in Kentucky football followed a period of broader interest in the game itself. I first came to understand various offenses, defenses, the history of the game and what went into a great football program. And in spite of that, I'm still a UK football fan. Like all fans I feel that high level can one day be attained at my school or at least a higher level than what we've seen the last several years.
I'm willing to grasp at any straw thinking the football team will someday be competitive and once again there are reasons to hope. First, the basketball program has reestablished itself and even those fans realize it's not verboten to also be a football fan. Don't get me wrong, there are people who are great fans of both but when the basketball team was struggling it seemed football was relegated to an afterthought while energies were spent returning basketball to prominence. Secondly, there will be a coaching change and deep within every fan is the feeling that a change, any change, will bring improvement; and with the way this year turned out, it won't be hard.
GL: Keeping that intensity you talk about is a bit difficult, but the coaching search does make it a little easier right now. As we move deeper into the process, I wonder if the right guy could intensify the feelings of fans like yourself, or if it would just be one more thing? After all, we have to do this from time to time no matter what -- coaches come and go -- but with the recent success Kentucky had and even more recent spiral back into uncompetitiveness, it tends to make me believe that this search is more important, perhaps, than others in the not-too-distant past.
When I dream of the future, I don't dream of SEC championships, but rather of occasional upsets and getting at or near .500 in the SEC, along with consistently beating Louisville. What do your dreams look like?
Hoboat33: Prior to each football season I put together a little game-by-game prediction called Irrational Exuberance that has Kentucky ending up with some impossibly good record with a series of equally impossible wins. That's one dream, but so is world peace and it's just about as likely ... for now. At some point down the road my dream is that we reach a level where we are competing first for recruits and then also on game day. I dream for a time where every week there is at least a chance for a win against our best opponents, a feeling of confidence going into any out of conference game and, yes, beating Louisville like a rented mule every year. I do think we will get to a point where even an SEC Championship is not out of the question but first, we need a coach
I'm sure that saying Kentucky is at a crossroads in football with the upcoming transition to a new coaching staff is a bit melodramatic but coaching changes have the biggest impact of anything surrounding a football program. Bigger than funding, bigger than the facilities, bigger than the history (or lack thereof). With a new coach you can unite the fan base, reignite their passion, re-energize the recruiting buzz, refill the stadium and start over with defining the team. The perfect clean slate.
At Kentucky, we've seen the power of selecting the right coach and its effect on the success of a program. This experience has fanned the flames of the Kentucky football fan in thinking "Why not us, too?". I know that's my thinking and I'll keep up my year round fascination with football from pee wee to pros and my attention especially focused on my beloved Cats.
We hope you have enjoyed the conversation between Hoboat33 and I, and that we've maybe dug up a little of the roots of rabid football fans here at Kentucky, of which there are a surprising, and passionate number. With the coaching search now undoubtedly nearing its conclusion, it is both relevant and timely that we unearth the foundation of that passion in order to better prepare for the future ahead. Hopefully an ever-brighter one, but even if not, the die-hard fans like Hoboat33 will be there throughout.
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