I was one of those Kentucky fans that almost lost interest during the Joker Phillips tenure. The last live game that I witnessed was when Teddy Bridgewater entered the game in relief of Will Stein. The Cardinals hadn't defeated the Wildcats in four straight games. Kentucky never took the lead in that game and the defeat marked the start of a four game losing streak, a 5-7 season only highlighted by a surprise victory over Tennessee, and a downward spiral that would prove to be the demise of Joker Phillips. That was in 2011 and I haven't been back to CWS since.
Much of the fan base held similar sentiments. Game day attendance steadily declined game-by-game as the product on the field worsened. People were fed up and took their frustrations out by refusing to spend money to watch a floundering football team captained by a head coach that had seemingly lost all control.
But Joker Phillips is gone. Mark Stoops and his staff have recruited in a manner unprecedented at Kentucky. The administration has pledged money and effort into the football program for what feels like the first time ever. Stoops' regime got off to a rough start with a 2-10 record and no wins in the SEC. And yet...
Now Stoops has a young and talented offense, a defense that is starting to take on the attitude of the head coach, and a supporting staff that are considered experts in their field. With a 2-1 record and a strong showing in the Swamp, the Wildcats are ready to take the next step on Saturday and earn their first SEC victory in 17 tries. But they are going to need fan support.
I had wanted to go to a game this season because I felt that the turnaround was going to happen. But I'm a catholic school teacher and my wife is a nurse. We have a two year-old and four month-old twins. Paying for football games is a luxury that we seldom can afford. But then I saw on Twitter that the Kentucky ticket office were selling Vanderbilt tickets for $20 and $50 a piece. I couldn't pass up this opportunity. I purchased three tickets, one for myself and the other two for a couple of fellow BBN fanatics. We are heading out at 7:00 AM on Saturday to take in the atmosphere, the tailgating, and the newly found optimism in the crowd.
There are no excuses for not having a sold-out stadium. The administration is dedicated to football, we have a head coach we can believe in, a team that has worked hard to improve, and affordable tickets. Big Blue Nation needs to be there to support this team and show that we have their back.
The 'Cats are currently 15.5 point favorite over the Commodores, but Vandy played inspired football at home against South Carolina last Saturday. They are as hungry for a conference win as the Wildcats. Vanderbilt has punked the Wildcats for the past few seasons, something that was unheard of before James Franklin took over in Nashville. But now the time is ripe for revenge and for the next step in the progression. The SEC Victory Monkey is getting quite heavy. Stoops wants to throw it off of his back and stomp the daylights out of it.
If Kentucky does beat Vanderbilt and gets that first SEC win, then they will face another conference foe back at home when South Carolina comes to town. While the Gamecocks are ranked in the top 15, they have proven to be vulnerable. Kentucky could see itself 2-1 in the SEC in just a matter of two weeks.
But first, Vanderbilt. This is the type of game that can get the 'Cats over the hump. This is the type of game that can build on what almost happened in Gainesville. This is the type of game that can set a team up for a run of success. It's the type of game that gives recruiting more momentum.
I wrote this summer that this is the most important game on Kentucky's schedule. I still think that it is. A win can open doors. A loss can make a team revert back to old habits.
Members of the Big Blue Nation, get to Commonwealth Stadium this Saturday and support your team. Show them that you appreciate their hard work, and that you want to win just as bad as they do. Imagine how it will feel to Mark Stoops, his staff, and his players if they looked up into the stands and saw thousands of rowdy fans screaming, all clad in blue. It would be verification that what they are doing is appreciated and that it is working.
Show up early. Wear Blue. Be Loud. Beat Vandy.
Go Big Blue.