In the fall of 2004, I visited the University of Kentucky as a high school junior. When I left campus that day and rode a bus back to Owensboro, KY, my mind was already made up. I was going to become a Kentucky Wildcat.
After graduating, that's where I'd spend the next four years of my life (hopefully). I received a phone call in the fall of my senior year saying I had received a full ride to UK thanks to William C. Parker. Oh yeah, I'm definitely UK-bound now.
One thing I knew that I was doing, I knew I was headed to a basketball school. At the time, seven national championship banners hung from the Rupp rafters, and you could simply sense the athletic history around campus.
What I didn't realize was my time at UK would actually include three of the more frustrating years for UK basketball. To be completely honest, I grew up a UNC Tar Heel basketball fan. I was a 90's kid completely obsessed with Michael Jordan.
Forgive me (Also grew up and am still a huge Notre Dame football fan). My freshman year Tubby Smith was coach, my sophomore and junior years were the "dark" years as I like to call them where Billy Clyde hung out at Two Keys and occasionally coached basketball and finally, my senior year was the first year of the Cal era. Kind of bad timing, right?
Wrong. What I also didn't realize was for those four years, UK would actually be a football school.
During my time at UK, Twitter King himself Rich Brooks took the UK football Wildcats to three consecutive bowl appearances, including a 2006 bowl bid; the program's first since 1999. Don't forget, before that three-year bowl run Brooks finished 4-8, 2-9 and 3-8. With that being said, when his squad hit its stride...IT HIT ITS STRIDE.
I can remember vividly the UofL game my sophomore year in 2007 also known as the "Stevie Got Loose" game. I can remember him streaking down the sideline and winning that game.
Man, that was a blast.
I also remember when the top-ranked LSU Tigers came to town. UK didn't have a chance, right?
It's LSU; we're UK. Chalk this one up as a loss. When UK's defense made that last defensive stop, I remember it like it was yesterday. There was a collective gasp, moment of silence and then mayhem.
UK just beat #1 ranked LSU.
Then the week afterward, College Gameday came to UK's campus. College FRICKIN' Gameday. Not the basketball one with Digger Phelps and his tie-high liter color matching combo.
No, it was the one with Herbie, Chris Fowler and that crazy, mascot head-wielding Lee Corso. The bowl in front of Willy T was packed. The atmosphere was unbelievable.
Corso threw on the gator head and picked Florida; hours later Tebow and Co. proceeded to destroy UK, but I'll never forget that run. UK was even ranked in the AP Top 10 before that loss.
Why am I saying all this? Why the trip down memory lane? What’s the point of all this blabbering?
It's because winning at UK on the football field is possible. It can be done. Brooks did it, Joker was nowhere close after he lost Brooks' guys, but Stoops is on the cusp of it. How did Brooks do it? An old football saying says; it's not about the X's and O's, it's about the Jimmys and Joes.
Keenan Burton, Andre Woodson, Rafael Little, Stevie Johnson, Dicky Lyons, Alfonso Smith, Wesley Woodyard, Trevard Lindley, Corey Peters and the list goes on and on. A good part of these guys played in the NFL, and some may have been role players, but they played that role well.
In my opinion, with what Stoops has done recruitment wise, the Jimmys and Joes are there. They're young, that's for sure, but this team can take a huge step forward this year.
A recent report by Kentucky.com says ticket sales are down 14% compared to last year. As of today, Kentucky Sports Radio talked with a UK spokesman, and they report there are over 12,000 unsold tickets to the home opener.
Not just any game...THE HOME OPENER!
Winning is fun. If you're not winning, then not only are the players not having fun, but the fans definitely aren't having fun. Fun is all the things I mentioned earlier in the article.
One of my old middle school coaches used to tell us, losing is a disease...once you catch it, it's hard to get rid of it. My advice to UK football...MAKE FOOTBALL FUN AGAIN!
Win. Create a reason why fans want to spend their Saturday at Commonwealth. That's easier said than done, but the fans will file in, and UK Athletics may even rent out all of those ridiculously expensive tailgating spots in the 1865 Club.