It didn’t seem real at first. I was sitting in a radio studio in Louisville watching as officials reviewed whether or not Josh Allen’s sack of Feleipe Franks caused a fumble or if the Florida Gators quarterback threw an incomplete pass.
If it was a fumble, then the game would be over and the Kentucky Wildcats would have erased 31 years of misery. If it was ruled incomplete, then the Gators would have one more shot at breaking our hearts for the thirty-second year in a row.
It was a fumble. Cats recovered and scored. 27-16. It was over.
I jumped up and screamed, I laughed, I almost cried. But I didn’t have much time to react and reflect because I had a postgame show to do. I sat at the microphone, stunned, as I listed to the bumper music intro.
When the show started we immediately took Mark Stoops’ postgame sideline interview. He was as emotional as I’d ever seen him. For all of the talk that the streak didn’t matter to him or his players, you could tell as he held the tear back that it indeed did matter.
The reactions of the Big Blue Nation were joyous. From phone calls into radio shows, to tweets, to texts- the euphoria was palpable.
But this wasn’t the feeling heading into the season. I had the sense that the fans, while not all the way tuned out, were cautious about buying into Kentucky football in 2018.
After all, there were bitter disappointments last season that left the fans gun-shy; mainly the meltdown against Florida at home after the fans got their hopes up and then the season finale versus Louisville in which on the field behavior combined with a beatdown left fans wearily embarrassed.
Those two flops against UK’s biggest rivals were enough for some to check out for the most part. The fans should have been raring to go for the season to start. Kentucky had a host of talented veterans returning on both offense and defense.
They were coming off of a second straight bowl game (although that game was another disappointment due to the unwarranted ejection of Benny Snell). And there had been no major movements among the coaching ranks.
But when the season kicked off against Central Michigan, Kroger Field looked empty. There wasn’t much fanfare going into that game against the Chippewas. And although the Cats cruised to a 35-20 victory, fans were left skeptical because of a dreadful first half that included four offensive turnovers.
It was the same old story heading into Florida. We braced ourselves for more heartbreak. Fans, me included, couldn’t convince themselves to buy into a Florida win once again. They had been burned too many times. Did I say burned? I meant scorched beyond recognition.
But instead, we were met with karma turning against the Gators, not towards them. A reversed first down call at the goal line changed the trajectory of the first half. A field goal that looked like a field goal on TV was ruled no good by the refs. And the play wasn’t up for review. To end the game, Kentucky got the call to lock in the victory.
This all happened with Steve Spurrier and the ‘93 Florida team that dealt Big Blue Nation another heaping plate of devastation in the building. What in the hell was going on?
After we all pinched ourselves to make sure that what occurred actually happened, a new reality set in: this wasn’t Kentucky football. It was something else. Instead of falling flat on their faces they rose to the occasion. This wasn’t the norm.
I had to re-evaluate my expectations. I had to re-evaluate my excitement. I had to re-evaluate my commitment to investing my emotions into Kentucky football.
Now, instead of looking at 6-6, I’m thinking 8-4. Instead of being ho-hum about a Murray State game that kicks off at noon, I’m excited to see what this team has in store for an encore.
I’m not looking at a three game stretch against the Mississippi State Bulldogs, the South Carolina Gamecocks, and at College Station to face the Texas A&M Aggies with dread: I’m looking at that stretch as a proving ground of opportunity.
This Kentucky team has the players, the coaches, and, dare I say it, the moxy to do something special.
I’m back on board. I’m all in, baby.