Occasionally, you’ll find that circumstances, for whatever serendipitous reasons, allow you to hear a great story when you least expect it. Last Thursday was one of those days for me. As I was in class for motorcycle safety training, of all things, I was talking to another student/practitioner about Kentucky basketball when he mentioned a story about his friend that he thought I would like. Sure enough, I thought it was great, and asked him to pass my email address on to the friend so I could hear more.
Just a few days later I got an email from Jeremiah Cummings, who told me all the details and even provided some pictures. You’ll notice the one above of Major Cummings and his family. As it turns out, in 1998 he made a solemn covenant regarding then-coach Tubby Smith that has impacted that family even today. I’ll let Jeremiah explain it.
When Christian Laettner made the shot to beat Kentucky in the Elite Eight in 1992, I was fourteen years old. I was up alone watching the game that night as my parents were already in bed. Like everyone else, I believed I had just witnessed the greatest Kentucky basketball win ever when Sean Woods banked that shot of the glass to take the lead with 1.7 seconds left. What happened next affected everyone who witnessed it differently, but it definitely had a lasting impact.
Fast forward six years (1998), and Kentucky was about to get their shot at redemption, facing Duke once again in the Elite Eight. The significance of the game was not lost on me and two of my closest friends. I’m not going to be naïve and claim that we were more prepared for that game than any other Kentucky fans, but we would have made any Kentucky fan proud. It began at noon with a trip to buy the ingredients for a pregame steak dinner and beverages that we were not yet old enough to buy. We had a house to ourselves but we restricted the attendance on this day to only the three of us so as to not be distracted by those not as focused as we. The day was going as scripted right up until tip-off…
As anyone reading this is surely well aware, 1998 was Coach Tubby Smith’s first season as head coach of the Wildcats. Tubby’s team appeared overmatched for most of the game. With less than 10 minutes left in the game, the Wildcats were down 17 points. It was at this point, that I made the following, desperate declaration, “If Tubby can pull this off, and we come back and win this game, I will name my first borne son Tubby!” Just as I said this, Scott Padgett hit a three…
[Kentucky beats Duke, Fast Forward Two Years]
In the fall of 2000, I met my future wife at NKU. After dating for only two weeks, I informed her that I had made a commitment to name my first son Tubby that I intended to honor. After only two weeks of knowing me, she dismissed the pledge as most people did.
In 2004, the story got much more interesting. At the time, I was a First Lieutenant in the Kentucky Army National Guard and a Blackhawk pilot. On one particular day, I was tasked with flying several high-ranking officers from Frankfort to Lexington to catch a flight out of LEX. We dropped our passengers off at the FBO (private aircraft terminal) and I walked in to use the restroom. While I was washing my hands, I looked up at the gentleman next to me and it was Coach Smith! As awkward as I knew it to be, especially to him, I proceeded to introduce myself and briefly explain why I intended to name my first son after him. Tubby chuckled as he dried his hands explaining that he enjoyed the story. I exited the restroom shortly after him to find him standing there waiting for me. He shook my hand as he referenced my name tag on my uniform and said, “That’s a great story and I’m going to hold you to it! But do me a favor. Don’t name him Tubby, name him Orlando.”
In 2009, I had a beautiful little girl. When we found out that we were pregnant again in 2011, I would have gladly taken another one just like her. But it wasn’t to be. On February 12, 2012, my wife and I were greeted by our first son: Hayden Orlando Cummings. I wanted to go with Orlando James, James being a popular middle name in my family, but my wife wasn’t crazy about having another little OJ running around. Hayden was my grandfather’s middle name so we decided on Hayden Orlando.
When the brackets came out for the 2012 tournament, I thought we might actually get the next Duke/UK rematch which would have been awesome, but it was just as pleasing seeing Duke get knocked out in the first round. When the cats won their first National Championship since 1998 just one month after my son was born, I thought that this was an amazing conclusion to a very good story. However, I felt it appropriate to attempt to send Coach Smith a birth announcement. If he even remembered our encounter nearly 10 years earlier, I wanted him to know that I followed through with my pledge and his request.
I included with the announcement a letter reminding Coach Smith of our encounter and the story that I had relayed to him. I knew that if the announcement made it to him, he would likely respond, but I had real doubts that it would get through all of his staff/assistants, or even if I had found the correct address online to send it to. However, just a few weeks after mailing it, we received a large envelope from Minnesota Basketball addressed to Hayden Orlando Cummings.
Inside was a letter from the Minnesota Basketball Staff stating that they would like to place Hayden Orlando on their 2029 recruiting list, stating that any future correspondence would have to be initiated by Hayden as NCAA rules prevent future communications until his junior year of high school. The letter reminded Hayden to be a good little boy for his Mommy, Daddy and Big Sister and that all his dreams could be realities! It was hand-signed by Coach Smith!
The package also included a Minnesota Basketball Questionnaire as well as a hand-written postcard from Coach Smith addressed to me! He told me how cute Hayden Orlando is and thanked me for naming him Orlando and NOT Tubby!
I was overwhelmed by the response to my letter by Coach Smith and his staff! I’m sure they receive a ton of mail from their fans and the fact that he took time out of his busy schedule to hand-write a post card to me and sign a letter addressed to Hayden, speaks volumes of his character!
And for that, I am proud to have my son carry his name!
Jeremiah J. Cummings
If you have any great stories about being a UK fan, I’d love to hear them. Maybe this could become a weekly thing: BBN Story Time. I don’t know. But email them to me at email@example.com, and we’ll see what sort of response we get.
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Bill Keightley Report : Never to be forgotten.
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