Kentucky Football just finished 10-and-3 for the first time since 1977. I remember this past summer telling co-workers, friends and my dad about this program maybe having an opportunity to do something special this season. I told them it had to happen this year; this was it. If it didn’t happen this year, I didn’t know if it would ever happen because of all the talent we had coming back. Little did I know this team would go on to have a 10-win season while beating Florida (for the first time in 31 years), beating a very good, ranked Mississippi State team, beating South Carolina for the fifth year in a row, beating Missouri as the clock expired on a game-winning, CJ Conrad touchdown and most importantly, beating a blue-blood program like Penn State in a New Year’s Day Bowl Game.
Just like the majority of you readers, I have been a die-hard Kentucky football fan since my first trip to see the Cats play. My first game was the UK-IU game in Bloomington, Indiana in 2003 (side note: I grew up in Southern Indiana and was born at the approximate kickoff time of an Indiana vs. Kentucky football game). My parents wanted to make it the annual trip every fall, whether it was in Indiana or in Lexington – unfortunately, the series would only last three more years. I remember rocking my Nike Jarred Lorenzen Jersey into Memorial Stadium that day and watching the Wildcats beat the Hoosiers 34-17.
Over the years, just like you, I have witnessed the heartbreakers in person, like watching the blue and white get beat by Western on a flea flicker in overtime at home. Or watch them get embarrassed by Vandy by 40 at home. I even remember walking out of Commonwealth Stadium after we just got throttled by a No. 20 ranked Florida team during Stoops’ first season (which was expected because of our lack of talent) and hearing a fan yell out of his truck, “GREAT HIRE, BARNHART.” I was thinking “what an idiot.” My point is, I remember the bad times because there were more of them than there were good. When’s basketball season, right?
But I have also seen some gratifying wins. Like being in a packed Commonwealth Stadium with my dad to see Stevie get loose against the No. 9 ranked Cardinals in 2007.
Once I got to UK in the fall of 2015, the first thing I did was make sure I bought my student football season tickets. I was bummed with a 5-7 season, but at the time I knew the freshmen we had could be special. I sure didn’t know we’d have a defensive player of the year one day in Josh Allen, but I knew that 2015 class had great talent.
About three years ago I made a bucket list for myself: make it to every single SEC stadium for a Kentucky away game before I die. Previously I had been to Alabama, Missouri and Georgia. This year, I decided to travel 2,775 miles for this team – which included watching them lose to Texas A&M and Tennessee. But, on the bright side, I also got to see them end the streak in Gainesville, completely embarrass instate-rival Louisville and win in Orlando against the Nittany Lions. It was something I didn’t know was plausible my freshman year.
I remember walking out of the Swamp that night with tears in my eyes thinking to myself “WE DID IT.” But also thinking, this season IS going to be special. I remember hugging random UK fans and getting the dirtiest of looks from the Gator fans because I couldn’t contain my excitement for this team. I knew every year beforehand with Stoops at the helm, if we could just get over the Florida hump, we were in for something special – and then it finally happened. Like the UF game, after the final second ticked off the clock in Orlando, I put on my sunglasses so no one else could see me let loose of some grown-man tears. The Cats did it. They capped off the special season with some hardware.
This season brought this fanbase and the state of Kentucky so much joy. Walking to class this fall while listening to the guys on KSR talk about this special team, I got the chills. This season will be talked about and discussed for years. It was as special as it gets for a Kentucky football fan. People need to take note of that – especially since we got to witness Benny break the all-time rushing record at UK and see Josh win every defensive award possible.
Matt has said in the past at times this fan base puts so much effort into its football program and gets very little in return, which I always agreed with because of how passionate we have proven to be. This year, we got everything back in return and more.
I genuinely do believe this program is here to stay. Yes, we will have down seasons with maybe a 6-6 record every now and then. But I think the negative “it’s just Kentucky football” saying is officially retired. As long as Stoops is still around, I believe this program is only going to continue up the ladder from here.
And it all started with the 2018 Kentucky Wildcats. So I want to THANK YOU, Benny Snell. THANK YOU, Josh Allen. THANK YOU, Kash Daniel. THANK YOU, CJ Conrad. THANK YOU, Lynn Bowden. THANK YOU, Terry Wilson. And THANK YOU, to the entire Kentucky football team for bringing us all such joy throughout this entire season.
But most importantly THANK YOU, COACH STOOPS.
A wise man once said, “WE’RE JUST GETTING STARTED BRO.”