I’m not an overly list-y person, which would explain my failure at grocery and lack of goals, but I couldn’t let this decade sidle on by without concocting some sort of reflective ensemble. Like everyone else reading and writing on this blog, my mood is heavily dependent on the fortunes of UK athletics…well, football and basketball anyway. Looking back at the past decade here in BBN I’m met with plenty of heartache and of course, plenty of bliss, so rather than harp on the negatives which is typically my bread n’ butter, here is my list of the 10 greatest moments in UK sports of the decade. They are ordered chronologically, so keep that in mind as you trumpet your feelings in the comments.
Tayshaun for 3 3 3 3 3
Many claim it’s the loudest moment in Rupp history. It also gave us the immortal “He’s got the puppies set off the bus” Raftery-ism that remains as fitting as it is mystifying. It’s also probably the most watched UK related YouTube clip of the decade this side of a John Wall mixtape. My favorite part is the look on Prince’s face after trey #2, as if to say, “I’m about to reel off a few more of these and blow your mind.” For a fan base that reveres 3-pointers more than their own children, you couldn’t script a better moment than this.
Special for the obvious: UK pasted the Cards 82-62 in Pitino’s first trip to Rupp since taking the Louisville demotion, and equally satisfying for the veracity of over-the-top hatred spewed by jilted UK fans. Pitino knew he’d alienate a good portion of the state by taking the gig, but you know his narcissistic self thought his unprecedented run in Lexington had earned him a lifetime pass ’round these parts. Uh-uh. We hate you too, Joanne (though we kind of feel sorry for you now).
Still reeling from the drubbing at the hands of Pitino and an outclassed Louisville team, the Cats were in a familiar position: struggling in Memorial Gym against a pesky Vandy team and seemingly veiled in a lifeless haze of TubbyBall purgatory, trailing by 12 at the half. Then, something happened…what exactly, we may never know. Maybe Tubby Incredible Hulked his French cuff or bit the head off a bat, but something just snapped at the intermission and catapulted one of the best runs in school history. Kentucky would go on to win the second half 46-16, displaying defensive intensity that would make Nick Saban erect, then ran roughshod over the SEC, becoming the first and only team in school history to sweep the SEC regular season and conference tourney. Of course, we didn’t know what was to come at the time, but in those 20 minutes you could see this team’s newfound thirst for blood.
#1 Florida comes to Rupp
“It’s embarrassment time! It’s humiliation! Where’s the pride in Billy Donovan?!”
Any time an SEC team not named Kentucky shoots up the rankings you know it’s going to be a short-lived run. No matter how the AP Poll reads that day, you can never really call a UK win at Rupp an upset. But this was not just your garden variety defense of Rupp Arena, this was an absolute annihilation in which we bloodied the face of the #1 Gators, stole their lunch money, fooled around with their sister then made them smell our fingers. Truly one of the most “we’re Kentucky and you’re not” moments in my lifetime.
Sparks keeps hope alive
Yes, it merely extended the inevitable heartbreak in this NCAA regional final, but for that moment where the ball took a Teen Wolf-esque tour around seemingly every inch of the rim and fell through at the buzzer the ghost of Christian Laettner had finally been stifled. I was a student living right around the block from Euclid and Woodland at the time, prepared to finally take my act to the streets as UK locked down another another final 4. Aside from the sheer improbability of that shot going in, and the foul that should have been called, the “take that, mother f-er,” exchange with Billy Packer will keep this moment enshrined despite the outcome.
Kentucky enters the top 10…in Football
I remember tearing through my SI College Football preview mag in 1997 and seeing the Tim Couch-led Wildcats with a foreign object parked next to their name. It was a preseason top 25 ranking—#25 to be exact—which at the time was the zenith of success for this adolescent nurtured in the Curry era. So when UK crashed the top 10 not once, but twice in 2007, it was a precious, hard-earned memento in the face of all too familiar futility. It was a feat that broke down the barriers of the impossible in which pigs were given to fly and Kentucky fans savored a plate of what our SEC brethren have been raving about for decades: life as a football school.
Kentucky beats #1 LSU
We knew this UK football team had the offensive firepower to hang with anyone. Just weeks prior we saw Stevie get loose and the then top 10 Louisville Cardinals see their dream of another BCS run go away never to return again. But nothing could prepare us for that fateful autumn afternoon when #1 and seemingly unstoppable LSU came to town and left in shambles. There were no fluke plays, nor a smorgasbord of home-cooked calls, rather an equal match of skill and strength and a feat that remained impossible until that final stuff on 4th down in triple OT. Kentucky simply does not beat the kingpins of the SEC, let alone the eventual national champs. It brought respect, a top 10 ranking and apt redemption for one of the decade’s most heart-crushing moments, the Bluegrass Miracle.
Mr. Wildcat Reunites the Fam
Bill Keightley was a statesman. Seasons changed, players changed, coaches changed, rules changed, uniforms changed, arenas changed, but not Mr. Wildcat. In addition to being a great human, Keightley was the last remaining link connecting every era in the modern history of the most storied program in all of college basketball. So beloved was he, that two days after his passing a memorial service was held in where else but Rupp Arena where fans and colleagues past and present gathered to celebrate the man who symbolized the greatness of UK basketball. An apt tribute indeed, and a welcome reminder that competition is no match for compassion.
Jodie Meeks goes for 54
Funny how one of the most tumultuous seasons in UK history could produce something this magical. Jodie’s career in blue was certainly as trying as it was spectacular, but his performance in the 2008-09 season is one of the best in the school’s history and this game in particular on Tennessee’s home floor cemented his legend for the rest of eternity. 10-15 from 3, 14 for 14 from the line, and 8 boards and 4 assists just for the hell of it.”We’re not the University of Jodie Meeks,” as the coach needlessly and gruffly stated after the game, but on that night, as with most of his nights spent in Lexington, ol’ Billy was wrong.
UK hires John Calipari
It’s always easy to superfluously shower a coach with praise when they’ve yet to lose a game, but after a decade of final 4 exclusion, mailed-in recruiting, the NIT and those kinds of things, the hotshot salesman with the truest sense of the job came like a rapture to a world of lost souls desperate for a sign. With it, we got the most transcendent talent to ever don the jersey (with more surely to come), a style of play more in line with the program’s blueprint, a coach who actually feeds off our overzealousness, and Kentucky Proud finally got a pitchman with zeal. Cal is certainly not a perfect coach, but he is the perfect coach for this program.
2007: Stevie gets loose…2004: Sparks hits 3 FT’s to cap improbable comeback over the Cards…2003: Kentucky blasts Vandy by 62 points on Sr. Day…2004: Tubby inks Randolph Morris rounding out the nation’s top class…2006: UK beats Clemson in MCB for 1st Bowl win in decades…2001: Cawood’s Court…2005: Chuck Hayes gets emotional at senior day…2009: Sypher-Gate breaks…2007: senior day…2007: College Gameday comes to town…everything else I recklessly neglected