Screw April, August is the cruelest month. It’s been a long summer. And by long, I mean excruciating. Sure, the afterglow of winning the National Championship held me over for a while (as did a wedding and honeymoon), but as the dog days of summer set in, I can’t stop my cravings for Kentucky sports. Now, even though expectations may be at an all-time low for UK football, I find myself counting down the days ’til kickoff and clinging to each sliver of news that comes out of the Nutter Fieldhouse. Even the smallest morsel of praise inflates my hopes for the season, so that by September 2nd, I’ll have tricked myself into thinking the Cats will make a bowl game. It’s my Big Blue Nature. And it happens every. single. season.
You’d think by now I’d know better. As a child, I dutifully attended UK football games during “Bill Curry’s Farewell Tour” (an actual t-shirt that I’ll always remember) and suffered through more than my share of cold November rains as Tennessee pounded our pride into the turf. The Hal Mumme Era was a ray of sunshine, the air raid siren awakening a Commonwealth of football fans from decades of boredom. Like starving children, we fully bought into the Hal Mumme system, going as far to name our family dog after him and buying his trademark Oakleys. Tim Couch was our pride, and as a twelve-year-old girl, I found Mumme and Couch’s offense of “scratching plays in the dirt” downright romantic. Of course, we know how that ended, which makes Claude Basset’s visit to Danville High School my sophomore year to speak about running a successful football program even more ironic.
Guy Morriss dried our tears after the scandal hit, comforting us with seven unexpected wins before heading to greener pastures. Rich Brooks may not have been the sexiest hire, but over time, we found out he was the right one. He didn’t have cool sunglasses or a Texas swagger, but Papa Brooks had fire and a no-frills approach to football, which was exactly what Kentucky needed to recover from probation. Randall Cobb, the Golden Boy, dazzled and taught us to dream again. Hell, College Gameday came to visit. Six years of steady improvement and awesome tomato tweets had fans back on their feet, and as Brooks moved into retirement, he passed the program to his trusty assistant and son of the Bluegrass, Joker Phillips.
I’m still trying to figure out what went wrong. Things started out well; we beat Louisville in Joker’s first game as head coach, and even knocked off the Ole Ball coach in a game for the ages. The highs were high, but the lows? So, so low. It’s as though we were always one step short of special. The BBVA Compass Bowl? Probably the most depressing bowl ever. It didn’t get much better last season, with crushing defeats to South Carolina and Spurrier, who might as well have been Sherman burning through Atlanta he was so hell bent on revenge. Vandy (VANDY!!!) hung up 38 points on us, something I could see coming and for the first time in my life, refused to watch in person, the memories of our sad win over Western Kentucky still dancing in my head. The team showed signs of life against Georgia between the hedges, but still, the result was the same, which made the win over Tennessee that much sweeter. It wasn’t pretty, but damn it felt good. The streak snapped, and with it, decades of demons were exorcised across the state.
I wish we could have bottled up that joy. We may need it. The annual battle between the head and the heart has ramped up, with both sides making totally convincing arguments. As August drags on, this is my plea to Joker and the team: do something exciting. You don’t have to win every game, but at least make me smile. No more draws and short passes on third and long. Air it out. Take chances. Look as though you’re having fun playing the game that you love. We’ve been in this situation before: undersized, overmatched, and no one giving us a chance in hell. Although he pretty much shat the bed, at least Hal Mumme entertained us.
I always have, and always will support this team. If the season goes south, like an addict, I’ll still turn on the TV each Saturday to watch the Cats. I’ve suffered through too many cold November rains not to. As a sport, I’ve always loved football more than basketball, even though as a Kentucky fan, that’s pretty much impossible.
We’ve got more than three months left to go until basketball season. Make it worth my while.