Everyone has their own special Kentucky memory from being in a sold-out Kroger Field or Rupp Arena. Some of us have even seen the Cats raise a trophy in early April as the king of college basketball or win a big-time bowl game. Most of these memories we cherish have lasted us a lifetime. They are stories we will or already have told our kids. Its what makes us fans that are drawn to be apart of the Big Blue Nation. While it’s still offseason time, why not talk about my five favorite memories as a fan of being inside of a stadium watching the Cats play.
5.) Stevie GOT LOOSE:
Number 5 on my list has to be from that 2007 football season, right? This one was not just special because of the upset, but special because I was there in attendance with my dad. To me, going to watch the Cats play with my dad is just special. It’s even more special when they pull off an upset over their arch-rival. Growing up, Kentucky football has always held a huge place in my heart. It’s the first UK sport I had ever seen live. I grew up watching JLo sling that thing around against the Hoosiers.
Anyway, at the time I was in the fifth grade, and, for my birthday, my mom had bought me Kentucky/Louisville football tickets. This was by far the biggest Kentucky football game I had ever attended.
As soon as my dad and I touched down in the parking lot, you could just feel the energy. You got the vibe that this game was going to be awesome from start to finish. Now, back in those days, I was the one that wanted to be in my seat the moment the gates opened – which could be anywhere from two to three hours before kickoff. Now that I am a bit older, I definitely see why my dad wanted to partake in the tailgate festivities a little longer.
When the game started you could tell that the energy from the parking lot had easily made its way into Commonwealth Stadium. The game was back and forth. In the fourth quarter with 39 seconds to play in the game and UofL up 34-33, Andre Woodson dropped back to pass on the Cats’ own 35-yard line hitting Stevie Johnson down the sidelines. We all remember that well – giving the Cats the go-ahead lead that would win them the game, 40-34.
Being a little fifth grader watching Kentucky take down No. 9 Louisville for the first time in 4 years with my dad, on essentially a game-winning TD, was one of the more special memories I’ve ever had as a Wildcat fan.
4.) Beating the Cards in March:
The 2013-14 Kentucky basketball season occurred during my junior year of high school. During spring break, my friend and I decided to get tickets to the Midwest Regional in Indianapolis before the brackets had even come out. Why you might ask? Well, because just like you, as I do love my Cats, I also enjoy the game of college basketball. So 93 bucks for two Sweet 16 games and an Elite 8 game as a 17-year-old sounded tremendous.
At the time, I must admit I was bummed out that I would be spending my week of vacation in Indiana (because who wouldn’t be??), but little did I know at that time the Cats would magically end up in the midwest region and pull off an upset over a 34-0 team in Wichita State. Yeah, you know the story. The dang thing happened. Not only was I going to get to watch Kentucky play in the Sweet 16, but was also watching them play Louisville, which, at the time, I had never seen in person before.
So here it was, Kentucky came out of the gate sloppy. Louisville came out absolutely dominating the game. Everything was going their way. At the time I thought my luck and the Cats’ luck had run out. At one point, Kentucky trailed by 13 and lost Willie Cauley-Stein. As some of you readers may already know, I wasn’t quite optimistic with that Kentucky team. Like you, I had been let down by this team time after time during the season. I also didn’t really know if I should believe the tweak had actually worked or not.
Boy, was I wrong, and then some. Kentucky would make their largest comeback of the season. In the second half of the first half, the Cats clawed their way back into it. Trailing by only 3 at the half, it would set up the second half to be a nail bitter. Aaron Harrison hit a corner three with 40 seconds left, to give the Cats the lead for the rest of the game! This memory ranks at number 4, because of how unexpected the whole situation was. Oh yeah, and the best part about it was throwing my L’s down as a 17-year-old to all of the grown Louisville fans!
3.) Beating Penn State in the Citrus Bowl:
After beating Florida in the same season, I didn’t think it was quite possible to have the same gratifying feeling I had felt that day in Gainesville. Beating Penn State, however, a once upon a time blue blood powerhouse in a New Year’s Day bowl game, was right up there in terms of awesomeness. Watching Penn State fans think it was such a joke to be in the Citrus Bowl against Kentucky was funny. To add to the humor, the Cats came out swinging, just absolutely punching them in the mouths from the start. We also got to watch Benny Snell break the UK all-time rushing record. Just about every time he carried the ball, everyone was looking around asking each other, “How many more does he need??”.
Then there was the 4th quarter Penn State comeback. Along with other Kentucky fans, I found myself out in the concourse area, pacing. I was thinking to myself “it’s too good to be true” but then ultimately watched as the Cats finished off the Nittany Lions in the final minutes. This was the last nail in the coffin on an amazing season. The Cats had their first 10 win season in over four decades, and I was a part of it as a fan in the stands.
2.) The shot that beat Michigan:
Continuing on to my second favorite memory would have to be the Aaron Harrison shot against Michigan – the shot that would start a trend for him. Now, you may ask, “Dude how is this not number 1 for you?”. Well, I promise, just keep reading and I will explain myself.
Just like the game prior to this one, I couldn’t quite wrap my head around the fact that I was watching Kentucky play in the tournament for the price I paid, and for the pure luck of the bracket arrangement. I was getting to see the Cats play for a chance to head to Dallas for a Final Four. And, to add to it, the game was way more than I could have ever expected. It was back and forth the whole time.
With 10 seconds left, the game was tied at 72 apiece. I thought to myself, “Am I really going to kick the bucket this young?”. My heart couldn’t take much more. And then, BAM. Andrew Harrison handed off to his brother, Aaron, for the trey in Caris Levert’s face, with three seconds to play which would put the Cats up by 3. And, yes, I think we all know the ending to this story, Nik Stauskas would miss a half-court buzzer-beater which would send the Cats marching onto the Final Four.
I remember my friend picking me up and for a second my mind went blank. We stayed up in the Lucas Oil Stadium rafters until they kicked us out. I had been to Rupp Arena many times and had even seen Kentucky play in the tournament against Cincinnati in the RCA Dome in 2005 with Rajon Rondo. But not even a trip to Rupp could touch that feeling I had in Indianapolis.
1.) Beating Florida to break a 31-year streak:
For the longest time, my No.1 favorite in-person memory in UK lore was watching Aaron Harrison hit that shot against Michigan that shocked the world on that March afternoon. I simply didn’t think it could be matched, but this one September night, on a hot late summer day in Florida, would change that for me. My all-time favorite in-person memory as a Cats fan is now, without a doubt, the day the Cats took down the Florida Gators. This was the day the Cats broke the streak for the first time in over 31 years. Not only did we end the streak, but we did it in Gainesville, and being there myself made it all the better.
Even though it was just a regular-season game, it felt like so much had been lifted off the program’s shoulders. It felt like, as a fan, I could finally breathe some fresh air. It felt like we could finally be the program we had dreamed about being, with Mark Stoops at the helm. It was such a gratifying moment being there, that it brought tears to my eyes. As I exited the Swamp, Florida fans stared at us Kentucky fans as we jumped in the air and hugged each other with joy.
These are UK memories that I will surely never forget. Now I want to hear it from you the reader. Either in the comments section or on my Twitter page, tell me either your top 5, top 3, or just favorite memory from being a fan in the stands.
And always, GO CATS!!!!