Before the arrival of promising new head coach Mark Stoops and his brand new tradition of nationally ranked recruiting classes, Kentucky football fans hadn’t had much to cheer about in recent seasons. However– as distant as it may seem– it wasn’t that long ago when Rich Brooks led the ‘Cats to the first of five straight Kentucky postseason appearances, including three consecutive victories from ’06-’08 over 2013 Orange Bowl champion Clemson, 2013 undefeated national champion Florida State, and 2013 Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl champion East Carolina. The Rich Brooks era paved the way for several talented Wildcats to make a splash at the NFL level, including one unforgettable Kentucky receiver who surely comes to every ‘Cats fan’s mind when the number 13 is mentioned: former Buffalo Bill and current San Francisco 49er Stevie Johnson.
Stevie Johnson began his collegiate career in his home state of California, where he attended Chabot College– a 94-acre community college that happens to be the alma mater of movie star Tom Hanks and former Metallica bassist Cliff Burton. After his sophomore season, Johnson transferred to the University of Kentucky to play under head coach Rich Brooks, who had guided his team to a dismal 3-8 record the year before. However, with the help of 12 catches, 159 yards, and 1 touchdown on the season from Stevie, the ‘Cats defeated Clemson in the 2006 Music City Bowl (wherein Johnson caught 3 passes for 67 yards) to end the year at 8-5. It was during his senior season, though, that Stevie would go down in Wildcat lore forever.
Kentucky’s 2007 football campaign was one of the most memorable seasons in school history. Stevie personally kicked things off with a freestyle rap about the Bluegrass State’s favorite program before the first game of the year versus Eastern Kentucky:
By the third game of the season, Stevie upped the ante even further. The No. 9 Louisville Cardinals were in town for the annual Battle for the Governor’s Cup, while Kentucky was on a mission to prove to the country that no visitor was safe in Commonwealth Stadium. In one of the most famous calls in Kentucky football history– Stevie got loose!— Johnson caught the game-winning touchdown pass to secure the Wildcats’ first victory over a top 10 football team in 30 years. But, less than a month later, Stevie would outdo himself again. When the No. 1 LSU Tigers (who would eventually go on to win the national championship later that season) made their way to Lexington with an undefeated record, the ‘Cats accepted the daunting challenge before them once more. Johnson again caught a game-winning touchdown pass from quarterback Andre’ Woodson, this time in triple overtime to lift the Wildcats to a 43-37 victory over the Tigers. Johnson finished his senior season with 61 catches, 1,052 yards, 13 touchdowns, and a First Team All-SEC selection, while his team would go on to finish 8-5. Stevie became not only Kentucky’s fourth 1,000-yard receiver in school history, but the No. 2 all-time leader for single-season touchdowns.
Here’s to you, Stevie.