If the fact that Kentucky is playing Georgia for the SEC East on Saturday still feels surreal, it’s because it is. This type of game never comes around for Kentucky, the significance of which isn’t lost on Mark Bradley, a columnist for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. Bradley covered Kentucky in the late 70’s and early 80’s, so he is well-versed in the plight of the long-suffering Kentucky Football fan, making his column on the game spot-on.
Bradley details Kentucky’s heartache over the years, with a special emphasis on the four games the Cats lost in the final minute in the 1980 season. Those games happened before I came along, but recent years of heartbreak have me familiar with the specific type of gut-punch that only Kentucky Football can deliver, which makes this week so sweet. Just read his description of Fran Curci after the Cats’ last second loss to Tulane:
This was Curci’s wild-and-teary-eyed postgame briefing in its sanitized entirety: “Go ask the bleeping players how they bleeping feel!” Then he dashed off into the night. In the locker room, I saw a player lying face down in the shower. He was still in his full uniform, helmet included. He was sobbing.
That was Kentucky football, and maybe it still is. But lots of things that just don’t happen to the Wildcats keep happening. They beat Florida for the first time since 1986. They beat Mississippi State by three touchdowns and South Carolina by two. They trailed Missouri 14-3 with six minutes left and won on a punt return and a touchdown pass after 0:00 thrown by a quarterback who’d been benched in the third quarter.
They’re 7-1, same as Georgia. They’re 5-1 in the SEC, same as Georgia. Do I believe Kentucky is as good as Georgia? No. But did I expect these or any Wildcats to be playing for the SEC East title? Not in this lifetime. Yet here they are.
Which is why we’re not letting anyone steal our joy right now.