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Hotel Abyss

Like many things in life, a finished product is much more enjoyable than its foregoing process.  This applies to a popular Kentucky Football tradition, the Cat Walk.  The Cat Walk is the finished product preceded by an abysmal 24 hours leading up to the event. If you’ve ever wondered where the busses that deliver the players and coaches are coming from, the answer is a Lexington hotel.  College football’s standard operating procedure calls for teams to spend the night in a hotel before both home and away games.  This accomplishes many goals, one is to separate players from on-campus distractions.  Another is ensuring game-day processes are the same whether the team is in Lexington or Baton Rouge.  Normalcy is good, routine is better. I’m certain that over the decades specifics have changed but Friday’s hotel despair remains constant. Below is a typical travel itinerary or the best that I can remember.  This post is the closest I will come to discussing my playing days.

FRIDAY

8:00 Breakfast Check

Coach Jerry Claiborne was as old school as chalk. Breakfast check at the team dining facility was a daily occurrence in which coaches would take mandatory attendance and perform a quick inspection to ensure players were dressed appropriately for class. If unshaven, immediately sent back to dorm to shave.  If dressed like a bum, quickly sent back to change clothes. Game-week Friday’s were particularly significant as Claiborne used the morning meal to gauge his team’s state of mind. 

8:30 Chevy Chase Barber Shop

My boys and I would roll out of breakfast for our Friday hair-cut and scouting report by our barbers, Steve and Jack. The Boz cut was popular, I was partial to freshening up the ole mullet which was painstakingly high maintenance.

2:00 Walk-thru

Light pre-work out entailed an OL vs. DL game of two-hand touch as QB’s walked around making fun of the big guys trying to throw spirals.  A serious practice session followed, then back to locker-room where freshmen were “encouraged” to carry senior’s bags to the equipment truck. Long lines formed in front of former Trinity and St. X player’s lockers, as they were the only folks who knew how to tie a tie. Pre-game dessert or movie popcorn were traded for a proper Windsor. The standard travel outfit included kaki’s and blue blazer with snake-skin cowboy boots. I hope Melvin Lewis brings back that look. 

4:00 Bus to hotel

Coolest part of Friday was Lexington PD’s motorcycle unit as it escorted our team bus to the hotel, located on Athens Road.  The next time any of us would get that kind of treatment would be if we were elected President or in a prison transfer. I had mandatory reading material for the short trip, a National Enquirer. I liked to read my gossip columns, hey it relaxed me what can I say.  Maybe my reading choice was a pre-curser to my latter affinity for twitter?

5:30 Team dinner

Always started off with clam chowder, of course being from Harlan County, this was my first taste of the New England treat.  Looked like tater soup to me, I usually traded my serving for movie popcorn to recoup my losses to the tie tiers.  Dinner was a relaxed atmosphere as players sat by positions and discussions were loose and at times funny.  On one occasion, I had freshman Pookie Jones convinced that Georgia would be using left handed footballs and I was concerned that their game balls would get mixed up with ours.  Georgia had a left handed QB. Left handed footballs don’t exist.  He actually asked the QB coach about it, which led to a scolding.  I felt bad and gave Pookie my popcorn I’d earlier gotten in trade for my clam chowder.

7:00 Movie

The team would buy out what is now the Movie Tavern, so we could enjoy a flick. The movie of choice was always a point of disagreement.  I never paid attention to the movie nor did I ever understand just why we went. Seating sections were divided by two groups, dippers and non-dippers. Following popcorn, Copenhagen and Skoal flowed like Aspin wine.

8:45-Snacks

Fruit and healthy stuff awaited us upon return from the movie. I passed. Nobody traded fruit. 

9:00 Team/Position meetings

Seriousness surfaced; as Coach Claiborne delivered his pre, pre-game talk then last minute assignment refreshers were pointed out during a film session.  Each position was given a written test to ensure that players had studied their scouting reports and game plans. Questions were based on personnel, audible/checks, and so forth. Normally I passed.  I have witnessed starters that flunked. 

9:30 Pizza

Each room got one large pizza.  Pizza bartering was more anticipated than the New York Stock Exchange’s opening bell. I always gave mine away. 

10:00 Lights out/bed check

Meaningless for me as I’d toss and turn most of the night. On most pre-game Friday’s I’d sleep two or at best three hours. Imagine your childhood and go back to the age of 9.  Remember how Christmas Eve was filled with anticipation for the Big Guy’s visit?  Multiply that edginess by 100.

SATURDAY

8:00 Wake-up

Meaningless as I was already up.  Pacing and pondering had started hours prior. I’d usually walk out by the fence overlooking I-75 and remembered traveling to Lexington with my dad during games past. Game days were always emotional.  I did not want to let the fans down. That fear internalized and became a combination of anger with an odd sense of sadness.

9:00 Breakfast

Same stuff every week.  Eggs, waffles, the works.  Never ate much on game day. Afterwards, each position would take a walk around the hotel with their coach.  Going over blitz pick-ups, weather, coverages, and such were discussion topics along with Friday night’s high scores.

9:30-noon awfulness

Pre-game shows with talking head analysis was on TV.   I never watched, I didn’t want to confuse non-opponent tendencies with our pending opponent.  With nothing to watch, and nothing to do but wait, I was miserable. The proverbial hay was in the barn.

12:00 Lunch

See breakfast, same process different chow.

1:00-4:00 More misery. 

I’d go back to the fence by I-75, by this time cars were rolling by with blue flags waving in the wind.  Emotions would again surface.  See I never felt adequate or good enough to be an SEC QB. I was definitely different than the rest of the signal callers. Came from a small school, mountain kid, talked funny, played defense before move to QB, on and on. I felt disrespected by football snobs and sensed they looked down their nose at me. I felt out of place. Maybe the skeptics were right? However, I did love beating teams with sliders.  Sliders were QB’s that did everything possible to avoid contact.  Go out of bounds, slide, etc..  You know the type; sweat bands, hand warmers, towels, eye black, and the works. I couldn’t stand sliders. I was more Jack Lambert than Roger Stauback.

4:30 Pre-game meal

Deadly silent affair as chicken and lasagna were choked down. Following dinner a highlight film from the prior week was shown to motivate the team prior to leaving for Commonwealth Stadium.

5:00 Depart for CWS

Leaving the Holiday Inn, I remember being thankful that the misery was over, but come Thursday, I ironically craved our return. As we drove down Alumni Drive, CWS lights became visible in the distance.  A sense of calm would take the place of emotion and nerves.  We were almost home. Looking back, the most special moment of the day was getting off the bus and receiving a head nod from my dad. Dad was not a hugger, a head nod meant confirmation that I’d made him proud. I don’t miss the game, I do miss that look in my dad’s eyes.

The twenty four hours leading up to kick-off was purgatorial as time stood still.   My inadequacy phobia was never cured but somewhat vindicated as we did win more than we lost that year. Hope you enjoyed a look back.  This post was extremely uncomfortable for me to write. I’m ok discussing X’s and O’s, but feelings, not so much.

Article written by Freddie Maggard

Former University of Kentucky Quarterback and Andy Griffith Fan Club President

27 Comments for Hotel Abyss



  1. Kim
    12:55 pm June 28, 2015 Permalink

    Freddie, you’re my new favorite. Not many former players have the courage to be real when reminiscing about he good ol’ days.



  2. Guusje
    1:21 pm June 28, 2015 Permalink

    Great article, would love to hear others insight on the daily grind of game day. Thanks for posting!



  3. JeremyD
    1:25 pm June 28, 2015 Permalink

    Awesome post Mr. Maggard.



  4. Andy
    1:33 pm June 28, 2015 Permalink

    “This post was extremely uncomfortable for me to write. I’m ok discussing X’s and O’s, but feelings, not so much.”

    Do you mean you do not like discussing the feelings of game day or not sure how to write about it?



  5. Angelo
    1:37 pm June 28, 2015 Permalink

    Great post. Not much fun in playing football.



  6. Paul moore
    1:58 pm June 28, 2015 Permalink

    Always was a Freddie Maggard fan, more so now

  7. Great insight for those of us who could only be wannabe athletes, Freddie!

    I particularly liked your comment about “sliders”. It made me chuckle. BTW, do you care to name names? 😉



  8. Gil Egan Zyelynn
    2:46 pm June 28, 2015 Permalink

    This was an excellent read. Sorry about the anxiety and sleeplessness. Interesting that there were comments made in re Claiborne but not Bill Curry. But, I laughed several times including the comment about the the Rocks and X team mates and the lineups for tying ties; also the Skoal and Copenhagen at the movies. Wondered who the slider is/was. I’m sure over 4 years there are many many more stories. A continuation would be fantastic. Thanks for the insight; it was an honest and fun read.



  9. Miner'sPeench
    3:13 pm June 28, 2015 Permalink

    One of the best posts I’ve read on KSR. Authentic. I only can hope that today’s players play with that fear and “chip on the shoulder” hunger to prove they belong. Your analysis , humor and honesty are much appreciated by this ex-dipper.



  10. UKnowMe
    3:54 pm June 28, 2015 Permalink

    One of the best posts I have read on KSR in a while! Thanks for the insight Freddie



  11. Bull
    4:06 pm June 28, 2015 Permalink

    Great article, the average fan has no ideal what it’s like for players to compete at this level. I had the great joy to watch (Freddie Wayne) as my entire family calls him, grow up and chase the same dream that most in our small community had. Those emotions fed the desire that carried him to become the starting QB at the University of Kentucky. We all took great joy in what he accomplished. We loved UK football before but seeing him suit up is a thrill I don’t have the volcabulary to describe. Those game days we would make the 3 hour drive and to lex. and couldn’t wait to get our first view of him. So fans next time your at a game and start to critique a player, remember you might be sitting beside someone who is pulling for someone with all their heart.



  12. Not Kenny Rogers
    5:21 pm June 28, 2015 Permalink

    It may have been uncomfortable, but I hope you write more on your playing days.



  13. Shelby
    8:40 pm June 28, 2015 Permalink

    That as an AWESOME read freddie–thanks so much for sharing that.



  14. Women Everywhere
    12:08 am June 29, 2015 Permalink

    Great article! I love getting all the details. Please write again!
    Thanks for the kind words for Jack at Chevy Chase barber shop…a great friend and Cat fan, he is missed by all.



  15. Goonies25
    12:28 am June 29, 2015 Permalink

    Great read!



  16. Jay
    12:36 am June 29, 2015 Permalink

    Superbly written. Honestly. A fantastic first-hand account.



  17. iucansuckabigblue****
    12:38 am June 29, 2015 Permalink

    Awesome! Most of us feel like you did watching I-75. Glad I’m not the only one. Thank You. Great story.

    Go Big Blue!!!



  18. Robbie
    12:42 am June 29, 2015 Permalink

    This is why I check KSR 10 times a day. The never ending hope something original, creative, honest and insightful will be written. please give us more! Thank you



  19. Compelling Stuff
    2:13 am June 29, 2015 Permalink

    Seriously a great post but if we’re getting personal can I ask how many times you had to poop during a game? Yoenis Cespedes of the Tigers was late returning to the field in the middle of a game against the Reds recently and it was pretty obvious to all that he had to take a “break” in the clubhouse. It seems I remember Mike Hartline courageously playing a game with the runs which included at least one mad dash to the locker room. I mean don’t get me wrong, I feel deeply for a kid when his shoulder is separated during the game or when a particularly strong collision leaves him doozy with a concussion but I’m most sympathetic with the urgent need to take a dump with the clock running. Does that make me weird? That’s rhetorical by the way. Enquiring minds want to know.



  20. Brent Grider
    8:24 am June 29, 2015 Permalink

    This is one of the finest pieces that has ever been written on KSR. It takes a man to share his feelings this way. Freddie, I became a fan with your first “breakdown” of the football team, and I’m ever more of a fan now! Keep up the good work.



  21. El Guapo
    9:00 am June 29, 2015 Permalink

    This is probably the best thing I’ve ever read on here. A very realistic look into the behind the scenes, especially in that era. Thanks for writing this.



  22. kyle heavy
    9:04 am June 29, 2015 Permalink

    Great post. Thanks for sharing.



  23. Jimbob Bautista
    9:19 am June 29, 2015 Permalink

    What a great article…thanks Freddie!

    It’s funny, I was a pitcher in college, and I loved the games and everything about them. It’s amazing to hear how different my game day experience was compared to football. It makes sense though…football has so many more fans, and it’s so much more important to the people of Kentucky…the pressure has to be overwhelming.



  24. ClutchCargo
    9:47 am June 29, 2015 Permalink

    Freddie, you are exactly the way I thought you were when I was watching as a fan in the stands. I always appreciated the no b.s. style and heart you showed as a player, and now you’re bringing it as a writer for KSR. The “slider” comment took me back to those days. I was in the UK band and one of my buddies I sat beside was a die-hard UF football fan from Florida. The first time he saw you deliver a hit instead of avoiding contact you won him over, and that saying something.



  25. PT Hutcherson
    10:08 am June 29, 2015 Permalink

    That was a great look from the players perspective. Thank Freddie!



  26. Kristen Arnett
    9:10 pm June 29, 2015 Permalink

    Great read Freddie! YOU ROCK!!!



  27. Michigan mike
    9:40 pm June 29, 2015 Permalink

    One of the most original, truthful and heartfelt submissions to this blog I have read in quite some time. The bittersweet memories you have of this time in your life were a joy to read. Thanks for sharing.