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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.