Yesterday, my girlfriend and I opted to take in the first half of UK’s matchup with the Missouri Tigers inside the grandstand at Keeneland. Seating near one of the few TVs airing football instead of horse racing was hard to come by, but eventually, we settled into a corner table just as Chance Poore put the Cats on the board 3-0 early in the 1st quarter. A few pretzel bites and dollar bets later, I was watching in disgust as a bougie mob of apparent Mizzou fans gathered at the bar top table adjacent to ours. They reveled in Kentucky’s scoring woes, and were ecstatic when it seemed the Drew Lock led Tiger offense had cracked the elusive code of UK’s stifling defense leading up to halftime.
By that point, I had basically seen enough. Sure, the deficit was only 11, nothing if not surmountable, but I just couldn’t stomach watching the Cats stumble their way out of SEC East contention before they even got their proper opportunity against Georgia. As Keeneland’s Fall Meet came to a close, we left the track for dinner, even avoiding checking in on the game’s status via radio. Accept the loss now, I thought to myself, and the disappointment later will be much more tolerable.
It wasn’t until we were seated at the restaurant that I got my next update on the game: the Cats were now down only 5, and they had the ball. But before I could even entertain the idea of hope returning to my mind, Terry Wilson threw a deep interception, the Cats first turnover of the night. There it is, I thought. The nail in the proverbial coffin. UK’s defense did their job though, as usual, and the ball was back in Terry’s hands with less than 2 minutes to play. With 81 yards to go, I was still skeptical. Time wouldn’t allow for Old Reliable Benny Snell to handle the workload on this drive. Either Touchdown Terry would earn his nickname, or Kentucky would fall in Columbia.
In what seemed like the blink of an eye, the Cats were actually within reasonable scoring distance. The clock management was stellar, and Terry overcame a pair of sacks to lead UK down the field to the Mizzou 10 yard line. Now, the restaurant we were in was no KSBar, but there were still fans huddled beneath TV screens, teeth chattering as the offense got into formation. Once the pass interference call was made, the diners fell into a hush, most understanding that this final untimed down was for the whole enchilada (even though we were at a sushi joint).
The cheers and claps abounded when CJ Conrad snagged the game winning catch and tumbled through the end zone. I’d be willing to be that was the scene at pretty much every Lexington restaurant at that moment, though I’m sure KSBar was probably the loudest. It’s funny how quickly hope returns once momentum starts to fall back your way; once Lynn Bowden was able to scramble into the red zone and out of bounds, all my pessimism had left the building. I was able to enjoy that final play with the same fervor as if I had been glued to the screen all game long. I’m not great with chopsticks anyway, but after that play, it probably looked more like I was tracing cursive in the air than eating sushi with how much my hands were shaking.
Yet, I still feel a little guilty. I shouldn’t have given up so soon on a team that, thus far this season, has given the BBN very little reason to do so. I’m sure there are those of you out there who did the same. If so, I’d ask you to do exactly what I plan to on November 3rd: if you were lucky enough to get a ticket, go to Kroger Field and cheer like the season depends on it. If you’re staying home, if the game is still within reach, keep the faith. UK vs. UGA is set up to be among the most important games in Kentucky football history. I don’t plan to look away this time.
Oh, how I wish I could’ve seen those Keeneland-invading Mizzou fans’ faces just a couple hours later. They probably downed half the bourbon in the Bluegrass last night. What a time to be a Cats fan.