You’ve said it, I’ve said it, any Kentucky football fan that’s watched a game over the last 50 years has said it.
“That’s so Kentucky football.”
The self-deprecating mantra has become a motto of sorts for Kentucky football fans over the years, a quip we exchange to soothe the sting of particularly painful moments. “That’s so Kentucky Football” usually means the team has found a way to shoot itself in the foot, and by uttering those four words, we can detach ourselves a little bit from the bitter, heartbreaking reality of irrelevance.
I’ve been sitting on this column for a week. After watching Kentucky find a way to beat Mississippi State — a game during which I turned to Nick Roush and said, “That’s so Kentucky football” more times than I can count — I really wanted to retire the phrase; however, what would be more Kentucky football than me writing a whole post about how we need to stop saying it and then them losing to Missouri? Thankfully (and appropriately), this team proved me right and not only took care of business in Columbia, but did so in convincing fashion, beating the Tigers 35-21 to move one win closer to bowl eligibility. This isn’t September’s Kentucky football. Somehow, some way, the Cats turned an abysmal 0-2 start into a 5-3 season. I can’t believe it either.
While “That’s so Kentucky football” has been a cruel comfort to fans over the years, I’m not sure I realized what an insult it was to the players until I discussed it with Freddie Maggard on my podcast last week. I mean, I get it; your fanbase joking that heartbreak is a routine can’t be fun, but as I’ve watched this Kentucky football team band together, I’ve realized just how wrong I was. Right now, this Kentucky football couldn’t be further from the Kentucky football we’ve mocked season after season.
What’s so Kentucky football right now? Fighting for your coach and your teammates, even when 90% of the fanbase (including this blogger right here) wrote you off. I never thought I’d say it, but “so Kentucky football” is the opposite of the punchline itself; it’s resiliency and determination when the going gets tough.
I’m woman enough to admit that I was wrong. When Kentucky lost to Southern Miss and Florida in demoralizing fashion AND lost Drew Barker to injury, I thought this team was done. I thought Kentucky football would assume the traditional stance of fetal position under the desk and let the pain wash over. I’ve never been so happy to be wrong. Instead of ducking and embracing its fate, this team rallied around its coach and fought for its life. He may not be perfect, but Stephen Johnson is 5-1 as Kentucky’s quarterback, and his cool, calm demeanor has rubbed off on this squad. For once in our lives, Kentucky is winning games on the ground, with two of the program’s best running backs in Boom Williams and Benny Snell rolling over folks with the help of a powerful offensive line. Yes, the SEC East is down, but for a Kentucky football program that’s currently in second place for the first time since who knows when, does that even matter?
A lot of fans are lamenting about what could have been if Kentucky hadn’t lost to Southern Miss; however, I would argue that this team wouldn’t be what it is without that loss. In fact — this may sound insane — I don’t think this group would be what it is without hitting rock bottom after 45-7 Florida blowout. We all remember the rumors that swirled around the team before the South Carolina game; it was an ugly, ugly moment to be a Kentucky fan, one that prompted Mark Stoops to grab his guys by the collar and look into the whites of their eyes, challenging them to prove the world — including their own fanbase — wrong. That team took the challenge to heart, and since, has gone 5-1, the only loss being a pretty respectable one to the number one team in the country. Right now, Kentucky’s sitting in second in the SEC East, and although it would take Florida losing twice and the Cats beating Georgia and Tennessee to go to Atlanta, the fact that we’re even discussing the probability is insane.
The best part about all this is the part that used to terrify us: the season’s not over yet. The snowball effect that used to bury the Cats is now buoying them; Kentucky’s confidence is blooming behind a rolling offense and a surprisingly stout defense. After back-to-back seasons with five wins and no bowl, we’ve been here before, but if Kentucky can’t beat an 0-8 Austin Peay team to clinch bowl eligibility for the first time since 2010, well, that would be so Kentucky foot–
Nope, not gonna do it. Not when fans gather at the airport to meet the team after a huge road win, a tradition normally reserved for the basketball team’s tournament wins. Not when Boom Williams goes for 180 yards despite getting his bell rung. Not when Benny Snell breaks Randall Cobb’s record for the most touchdowns by a freshman in UK Football history. Not when I’ve grown to love this team so, so much.
– UK Stoops Troops (@UKStoopsTroops) October 29, 2016
In that spirit, you know what would be so Kentucky football? Packing the house vs. Georgia and pulling off the upset. Then going to Tennessee and — well, I’ll slow down.
First things first, but man, I forgot how fun it is to dream. Right now, that’s so Kentucky football.