UK superfan Beatty London was Kentucky’s good luck charm at Florida and then at Missouri earlier this season, so he went down to Tennessee to see if he had any more luck for the Cats. Unfortunately, his luck ran out as the Cats were unable to beat the Vols. Here’s his story from the trip.
The writing was on the wall…
Thursday night before the Tennessee game, I met a UK football staff member and his friends at KSBar. He was giving me 3 tickets to the game. Earlier in the week I had sent a text message to two UK Football coaches that said something like: “Hey Coach, this tough loss in no way changes the fact that this is still an amazing season and I look forward to my 1st trip to Neyland Stadium to watch the CATS whoop UT.”
Unfortunately neither of those coaches responded so I was excited to get some scoop about the CATS from a “man on the inside.” I congratulated the staff member about Wandale and he told me how Wandale and his friends were scrambling at the last minute to reshoot his video so that it would show UK instead of Nebraska. He also hinted to some very promising news of a future recruit that he really didn’t want to let the word get out because he wanted the kid to have his moment. I couldn’t help but notice that he looked exhausted and one of his friends said, “This is the first time in a while I’ve seen you off work before 10 pm.” Even though he was noticeably tired, I had to ask him about the morale of the team after the Georgia loss so I said,
“Has the team bounced back from the Georgia loss? Are they focused and ready to beat Tennessee?”
He replied with the usual “coach’s answer” saying yes the team was ready but his body language told a different story. I know that no SEC team should be overlooked but I didn’t get the feeling that he or the staff was confident about the game. I made the remark “this could be the first time we beat Florida, Tennessee, and Louisville in the same year” and he quickly replied “Let’s hope so” while at the same time knocking on the wooden dinner table. Hmmm? Oh well, I shrugged it off because I knew how happy he was to have a break from work.
I left Lexington at 11 am with my stepson Jordan and his friend Keola. Due to 40 degree weather and the fact that I didn’t have a parking pass, I decided to attend the Knoxville UK Alumni Club pre-game event at Scruffy City Hall in Market Square and take a $10 shuttle to the game. I knew I wouldn’t be able to make the Cat Walk so I convinced my good friend Jason (who I’ve known since middle school) and his wife to go. They had a parking pass and were spending the whole weekend in Knoxville. Market Square in downtown Knoxville is a neat cluster of shops, a park, restaurants, and bars. There was a farmer’s market closing up when we arrived at 1:30 pm and fans of both teams were enjoying the atmosphere. Scruffy City Hall was an interesting place. It had a small bar upstairs with a patio and downstairs there was another small bar and eating area, and in the very back was a stage that had theatre style balcony seating. I asked some KY fans about the pizza and they said it was thin crust and delicious. I was hungry and eager to get something in my stomach before drinking. I asked the boys if they wanted pizza and instead they chose Subway which was just across from us. I didn’t mind because instead of paying for drinks I could now pour my Blanton’s (that was tucked away under blankets in my clear UK Bag) in a fountain cup. The line was long, the wait was long, but my footlong Spicy Italian and brown water more than made up for it!
Off to the shuttle…
We arrived at the stadium at 3:04 pm. Remember the scene in the movie Gladiator when Russell Crowe and his legion of gladiators first rolled up to the Coliseum? That’s how I felt when I first saw Neyland Stadium. I saved the last shot of Blanton’s for my friend Jason and immediately asked him “How was the Cat Walk?” He was kind of disappointed and explained how the set up could have been better. He told me how most of the UK fans were at the top of the hill when 5 busses pulled in and drove down the hill. The first 3 busses had the players but unfortunately were the farthest from the fans. The last two busses had boosters and VIP so most of the players exiting the bus went straight into the stadium and didn’t really interact or acknowledge the fans. I asked my stepson to take a pic of us before we went in. A drunk UK fan stumbled up and put his arm around me and tried to get in the picture. I convinced him he wasn’t appreciated. I was proud to see so many UK fans make the trip. We were ready to end the losing streak at Neyland Stadium. The game wasn’t a sell out but there had to be at least 85,000 in attendance. Our seats were in the UK section directly behind the UK Band and to the side of the end zone. Jason and his wife sat front row, in Tennessee territory, directly behind the same end zone. We located each other rather easily. I made a game prediction of 14-0 hoping UK’s defense would shut Tennessee out so I wouldn’t have to listen to them sing Rocky Top. When it comes to sound systems, Tennessee probably has the biggest set of speakers in the nation, as you could feel the bass when they played music. The sun started to shine on our section and the 40 degree weather didn’t feel that cold after all.
It turns out I was sitting in front of one of the UK defensive coaches’ sons. I didn’t ask who his dad was but I heard one of his friend’s say ” Your dad is screaming at the defense.” I enjoyed talking about the game with those young fellas. Beside me were some VIPs and Boosters who had field passes and other friends of the UK staff member who gave me tickets. I knew Tennessee was desperate for a win and since their coach just left Alabama, he would have that team motivated with the right mind state. I didn’t mind hearing Rocky Top after their opening field goal as I told the people around me “as long as we don’t give up any touchdowns.”
The second quarter was much more disheartening. We were trying to figure out why the guys were playing so flat. Even though we weren’t in contention for the SEC championship, I was hoping the guys would continue to have the “MIND STATE OF A CHAMPION.” After Tennessee scored their first touchdown, one of the friends of the UK staff member told me that the team didn’t have good body language at the Cat Walk and they didn’t look hyped up for the game. His friend beside him echoed the same sentiment which made me wonder if the CATS were really ready to compete.
I was dumfounded that we didn’t target CJ Conrad in the first half. One of the same guys said that he was talking to CJ recently and Conrad had made a comment like “I asked the coaches to start looking for me more.” I agreed with the statement wholeheartedly. I mean the kid is going to be a big time draft pick, looking for him at least once or twice in the first half seems like a no brainer.
Tennessee’s touchdown to end the half shocked me. We weren’t looking like the #12 team in the nation at all. Down 17 points at halftime I decided to go meet up with my friend Jason and talk about the game.
This felt different than Missouri. Tennessee fans were much rowdier and much louder. I knew I couldn’t lose faith but I just couldn’t understand why we couldn’t put up any points in the first half. I know Stoops tried to downplay the losing streak but it is what it is. I know for a fact the team was thinking about the Florida streak before that game because every time I would see a player on campus and mention that I wanted to witness the streak end, their eyes would light up and they would get hype. How could that be too much pressure? We have too many seniors on this team and we are the #12 team in the country. The streak coupled with this amazing season we are having should be enough motivation to come out fired up. I was puzzled to say the least. While waiting on Jason, a girl from my high school recognized me and we shared our concern for the game but both assured each other UK would pull through. I struck up a conversation with another cat fan nearby. She told me that she and her hubby had been season ticket holders since 1985. We both shared our displeasure of the first half performance. She said that they had been to every game this year and that she wanted the football team to have success more than basketball. I agreed with her, after all, the basketball team has a long history of success, but we have to really relish football seasons like this because they have been so rare. By this time Jason shows up and tells me how he can’t believe our defensive backs didn’t try to knock the ball down instead of trying to intercept that last touchdown before halftime. He was sitting in Tennessee section and was becoming annoyed by all the trash talkers. I asked the lady what her name was, in which she replied “Pam” and I introduced myself as Beatty. With a big smile on her face she says “Beatty from the KSR articles?” I said yes ma’am as she expressed her gratitude for me sharing my fan experiences. We hugged and I asked Jason to take a pic of us and her husband John. Pam then asked me if I wanted some bourbon and since I wasn’t in any position to say no, I went to the nearest concession, got a cup, and her husband whipped out a flask. Boy do I love my fellow Wildcat fans!
Fueled up and ready for the start of the second half, I started telling the fans around me “the defense will get some turnovers, we’re going to be fine but we need to play with urgency.” I started yelling some of the same things from the Florida game “WHAT’S IN YOUR HEART KENTUCKY?, YOU GOT TO BELIEVE!!” I knew Stoops would get the troops motivated and make adjustments. I began to reiterate that we have to get Conrad involved in the game. It was now or never. I wanted so badly to beat Tennessee at their stadium. Everyone around me was fired up. I would wait for the stadium to quiet down and I would scream at the ref “Tennessee is holding #41 on every play!” Unfortunately it wasn’t enough. Tennessee’s running back broke down our sideline for a huge gain. Josh Allen got held and the boys behind me pointed out that some one else on our defense was held or blocked in the back. We looked up at the replay and were disgusted, two holds right in front of the referees! That run set up Tennessee’s third touchdown. Some UK fans started leaving. The teams body language was worsening. I can take losing, but being blown out as the #12 team in the country just didn’t make sense. I felt like the refs were serving up some good home cooking but that’s no excuse for not being able to score. Can we at least make the game respectable? And sure enough, at the end of the third… we scored!
The guys behind me said “You called it, they went to Conrad.” I thought to myself, “Stevie Wonder could see we needed to be using Conrad more.”
Once the fourth quarter started, I knew the defense was due a turnover, so I started screaming “Strip the ball, FUMBLE, TURNOVER!” I was praying that the defense would score or Lynn Bowden would run one back. We were running out of options and more importantly out of time. We didn’t capitalize on the two fumble recoveries and after Gunnar threw the last interception I told the boys it’s time to leave.
As we were walking out I watched Tennessee down the ball and let time run out. I didn’t even bother to find the same gate we entered because it was too difficult to fight the crowd so I followed the mob to the nearest exit. I heard a UT fan tell his girlfriend, “That’s the best game of the season.” I told the boys we may have to walk back because I couldn’t find the shuttle pick up after exiting on the other side of the stadium. It was dark and I couldn’t tell which way was downtown so I asked a nearby group of Tennessee fans and told them where I was parked. They told me I was headed in the right direction and to follow them. One of the guys in the group was listening to a Tennessee postgame show on his phone when he paused and gave me clear directions. I thanked him and then a girl in their group says to me, “You mean you aren’t going out to celebrate?” I thought to myself “Ha,Ha” then she says “Im just joking, we don’t win too often.” I told her it’s all good and me and the boys headed back. Later I called Jason and he said Tennessee fans were talking trash calling us a basketball school and bringing up the Duke game. I was glad he was with his wife Sunny because he isn’t the type to back down but I knew she wouldn’t let him get too worked up. I thanked him for meeting up with us at the game and told him to enjoy the rest of his weekend. I was eager to hear Matt’s postgame show and hear the fan reactions. Matt said something that really hit home when he talked about a great team doesn’t lose that game but a really good team, even if they lose, shouldn’t get dominated and that’s what was so frustrating.
I’m still proud of Kentucky Football and what the future holds… I’m just mad I can’t get this damn Rocky Top song out of my head at the moment. ?