Every Friday from now until football season, I give this post up to you. You give me your favorite, most memorable, funniest, saddest, whatever story related to UK athletics. It doesn’t have to be any minimum length although the person who send me a 1-sentence post probably will not make it. But I just want the story that you always tell your friends or means the most to you. You don’t have to use your name. Just send it to me at [email protected]
I never attended UK, but my dad was born and raised in Kentucky. When my brother and I came along, it was instilled in us that there were two things that really mattered in life…going to church on Sunday’s and listening to Caywood call Kentucky ballgames. The rest was just details. My brother and I lived for Kentucky basketball from the time we were born. But unfortunately my brother passed away 17 years ago this past May 16th. He died of a cancerous brain tumor at the young age of 34. But the Kentucky Wildcats gave him one of the most memorable going away gifts that he could have ever dreamed of.
As the story goes….My brother was having severe headaches and went to the doctor one Friday afternoon. The doctor discovered a tumor and scheduled him for emergency surgery the next morning. There was concern that the tumor had gotten so big that he may not make it through the night. That next morning was a Saturday in March 1998 that Kentucky was scheduled to play Stanford in the semi-finals of the NCAA tournament. As they were wheeling him back to surgery at 7 that morning, I was walking beside his bed. He then asked me, “Do you think they’ll be done with me in time for me to see the game this afternoon?” I said, “Oh yeah, I’m sure” while thinking if he survives the surgery, he probably won’t know where he is for a few days. He was in surgery for 7 ½ hours. Afterwards, he was in ICU and they told us we could see him. His wife and I were the first to go in. He was lying there with tubes running in him everywhere and I, searching for something to say, asked “do you need anything?” In a weak voice he replied, “Yeah a TV, I want to see that ballgame.” I told the nurses and they turned the TV on and found the ballgame.” Kentucky won the game in Double Overtime. Later that night, about 2 in the morning, I went in to see about him. I asked how he was feeling and he replied, “Pretty rough, I think that double overtime about did me in.” He still has his humor and was so pleased that Kentucky had won.
In the days to come, Kentucky won the tournament. But every game was a struggle and they had to come from behind to win each one. Afterwards, the team was nicknamed the “Comeback Cats.” But it was much more than a National Championship to me, it was seeing how much it lifted the spirits of my brother. In the midst of his pain and diagnosis that he would probably not live a year, he was on top of the world because of the Big Blue. So the more I thought about it, the more I wanted to share the story with Coach Tubby Smith. A couple of days after the tournament victory, I wrote him a letter and sent it UK Athletic Dept. I told him how the “Comeback Cats” had lifted the spirits of this “Comeback Kid.” I told him the story of the TV in ICU and how we never know in all walks of life how we touch others when we don’t even know it. I never told anybody I wrote the letter, but it was just something I wanted to do.
Within a week after I had sent the letter and Kyle had returned home from the hospital, he called me in excitement. He said, “You’re not going to believe this!!! There was a knock at my door and I went only to find a UPS package. I opened it and there is a note, along with a National Championship shirt and cap signed “Best wishes. Get well soon. Coach Tubby Smith.” He says, “ I have no idea how he even knew anything was wrong with me.” I said, “I told him. I wrote him a note.” He says, “Yeah, Right you did!” So I don’t know if he ever believed me or not, but it doesn’t matter. He framed both the cap and the shirt and cherished them both until the day he died.
And then to top it off, several weeks later the UK Athletic Dept contacted me and wanted to know how he was doing. I explained the situation and they expressed their concern again. So even though I never went to school at UK, I’m a fan for life. I follow all Kentucky sports, but Kentucky basketball is like family to me and I’ll always have a special place in my heart for Tubby Smith.
Thanks for the opportunity to share,