(GAINESVILLE, Fl.) – Where were you the night of September 8, 2018? Like the moon landing, the Challenger explosion, and the Laettner shot, all of BBN will now remember where they were and who they were with when Kentucky Football finally broke the interminable 31-year losing streak against those haughty Florida Gators.
Hopefully you were either at the game or watching on TV late Saturday night as the Wildcats exorcised the ghosts of heartbreaks past by finally capturing that elusive win. You knew the streak had to end sometime, right? After all, who loses thirty-two games in a row to anybody in anything?
For all their loyal, die-hard, never-say-quit fans, “Kentucky 27, Florida 16” never sounded so sweet. To any and all who have suffered through those last-second Florida touchdowns, those ever-present botched coverages, those mysterious phantom penalties, those inopportune turnovers, that bizarrely frustrating clock management, or those inexplicable extra celestial meltdowns—this one’s for you.
Enjoy it—because it’s arguably one of the greatest victories in UK Football lore. Granted, as with any emotional win, we’ll need the benefit of hindsight to rightfully judge. But looking back, will this streak buster be the biggest win ever in program history?
“It was a great win, a breath of fresh air no doubt, dramatically needed for Mark Stoops era,” said Oscar Combs, the torchbearer for chronicling UK sports in my lifetime as a fan. “But I’d like to think wins over No. 1 ranked teams and Top 10 victories are bigger. If this should spur UK to a history-making season in 2018, I would agree. Games left to play yet.”
Larry Vaught, another giant of Kentucky sports journalism weighed in similarly. “It was big, but that win over eventual national champion LSU was big too,” he said.
Either way, I’m sure Larry and Oscar would agree that debating momentous UK victories beats the heck out of arguing about soul-deflating defeats.
For me personally, my trip down to Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium was a life altering experience. As a long-suffering Kentucky football fan, I was fully expecting ground zero of Gator Nation to be a life-draining experience. However, in a completely unexpected twist of fate, the Wildcat’s upset over heavily favored Florida at “The Swamp” morphed into a night that karma came a knocking. It sucked the life right out of the Gator football team and sent a large segment of Gator Nation into a dungeon of despair. “Well, there’s always basketball and baseball,” said one dejected fan leaving the stadium.
I don’t mean to gloat—but remember—these are the same fans, when asked over the years what they respected about Kentucky Football, disdainfully replied, “Punting and tailgating.” Well, a mid-afternoon torrential downpour kept the tailgating in check, putting a definite damper on those dismissive fans anticipating another mouth-watering Wildcat barbecue. As they filed out of the stadium in utter humiliation, their Tim Tebow statue stood sentinel-like, silently apoplectic over the Cat’s current coronation.
Immediately after the final horn sounded, I high-tailed it down for the postgame celebration. It’s usually hot and humid at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, often unbearably so. The iconic structure was originally built in a sinkhole, so the playing field is below ground level. Steep stands ratchet up on nearly all sides, trapping not only the heat and humidity, but the crowd noise inside the stadium as well. On this glorious night, as Benny Snell, Jr. saluted the crowd, only Kentucky faithful were left making any noise. With temperatures in the mid-seventies and a refreshing tropical breeze, the setting was magical (and the punting still sublime).
There’s nothing like the feeling of redemption after these big wins. Unfortunately for Kentucky football fans, those feelings are too few and far between. So, whether you’re gloating, reveling, or just downright giddy, savor it thoroughly because—as we all know—there may not be another one for a while. But realize also, it’s only because we’re Wildcat football fans that these seminal moments remain so scintillating. It’s impossible to feel the ecstasy unless you’ve fully experienced our agony.
Benny said it best at the postgame presser, summing up the emotions of a euphoric Big Blue Nation. “There’s no feeling like this,” he gushed. “During the week, I was just thinking about the moment the game ended—all the fans leaving. It was what I dreamed about, you know what I’m saying? It was the best feeling in the world. I can barely talk, I’m so happy.”
Me too, Benny. So much so that I’m going dancing in “The Swamp.”
How Kentucky responds from here will ultimately determine the significance of this win. For a team that can still lose to anybody remaining on the schedule, the upcoming home game versus Murray State is about as automatic as a win can get. The Racers come in at 0-2, having lost to Southern Illinois 49-10 and Central Arkansas 26-13. They’ll be no let down on Saturday, as there’s just way too much at stake for the season at hand. Kentucky 43, Murray State 10.
Dr. John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Group Media. He’s currently working with former LEX18 sportscaster Alan Cutler on his new book. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com. Be sure to follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.
Check out his most recent UK Sports coverage at http://www.themanchesterenterprise.com/category/uk-live-breathe-blue/
Check out his most recent Cincinnati Bengals and other professional sports coverage at http://www.bluegrasssportsnation.com/category/writers/john-huang