(LEXINGTON, Ky.) – In the Commonwealth of Kentucky, nothing stokes the fires of passion more than a highly ranked basketball team. This year’s no different as John Calipari has once again reloaded his roster for another championship run. Most preseason rankings have the Wildcats near or at the top of the polls. If the Blue-White scrimmage was any indication—then death, taxes, and the Basketball Cats being good are certainties that have become par for the course.
But whoa—look what else is good this year. Kentucky Football is now 6-1 and in the hunt for an elusive SEC crown. A victory next week against the Missouri Tigers sets up a titanic showdown with the Georgia Bulldogs that might just determine who plays for the league title in Atlanta. For True Blue Kentucky fans, this is rarefied air. For since when have both basketball and football been this good together at the exact same time?
The closest it’s ever come in my lifetime was back in the 1977-78 season when the basketball team won the National Championship while the football team went 10-1. “Goose” Givens and teammates were the big men on campus in ’78. Unfortunately, Art Still and the gridiron Cats were on probation the year before, so there was never really a chance for two-pronged postseason prominence.
How about…in 1984? The football team, coached by Jerry Claiborne, achieved a #19 national ranking, while their basketball brethren, under Joe B. Hall made it to another Final Four. As much as we all enjoyed that year, Hall of Fame Bowl victories over Wisconsin and flameouts to Georgetown in the national semifinals just won’t quite cut the mustard for all-time runs.
How about…in 1998? Tubby’s Comeback Cats won the title in San Antonio that spring, while Tim Couch and the football team played in the Outback Bowl on the following New Year’s Day? National Championship #7 in basketball certainly fit the bill, but a 7-5 football season and a bowl game loss really can’t qualify for the best of all time.
How about 2007-08, you say? For long-suffering football fan bases, upsets against #1 ranked teams such as LSU don’t come along very often, nor do all-time studs like Andre’ Woodson, Rafael Little, Keenan Burton, and Jacob Tamme. But neither do UK basketball coaches like Billy Gillispie. Enough said about that one.
So, how about…never? Usually by the time Big Blue Madness rolls around, the football team has unceremoniously self-destructed. Leaves changing color and clocks rolling back are sure fire signals for rabid Cat fans to head for the hardwood. Forget about tailgating and touchdowns. Bring on dazzling dunks and Dan Dakich. Come Halloween, football becomes an afterthought as basketball reigns supreme.
Success in both sports? Truth be told, it’s what we’ve been waiting for all these years. Whether Benny or Brad, C.J. or PJ, Terry or Tyler, Kentucky fans have been aching for such long-awaited prosperity. Must-win football games week after week intermingled with impending basketball Armageddon with Duke is a veritable dream come true. Throw in a few swaggy head coach press conferences, some animated radio call-in shows, and some spirited practice highlight videos and you’ve got the makings of a Big Blue November nuclear meltdown. My ticker can’t handle such an all-out, twofold assault.
Can such dual success happen here at Kentucky? Sure it can—but it’s rare for both football and basketball to be good at any school for any consistent period of time. In this century, the University of Florida is the only school to have won a national title in each. For the record, the Gators have two apiece. Ohio State, Wisconsin, Oklahoma, Louisville, and Michigan State are in hot pursuit, also laying claim to dual sport affluence.
Kentucky Basketball can win it all for sure this year, but it’s WAY too much of a stretch to think the Football Cats are in the hunt for a national crown. Or is it? For the moment, just guarantee me a spot against the Crimson Tide in Catlanta, and you won’t hear me whining about football ever again. The point being that it’s rare we get to enjoy such a one-two punch this late into the Stoops’ Troop season with such high expectations still looming for Calipari’s Cats.
Enjoy this ride of a lifetime, Wildcat fans. Take it from me—savor these precious moments. As much as I hate to say it, past history indicates that this might be as good as it gets for a long, long time.
Dr. John Huang is a columnist for Nolan Media Group and a lifelong Wildcat fan. 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 or 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