The Goat and the Lamb

The Goat and the Lamb

The 2019 Belk Bowl just might end up being one of my all-time favorite UK Football experiences. In order to preserve those exciting memories, I’m posting the column I wrote immediately afterwards. Storybook endings always have heroes. Here are two of my favorites.

Belk Bowl Bliss! – By Dr. John Huang

Lynn Bowden, Kash Daniel, lead Kentucky to symbolic Belk Bowl victory

(Charlotte, Nc.) – Kentucky’s 37-30 victory over Virginia Tech was a heck of a drama-producing bowl game. Anyone tuning in witnessed the stuff legends are made of.

THE GOAT, THE DRIVE—whatever else you want to call it—Lynn Bowden, Jr. deserves all the accolades. He’s the GOAT (the greatest of all time). Put him immediately on the Mt. Rushmore of Wildcat Football glory. Kentucky’s all-purpose quarterback-by-default this season did what legends do. He came, he fought, and he conquered the 2019 Belk Bowl.

Bowden’s crowning achievement was punctuated by another out-of-this-world stat line: 34 carries for 233 yards and 2 touchdowns on the ground; an additional 6 of 12 passes for 73 yards through the air. And yes…there was that final game-winning 13-yard toss to Josh Ali with only 15 ticks left on the clock.

You really couldn’t write a better storybook ending. With his team trailing 30-24 and 8:25 left in the game, Bowden leads his team down the field on an epic 18-play, 85-yard, 8 minute and 10 second drive that will surely go down as one of the greatest in UK Football lore. As the precious few seconds ticked away—and as everyone and their brother was thinking he would run—Bowden surprised everyone with his perfect touch pass towards the back of the end zone.

“Y’all said I couldn’t throw,” said the Belk Bowl MVP, chiding the media afterwards.

Although the game kicked off at noon on New Year’s Eve, the fireworks had started way before that. First there was the dust-up at the Charlotte Motor Speedway between Bowden and several Hokie players. That led to the pregame scuffle where Bowden admittedly threw a punch that was caught on camera.

“It’s a lot of emotion,” Bowden confessed. “I could have hurt my team and not been out there tonight with them, so I just apologized to my program, my teammates. We respect Virginia Tech. And if I could go back, I wouldn’t do it. But it’s in the past. You know, champion.”

Champion indeed. With the victory, Kentucky (8-5) ends the year on a four-game winning streak for the first time since 1977. The Wildcats win at least eight games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2006-07. They also earn a bowl victory in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the team won three straight from 2006-08.

If Lynn Bowden is the GOAT, then surely Kash Daniel must be the LAMB. I’m not sure I’ve seen any other UK player sacrifice personal glory for the good of the team than the Paintsville native did this past year. For whatever reasons, Kash went from highly exalted team leader to sacrificial afterthought just when Bowden’s star began its rise. It was perplexing when fans suddenly started calling him out for his supposed deficiencies on the field. “He shouldn’t be playing ahead of so and so,” the people cried out. “He’s nothing but a glorified hype man,” they mocked.

If confession is good for the soul, then Kash should be a beacon of virtue. The senior linebacker seemed to be especially critical of himself as he reflected on the end of his UK career.

“I never claimed myself to be a good player—a great player,” he admitted. “I never talked about myself when I’ve done anything good. I’ve always been critical of myself and how I can always get better. I’ve never been that athletic. I’m probably one of the least athletic dudes on this defense. I’m not that fast. Trust me, I get it. People tell me that all the time. I get it.”

Fittingly, Daniel led the defensive effort against Virginia Tech with eight tackles—proving once again that some things are more important than outright athleticism. Of course, winning teams need superstar talents like Lynn Bowden. But they also need selfless teammates like Kash Daniel.

“I want Kentucky fans just to know that I gave everything I had,” Daniel said. But if all I’m remembered as is a media clown and a hype guy, then I think I’ve failed. I just hope people think of me as a hard-working player who always gave everything he had. Played hurt, played sick, played everything.”

The GOAT has delivered, the LAMB has given his all, and KENTUCKY is Belk Bowl Champion.

Dr. John Huang is a regular columnist for Nolan Group Media. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at www.huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.

 

Racism Revisited

Racism Revisited

A couple of recent events got me thinking about the sensitive issue of race.

The first occurred on Christmas Day when I watched “Reggie Warford: Fight of His Life.” Although the inspirational documentary zeroed in on Reggie’s current life-threatening health issues, much of the story chronicled his early battles with racism. As the first African American basketball player to graduate from the University of Kentucky in 1976, Reggie endured the many slings and arrows as “the loneliest athlete in America.”

The second event occurred just a couple of days ago with the passing of Houston Hogg. Hogg, who played football at the University of Kentucky from 1967-70, together with his African American teammates, broke the Southeastern Conference color barrier—thus paving the way for thousands of other athletes to follow.

Both Reggie and Houston were pioneers of integration, forever changing the landscape of sports in America. Because UK Basketball and Football have been such a big part of my life, I’m indebtedly grateful for their courage and sacrifice in making UK Athletics what it is today. I can’t imagine what it was like for either Reggie or Houston as they navigated through the prejudices and turmoil of the 60s and 70s. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I never really knew their stories or felt their pain.

There aren’t many issues in the world more divisive than ones involving race. It’s always been that way—at least in my lifetime. Growing up in the sixties, the battles over civil rights, school segregation, and affirmative action dominated the news headlines. In the nineties, the OJ Simpson saga had the entire nation polarized, as well as mesmerized. Even today, the specter of black versus white lies deceptively camouflaged, springing to life disguised as arguments involving police brutality and the appropriateness of kneeling during the national anthem.

In my personal experience, there are two segments of American society where outright racism lies comparatively dormant—the military and sports. Having served in the armed forces, I’ve seen people of every color work cohesively to support the mission at hand. In my role as a sportswriter, I’ve also seen the undeniable bond between teammates, regardless of their race or ethnicity.

But even in those realms, one would be extremely naïve to believe that prejudice is totally non-existent. The reality is that racism remains everywhere, often rearing its ugly head when you least expect it, forcing you to repeatedly re-examine the undeniable truth in our own Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal.”

Within our own beloved Big Blue Nation, Kentucky Basketball fans pride themselves on being one big unified family. Yet one of the most divisive issues among the rabid fan base is still whether Adolph Rupp was a racist. The Baron of the Bluegrass, the man in the brown suit, the winningest coach of the program with the greatest tradition in the history of college basketball still gets eviscerated every time the race question gets brought up.

Why didn’t he recruit African American players—especially those in-state athletes so close to home? Why didn’t he cultivate a relationship with Dunbar High School’s late great African American coach S.T. Roach? What about Rupp’s allegedly overt racist halftime rant as recounted by Frank DeFord of Sports Illustrated?

For the many that have written about and pointed an accusatory finger at Coach Rupp, just as many have come to his defense. There’s a vocal majority—including many of his former players—who swear the stories implying bigotry and prejudice were either distorted or taken completely out of context. Ardent Wildcat fans cringe at the very thought of always being portrayed as the villain in the notebook of revisionist history.

Understandably, the truth remains clouded. Adolph Rupp was a product of those turbulent times. Stereotypes, societal prejudices, and even the law of the land screamed “inequality.” People spoke, thought, and reasoned differently than they do today. How else can you explain “separate but equal”, the use of blackface, and smart and experienced broadcasters such as Howard Cosell making egregious racial on-air slurs? That doesn’t necessarily absolve people of blame, but it does give you a reason for understanding why they acted as they did.

At the risk of contracting foot-in-mouth disease, I’ll readily admit I have no earthly idea what it’s like to be African American—just like most of you have no idea what it’s like to be Asian. I can tell you several instances in my life where I faced outright derision and discrimination. There were also numerous times well-meaning acquaintances made what they thought were innocent or funny quips regarding my heritage that I deemed insensitive and hurtful. My point being that we just don’t know what it’s like until we’ve walked a mile in someone else’s shoes.

I’d like to think that I don’t harbor any prejudices toward anyone. The reality, however, is that we all are influenced by the stereotypes of the era in which we grew up, lived, and breathed. How you thought, spoke, and acted in the 60s, 70s, or 80s was different than how you live, speak, and act today. What’s really important is what’s in your heart.

Muhammad Ali once said, “A man who views the world at fifty the same as he did at twenty has wasted thirty years of his life.”

Was Adolph Rupp a racist? I think the more appropriate question is “would Adolph Rupp be a racist in today’s day and age?”

I’d like to think not, but no one knows for sure what was in the Baron’s heart. What we do know is that racism and discrimination, in any way, shape, or form, is WRONG—and runs counter to the biblical truths instilled in us by our Creator.

If you’ve ever harbored feelings of superiority or arrogance because of the color of your own skin, there’s only one solution for you. SIMPLY BE BETTER! Go out of your way to view the world from the other person’s perspective. Be forever thankful for the sacrifices made by people like Reggie Warford and Houston Hogg who blazed those perilous trails.

Most importantly, examine your own heart. Extend grace to someone who has wronged you. Deliver mercy to those who have suffered.

And finally, if needed, ask God for forgiveness…and while you’re at it, please say a prayer for Reggie, Houston, and all their families.

If you enjoy my writing, please drop me a note at KYHuangs@aol.com, or follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.

A Good Man Down

A Good Man Down

For most of us, involvement in sports is a pleasant distraction. Cheering on our favorite teams and rooting for our heroes cushions the slings and arrows of everyday life. Who doesn’t look forward to Saturdays in the fall—those sacred times of respite from that dead-end job or nagging spouse?

Occasionally, however, the pain and hardship of the real and sporting worlds collide. When athletes suffer debilitating injuries, it suddenly dawns on us how real and vulnerable they are. They battle with many of the same emotions and worries that we deal with. The big difference is that they’ve potentially lost their livelihood, and their battles are frequently fought on the public stage.

It seems like every year, the UK Football team has had to deal with a debilitating preseason injury. This year, it was safety DaVonte Robinson with a quad injury. Last year, it was offensive lineman Landon Young with a torn ACL.

“If you play this sport, it’s going to happen to you at some point or another if you play long enough,” said head coach Mark Stoops. “So it’s very hard because those guys put a lot of work in. They put a lot of work in for a lot of years for only so many opportunities.”

Debilitating injuries are bad enough, but it’s the ravaging illnesses that really get my goat—that make me question my worldview of life as defined by my Christian faith. You look at the cancers that coach John Schlarman and linebacker Josh Paschal are dealing with—and you just can’t help asking “WHY?”

Now we have the situation with UK golfer Cullan Brown. Just two short months ago, Cullan was on top of the world. As a newly minted freshman on the Wildcat Golf team, he made the cut in his first professional tournament at the Barbasol Championship. His engaging personality and infectious grin were contagious. He made everybody around him feel good. His interviews were already becoming legendary. He had game too. I couldn’t wait to cover the exploits of this burgeoning superstar from Eddyville.

All that changed this week when we heard the scary diagnosis. Cullen has osteosarcoma, a rare form of bone cancer that can be deadly. It was discovered in his left leg, but apparently was found early enough that his doctors feel it is “fully treatable and beatable.” That’s certainly good news–but with cancer, you just never know.

If anyone can beat this thing, it’ll be Cullan. But he can’t do it alone. He and his family covet your prayers. They also welcome your donations to help with medical expenses at

https://www.gofundme.com/f/birdies-for-brownie?utm_source=customer&utm_medium=copy_link&utm_campaign=p_cp+share-sheet

What do you say to someone like Cullan or Josh who’s facing such immense challenges entering the prime of their life?

“We support them, that’s for sure,” said Coach Stoops. “We support them and encourage them and go sit with them and talk with them, but there’s not, I don’t think there’s anything, any one thing you could say to somebody to make them feel a lot better.”

Hey Cullan, keep the faith—and know that all of BBN continues to cheer you on.

If you enjoy my writing, check out my columns on a brand new website called Justthecats.com or follow me on Twitter @KYHuangs.