Back in 1994, Rick Pitino had a basketball squad that pushed me to my limit as a fan. I followed them, screamed at them, loved them, grew frustrated with them and shook my head in disbelief at them. I can only imagine what it was like to coach them. They were an inconsistent bunch, and that is an understatement. Led by Travis Ford, who was an amazingly steady point guard, others on the team – like Rod Rhodes, a young Tony Delk, Walter McCarty in his first season and Jared Prickett, who could be injured for months – made up the core of what would eventually be Pitino’s greatest team. In ’94, however, they were suffering through injuries (notably to starting juco center Rodney Dent, who was on his way to becoming something special) and they were extremely young.
In the middle of the season the wheels had fallen off a bit, with the Cats dropping two in a row, the second to Syracuse in the Carrier Dome. I decided that was it. I’d had enough – and it wasn’t just that they’d lost, it was how they’d lost – no rhythm, no excitement or defense, etc.
And when UK traveled to LSU for another game I watched them just long enough to see them get behind by more than 20 in the first half. I was done. Off to bed. I’d written them off.
And then, as I slept, something magical began to happen. My stepfather sensed it first. He kept the game on as background noise really, but he noticed Kentucky, once behind by as many as 31, had begun to rally. He relayed the message to me and I turned on the radio to hear Ralph Hacker describe the most incredible comeback I’d ever heard of. Down 31 with 16 minutes to go, UK managed to win. Somehow.
And in that moment the ’94 team won me back.
In similar amazing fashion, the 2010 UK football squad won me back Saturday night. I’ll admit that at 28-10 at halftime (when the score could’ve easily been much worse) my friend Joe and I were debating how high the score would have to get before we actually left. I think if South Carolina would have scored another touchdown and made it 35-10 we would have headed for the exits. But as the story goes, UK held the Gamecocks scoreless for the second half and we remained in our seats to see what may be one of the two best UK wins in the last 20 years.
And along the way, I fell in love with this team all over again. When Mike Hartline (an amazing effort that will be forever remembered by UK fans) lofted the 4th and 7 pass to a wide open Randall Cobb for the TD, I decided that no matter what – even if the Gamecocks came back to force overtime and win the game – I was so impressed by UK’s grit that I was back. This team deserved it. And they deserved a win over Spurrier, who knew how tough this game could be.
So many times UK had come so close, you figured one of these days we had to get lucky and pull it off, right? Well it wasn’t luck. it was Hartline and Cobb and Chris Matthews and an inspired defense that yes, took advantage of a break (the injury to Carolina’s running back). But they had to make the plays, and they did and it was amazing.
Now you have to look at the rest of the schedule and see there are still a lot of winnable games out there. At worst, this team should be 6-6. At best? Well, who knows?
Amazing job to the team. Thanks for giving me another great memory.
This weekend definitely gave the previous best Ultimate Kentucky Weekend a run for its money. So was it the best? Obviously there’s a lot of factors here. The best, as I said, had to be when UK defeated LSU and Midnight Madness kicked off the Gillispie era. We were filled with hope and optimism in basketball and we had a top 10 football team. Now we have a top 10 basketball team and our football team, which was left for dead, beat Spurrier for the first time.
So how was Madness, then? Perfectly maddening. It seems like a lot of the extra stuff they normally feature was stripped away in an attempt to just feature the teams. And for this year, both the men and women will be very highly ranked. Some amazing moments:
1. Matthew Mitchell dances with his ladies. YouTube this now if you haven’t seen it. I would love to play for a coach like this. You can see why his team loves him.
2. Enes Kanter enters UK lore as The Undertaker. His entrance, complete with hat, rivals anything I’ve ever seen at Madness. It was hilarious and amazing and as he slowly walked down the platform with fireworks going off, I couldn’t help but think how cool it all looked. I really hope this kid gets to play at some point. He’s hilarious.
3. Harrelson does the Carlton. Practically dared by the UK fanbase to do this dance, Josh Harrelson comes through to the crowd’s delight.
4. Knight dunks over Harrelson. We already know this team is going to be long and athletic based on their performance in Canada. I remember last year I’d never seen any college player dunk like Wall OR like Bledsoe – and I was so excited to see them get on the court. Knight at two dunks that showed his athleticism and they brought me out of my seat. One in particular over Josh Harrelson was especially sick, as Knight seemed to jump up and over the 6-10 center.
5. Last year’s stars talk to the crowd. All the drafted players from last year’s team videotaped messages for the crowd, with the loudest cheers reserved for Patterson, Cousins and Wall. Each described how they wished they were back in blue, but all were excited about the upcoming NBA season.
6. Spidey outfit guys. I had to talk to the two kids in the Spiderman outfits, who wore them throughout Madness and got on ESPN. And of course, they happened to be from Cincinnati. Say hello to Matt Schaber, a 20-year-old from Fairfield, and Patrick Crace, a 19-year-old from Mason, both of whom are students at UK:
All in all, this was a great weekend, and because of the optimism and expectations surrounding both basketball squads, as well as a football team that shook a 17-year monkey off its back, I think this qualifies as the best Ultimate Kentucky Weekend in history.
What do you guys think?
FINAL WORD ON RANDALL COBB
Yes, I heard what Cobb said about the fans after the game. To a point, I agree with him. I watched as dozens of fans around me got up and left near halftime. I could understand their frustration. And yes, Joe and I were counting down when we would leave, too. But we stayed, hoping for some kind of magic – and we got it.
It’s a lesson to all fans: Don’t leave til it’s over. You may miss the magic.
Now, should Cobb have stated his feelings for the world to read? No. I think it may be wise for Joker to ban social networks from the team. We don’t need to know every little thing our ballers tweet. Still, Cobb has earned the right to say something if he feels slighted in any way.
A bit off topic, but I have to give one last word about Hartline and Cobb. So many times I’ve wondered if Hartline could be an elite quarterback, and each time he’s come back to show me he can. No one can ever criticize him for a lack of effort – he gets the most out of his talent every day. And that’s more than you can say for many players. Cobb, meanwhile, has always been something special, and even though he could have gone other places he stayed at Kentucky.
Now, finally, the two have their moment – something that can always stand for them. Something that will always be remembered.