That’s the year I began my relationship with UK football.
I was 10 yrs old and prior to that, I didn’t know Kentucky had football. Basketball was king in the Bluegrass State (Commonwealth, actually), but I liked football more. Football, especially pro football, had Staubach and Stabler, Mean Joe Green and Broadway Joe. College football had Hershel and the Bear, Notre Dame and USC. They played on grass, wore armor, and it didn’t matter if it rained or snowed. Game on. As a little kid, that was appealing (one time I had the chance to go to Opryland or stay home and watch football – I chose football over roller coasters and talking guitars).
And so it was, in 1982, I fell for UK football. I had reasons:
- Colors – this one was a stretch, but the blue and white of UK kinda reminded me of the Dallas Cowboys blue, white and silver
- Coach – Jerry Claiborne, the future college football hall of famer, took over the football team in 1982. He played at UK under Bear Bryant and was back to restore honor at his alma mater. Plus, he was from my hometown and I knew people who knew him.
- Connection – a family friend was in a fraternity with a couple of UK players and he would give me their old UK t-shirts and sweat shirts. Also, I was a Kentuckian and it seemed odd to pull for Indiana or Tennessee. After all, didn’t the people in those states pull for their team?
That was the genesis. It started with real connections and hope of restoration. A better tomorrow was just around the corner and dreams of glory would be soon to follow. We were meant for each other.
Not so much.
It wasn’t meant to be and the relationship went sour. A lot of time, blood, money, gnashing of teeth, embarrassment, and un-fulfilled promises have passed before my eyes. Disappointing games gave way to seasons and decades of losing. Many hopeful Saturday mornings turned into maddening Saturday evenings. I don’t have the heart or the bandwidth to document all of the disappointments – it would take too much time and I don’t want to dedicate anymore time to this than I already have – but here are few general things to ponder:
- mind blowing losing streaks, many of which continue to grow each year
- inexplicable losses to teams we could beat
- recruits who came to UK to “build something special”
- mind numbing inability over decades (different coaches, players and schemes) to stop an opposing quarterback who can throw and run
- losing records at home and on the road
- losing records in the conference
I’ve hit my limit. To go on following UK football, with all of the other teams I could support, is ludicrous. To choose this, rather than cut my losses and spend my time and energy on something else, would be regretful.
Since 1982 UK, the largest school in the state, esteemed founding member of the SEC, and a power 5 conference member has gone a whopping 159 – 232 -3. They don’t figure into the equation. They don’t win, and yet, I blindly supported them.
All this came into crystal clear focus a couple of weeks ago and my children helped me to see what I was blind to. As parachutists were landing on Dudley Field in Nashville at half-time of the Vanderbilt vs. Kentucky tilt, my kids were ready to leave. They watched one half of lousy, uninspired football and just knew that there are better things to do. I asked them why they were ready to go and they said that they didn’t understand why I cheer for the team in blue, when they are so bad. “People are jumping out of planes and parachuting to the ground dad! That looks like a lot more fun and excitement than Kentucky football.”
They realized in 30 minutes of a football game (one half) what has taken me 33 years to understand (most of my life): Kentucky football has been a gigantic waste of time.
I had to agree.
So this week I’m burning the love letters and cutting them out of the pictures. I’m un-friending and de-tweeting (?) them. I’ll remember that I once had a dream that UK football could be good….that we had a future together. There were bright spots and I’ll remember them. Maybe we’ll have a Paul Simon “Still Crazy After All These Years” moment in the future, but until then…..goodbye. It’s time to move on.
It wasn’t you, UK football – you couldn’t help being who you are. I couldn’t change you.
It was me.