Thirty-One and Counting—by John Huang
During his weekly press conference with media a couple of weeks ago, I lightheartedly referred to UK head football coach Mark Stoops as “jolly.” “I’ve never heard that word with me,” he responded. “Let’s see if you say that next month.” Stoops was anything but jolly after Kentucky’s heartbreaking 28-27 loss to the Florida Gators. Who can blame him? Crushing defeats year after year will quickly suck the joy out of even the most hardened of football souls.
Kentucky’s defeat tonight at Kroger Field at the hands of the perennial powerhouse Gators was agonizingly brutal for BBN. After all, the infamous thirty-year losing streak hung precipitously in the balance as the clock mercilessly ticked down to zero. A sold-out stadium crowd held its collective breath, waiting expectantly to finally storm the field and release the pent-up fury of three-decades of football frustration.
As so often the case with Kentucky Football, it didn’t happen the way we hoped. Although Austin MacGinnis’ 57-yard field goal attempt fell just short as time expired, it was two earlier plays coming directly out of time-outs where Florida receivers went completely uncovered that ended up costing Kentucky the ballgame.
I was hoping we wouldn’t have to hear anything more about the stinking streak. I wanted no more reminders about Spurrier’s spankings, no more remembrances of the Wuerffel-to-Doering last second snatch, and no more embarrassing recollections of blown leads, stupid penalties, and bonehead plays. As long-suffering UK football fans, we’re all sick and tired of reading stories dating back to November 15, 1986—the last time Kentucky beat Florida in football.
I don’t care who won the Kentucky Derby that year (Ferdinand), or what was the top grossing movie at the box office (Top Gun), or how much a gallon of regular gas cost (93 cents). Heck, I just recall each consecutive loss since then like a personal punch in the gut—often wondering if I would ever see another UK victory before I kicked the Big Blue bucket in the sky. I wanted redemption. I needed absolution. I’d settle for an exorcism. Kentucky didn’t get any of those tonight.
“I thank the fans,” a despondent Coach Stoops said in his post-game press conference. “The atmosphere was phenomenal. Greatly appreciate their support and energy…That one’s going to hurt because of what we have invested.”
In the lonely press box after the game, I pondered the significance of this opportunity lost. The stars seemed all aligned for a huge Wildcat victory. I imagined rushing the field after the final horn, surrounded by a sea of exuberant humanity. From the sweat-soaked players basking in the afterglow of a huge conference win, to the father-son tandem forever bonded by an incredulous sports moment together, to the punch-drunk frat boys compiling lifelong college memories—this was supposed to be a win for the ages. Coaches, administrators, players, cheerleaders, reporters, photographers, and fans of BBN all gathered together and sharing in the unadulterated joy of a STREAK NO MORE.
But it simply wasn’t meant to be. Jolted back to reality, I realize that being a Kentucky football fan comes with certain risks and limitations. Periods of unfettered hype followed by intervals of wretched despair are seasonal norms. Untimely penalties, clock mismanagement, and inexplicable coaching blunders are to be expected. Losses to Florida are always near certainties.
I know that one of these days, the streak will surely end. Weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing always comes in the morning. I just hope I get to rejoice sometime within my lifetime. After a night like tonight, I’m not so sure anymore.
John Huang is a dejected columnist for Nolan Group Media. If you enjoy his writing, you can read more at Huangswhinings.com or follow him on Twitter @KYHuangs.