It just seems like dates and sports go hand in hand.
Now I’m not talking about dates with a significant other. I speak of calendar dates.
Talk to anyone who is a sports fan and I'm sure that they can tell you some important dates in their team’s history. Dates are like mile markers where you can say “I was here when this or that happened, and this is how it made me feel.”
I recently wrote an article about where I was when I first watched a college basketball game, not to mention a Kentucky Wildcats basketball. The date was March 26, 1983. The Dream Game. Kentucky and Louisville.
That game is still etched in my mind.
That date is still etched in my mind.
Fast forward to Friday December 29th, 2017. I dare say this date will be etched in the mind of Cat fans everywhere. For good and not so good reasons.
The day started out with not one, but two UK teams taking the field and the court. The basketball Cats were renewing their rivalry game with Louisville at Rupp Arena. The football brethren would tee off later in the Music City Bowl in Nashville against another set of Wildcats from Northwestern.
When the Cats and Cards tipped off around 1 pm, I was at home tuned in with my wife, because that’s what basketball couples do. We watch games together.
The Cats were in need of not so much a victory, but a statement game. They needed to prove to themselves and everyone across the country that this group could play at a high level for 40 minutes against a foe not named a directional school.
Kentucky did just that, pulling away from start to finish in a 90-61 romp over the Cards. Kentucky hit the gas and never looked back. The game was never really in doubt. So much so that my wife and I went shopping during the game. Yeah, I know. Crazy, right? (See UK-U of L Box Score below)
So when the football Cats were preparing to begin play, most UK fans had a good taste in their mouth as kickoff approached. I felt pretty good about the Cats' chances. A few plays here and there and we could pull out the win.
The Cats got the ball first and took the ball in and scored. A couple of nice throws by Stephen Johnson, nice grabs by our receivers, and a Benny Snell rushing TD. Couldn’t have started better.
Along this time I was on the road preparing to board a bus for South Laurel with my Harlan County Black Bears to play in the championship of the tournament (a 62-60 win over North Laurel in overtime.) Things were looking pretty good for the old man.
Then, as it happens and it surely will again, the tide turned for Cat fans. Violently.
Snell, the Cats' best player offensively all season, is ejected for making contact with a referee. Terrible call. Maybe the worst single call I had ever saw against any team. But I digress.
Johnson, the Cats' general at QB, is tackled at least five yards out of bounds. No call for a late hit. Maybe the worst no call I have ever saw. In the same game! Unreal.
Then, as Johnson headed to the locker room, a flag is thrown for unsportsmanlike conduct on, wait for it, Kentucky. Salt in the wound. The Cats go down to Northwestern 17-7 at the half. Not looking good at all for BBN.
Then, in almost Willis Reed like fashion, Johnson appears for the third quarter and takes the Cats down the field and scores on a keeper to trim the margin back to three, 17-14. Another emotional swing.
As this drama unfolded, I was involved in the tournament game. So I kinda lost track of the events in Music City. Until halftime.
It was then I found out the conclusion to the football game. Kentucky down one 24-23. Cats go for two. Cats don’t get it. Cats lose a heartbreaker. Yet another emotional swing.
So needless to say, Friday December 29, 2017 will have a definite place in the collective consciousness of Kentucky for many years to come.
Shane Shackleford is a sportswriter residing in Speedwell, Tenn. You can contact Shane via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, Facebook at Shane Shackleford, or Twitter @shack_daddy_1.
UK Athletics Photo by Elliott Hess