This weekend I traveled to the Bluegrass State in Lexington, Kentucky to see one of college football’s surprise teams of the season: the Kentucky Wildcats. While Kentucky is generally known as a basketball school, this year the school has endured and embarrassment of riches as Kentucky has finally developed a more than formidable football program in addition its historic basketball program, among other strong athletic teams. Not only were the Wildcats ranked in the Top 10 in the country heading into this game but they had a fighting chance at winning the SEC, led by Heisman candidate quarterback in Andre’ Woodson and co.
Although Kentucky is generally known as a sports-crazy state school, it has some history outside of the athletic competition. Founded in 1865 as the Agricultural and Mechanical College of Kentucky, the University of Kentucky has since gone by the motto: “See Blue in Everything You Do.” Kentucky is home to just under 20,000 undergraduate students studying 93 different undergraduate programs. Kentucky’s academic programs are strong in pre-medicine and engineering, but the hardest and most demanding program might be in architecture. While the University of Kentucky is generally regarded as primarily a big-time sports school, head administrators ambitiously seek to a higher plane of education with a program called the “Top 20 Plan.” This plan seeks to raise Kentucky’s prestige to a Top 20 publicly funded research institute (state school) by the year 2020. The University plans to increase enrollment of the students and faculty, increase the graduation rate, and increase research expenditures of hundreds of millions of dollars per year.
Some famous alumni from University of Kentucky include former pro baseball player Jim Leyritz, Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon Webb, current Ohio governor Ted Strickland, entrepreneur and current President of Kentucky Lee Todd Jr. (current President of Kentucky), Detroit Pistons forward Tayshaun Prince, Hall of Fame head coach Pat Riley, quarterback and former #1 pick Tim Couch, and Hall of Fame quarterback/placekicker George Blanda. While these alumni have all been extraordinarily successful in their career fields, they may all pale in comparison to Kentucky’s most visible alumni: Ashley Judd (more on this later).
While Kentucky may be an aspiring research institute dedicated to improvement on the academic level during the week, the school transforms to a crazy, packed tailgater’s delight in the weekend when UK is playing at home. This weekend was an especially large venue because of the presence of ESPN College Gameday featuring the analysts Lee Corso, Kirk Herbstreit, and Chris Fowler. Following Kentucky’s upset of LSU, Gameday came to see if the ‘Cats could knock off the Florida Gators too.
So with my absurdly short fall break at WashU (we just got Friday off), I set off on Friday in the early afternoon for Lexington to see the Florida-Kentucky game on Saturday. I stayed with my friend from high school, Brandon, who was a teammate of mine on the football team. Brandon was a 5’5” wide receiver and his legacy on the team is a great story of perseverance and redemption, where he finally got to play (and start) for the last half of the year where he played admirably. He also infamously kicked an onside kick 10 yards backward. This is a true story.
Brandon is a member of the Sigma Chi fraternity, which is one of the 26 fraternities affiliated with the University of Kentucky. Along with the 19 sororities affiliated with the University, it’s not off to say that Greek life is fairly large at this school. The Sigma Chi brothers welcomed me with open arms and showed me a good time all weekend. So to all of you fraternity haters out there, try to experience it with the guys before you go on with your stereotypes about big state school frats. As far as the sororities go, some are pretty cool. Some are pretty plastic. Regardless, the girls are all really hot.
We woke up at about 8:00 AM to start tailgating for a game that started at 3:30 PM. Brandon told me that people in RVs and trailers started camping out in the parking lots outside of Commonwealth Stadium on Thursday in preparation for Saturday games. This is SEC Football. With the amount of people that started tailgating on Thursdays, we tried to figure out if anyone in Lexington actually worked on Fridays during football season. This remark is debatable, but I’m betting Friday takes a dip on most local businesses’ progress reports.
We arrived to College Gameday around 9:15. It was being held in front of Wlliam T. Young Library in the “bowl” – which is just a grassy bowl-shaped field outside of the library. This new state-of-the-art library complex was regarded by the brothers as one of the only really nice buildings on campus, so it was a fitting place to advertise the school.
By the time we arrived, there was virtually no chance of us making it on the camera – especially because we were ill-prepared and had not made any sign in the first place. Speaking of which, there were plenty of excellent signs at College Gameday this weekend. We didn’t make it to the front of the crowd, but we got a good view from the “bowl” of the fans going crazy. There were all kinds of random objects and signs. We saw people who had gators on nooses, people advertising businesses such as a “pet poop pickup” as well as a huge Yoda draped in Kentucky colors. We noticed the groupie fans that must follow Corso, Fowler, and Herbstreit wherever they go. The most infamous of the groupies were the fans waving the maroon Washington State University flags. They literally go everywhere (watch College Gameday next time to see what I mean). I walked by one of those guys and asked him “Is that a Wazzu flag?” He just gave me a little smile or smirk and went about his business. Note to College Gameday: The boys in Pullman, Washington want you to come to their house some time. Or these two guys just have a massive man-crush on Herbstreit.
There was even a blown up check made by a fan made out to the SEC for the $75,000 the school was fined for storming the field against Louisville earlier in the season and LSU last week. But here is my arbitrary Top 12 list of the signs I saw:
12. Tebow Thinks Britney should have full custody
-Tebow must’ve not liked K-Fed’s new rap album
11. Tebag Tebow
-This sign has become popular with opposing fans over the past few weeks, but honestly, Tebow’s comeback to that sign would be: “That’s what I did to your girlfriend last night.” And honestly, it’d probably be true.
10. Tony Joiner Stole My Other Sign
-If you didn’t know the story behind this, star Florida safety Tony Joiner was arrested a little over a week ago for stealing his girlfriend’s car from an impound lot. I feel like this is kind of a no-no but somehow he’s still been allowed to play in every game this season.
9. See You Have HUGE Fans, We Have Hot Ones
-This sign featured an absurdly large, enthusiastic Florida Gators fan on one end and actress/Kentucky die-hard Ashley Judd on the other end. Ashley Judd is absolutely gorgeous. It’s funny, because I couldn’t tell you one movie she’s ever acted in, but she’s such a well known celebrity. Go Wildcats baby.
8. Fear the Apostrophe
-Just like the Maryland Terrapins moniker, “Fear the Turtle,” this makes absolutely no sense, but I find it pretty funny (though I’m fairly easily entertained). I mean, Andre’ Woodson has an apostrophe at the end of his name and as far as grammar goes, he technically owns everything.
7. Tebow wears Andre’ Woodson pajamas
-If you haven’t discovered Tim Tebow Facts, this sign was a reference to the website that basically canonizes Tim Tebow’s greatness in the form of Chuck Norris quotes. One quote in particular says that Superman wears Tim Tebow pajamas, so naturally this would make sense.
6. Gators Wear Jean Shorts
-This one stated the obvious, but what made this sign great was the fact that the poster had a pair of short jean shorts attached to it.
5. Coach Brooks Would Bleed Blue but Too Bad He Doesn’t Bleed
-This was a great Chuck Norris reference, and even better because the picture accompanied by the sign featured Kentucky Head Coach Rich Brooks in a ninja outfit with his arm around Chuck.
4. Tebow’s Mom Home-Schooled Me
-There were several signs and jokes about how Tim Tebow was home-schooled in high school by his mom. There were several good ones but I thought this was the best.
3. Kentucky Shocking the Nation
-The message wasn’t anything special until you looked at the context of the sign. The blue sign was made in the shape of the infamous “shocker” hand sign.
2. She Needs a Real Heisman
-So Tim Tebow apparently has a girlfriend or is seen with some girl in a picture that is seen all over the Internet. Well, some fan photoshopped Andre’ Woodson in the place of Tebow, with Tebow’s face crying in the background.
1. Tebow Drinks Smirnoff Ice
-Because everyone knows Smirnoff is a girly man’s drink.
An inside source (Brandon’s dad) had met Corso earlier and knew that he was going to pick Florida to win. I really regret not offering to bet someone Corso would put on the Gator head. Corso did a nice fake out by first grabbing the “We Believe” Kentucky sign before shooing it away and putting on the Gator mascot head. Even Herbstreit put on a Gator hat. I thought this might’ve been a good sign because Corso was usually wrong about his predictions anyways.
We went to tailgate before the game outside of Commonwealth Stadium in one of the fields right outside the stadium. Actually, it took about 30 minutes to find our tent because no one exactly knew where it was. Our place was by a white tent with a blue UK flag near it. Too bad there were approximately 500 tents and 100 blue flags waving around. When we finally found our place – which consisted of a pickup truck, a tub of drinks, and plenty of hot girls – we tailgated for another hour or two before the game.
Once we got to the stadium, Brandon’s friend contrived a covert operation to get all of us into a nicer seat in the stadium. I don’t know what he did, but we all ended up around Row 12 in the student section with a great view. It was also a warm sunny day, almost unseasonably warm. Gladly, it wasn’t as hot as the 93 degree October game in Urbana Champaign a few weeks ago.
The game pitted a matchup between two explosive offenses including two Heisman hopefuls, Kentucky quarterback Andre’ Woodson and Florida quarterback Tim Tebow. Following a surprise coming-out junior season by Woodson, many have pegged him as one of the top NFL draft prospects with the size, strength, and precision to make all of the throws necessary in the pros. He reminds a lot of people – in terms of size and strength – of a young Donovan McNabb. He didn’t win many big games for UK last year, but Kentucky was working with one of the worst statistical defenses in the country, so I’d say leading your team to an 8-5 season isn’t half bad. Following Kentucky’s win at home against LSU, Woodson’s Heisman campaign was back on the map – especially since every team not named Ohio State, Boston College, Arizona State, Kansas, or Hawaii already has a blemish on its win-loss record. How about an Arizona State-Kansas championship game anyone? Anyone?
On the other side of the field, Florida sophomore quarterback Tim Tebow has grown into a legend not just in Gainesville but really all around the country. Considering his innovative decision-making, arm strength, toughness, and surprisingly nimble figure, Tim Tebow is in a class of his own. He may not be the best football player statistically, but if there were one player in the country not named Darren McFadden that you would not want to face, it’s Tebow. From his fullback-inspired draw plays to his self-imposed play-action pass without the use of a running back, to his now infamous “jumping pass,” I’m thinking Tebow might not be the most conventional quarterback of our day. At first I disliked his play. I figured it was reckless. I figured he would be carried off on a stretcher one day from taking too many straight on hits from 300 pound defenders. But every time, he jumps right back up and asks for more. So far, no one has given him enough.
As the game started, we were all ecstatic as Florida punted the ball on its first possession and Woodson beautifully looked off his defender and threw a deep touchdown pass to Dicky Lyons Jr. One of the fans behind me first started yelling “F**k yeah God damn it!” about 100 times. You could tell how much some of these guys cared. Then he started telling me about the bi-racial connection between Woodson and him and how Woodson is an inspiration to us bi-racial folk out there. Me telling him I’m not bi-racial sort of killed that cause but damn it, Andre’ can be an inspiration to us all.
I noticed all of the pom-poms given out to the fans in the stadium. However, only some of the fans used them. This has got to be a Southern thing; the further south you get, the more males into shaking pom-poms are. Two weeks earlier, Illinois gave out pom-poms for their game against Wisconsin. It was the first time they’d ever seen them and they didn’t know what to do with them. Earlier in the year I went to Vanderbilt and saw more people into the shakers than the Kentucky fans, but those visiting from Ole Miss all shook them in unison. This may be a little tangent from the story, but pom-pom shaking is just a product of geography.
As soon as the momentum went on Kentucky’s side, Tebow started working his magic. It seemed like every pass was a completion. Every decision he made was flawless. Every run seemingly went for at least 3 or 4 yards – regardless of whether the whole Kentucky defense had jumped on his back. Just when we thought he might be stopped, Tebow pulled another trick up his sleeve.
The best play by Tebow I remember seeing was his goal line brilliance, where he started to run one of his patented fullback draws then stops, jumps, and throws this awkward pass to a wide open receiver in the end zone. It seemed obvious that Tebow would run, and the defense completely collapsed on him before he pulled out at the last minute. He did the same type of play against LSU and has done so against other teams in the pass. If done right, it’s almost impossible to adequately defend.
Tebow also did his own version of the play action pass at least twice in the game. Because people are so keen on targeting his inside running ability, all he needed to do was take one step forward, freeze the defender for jut that moment, and his receivers Louis Murphy and Percy Harvin ran freely down the field. I can tell you I’ve never seen any other team or player do this type of play action. And you know what, only someone like Arkansas running back Darren McFadden could also do that.
At one point in the game on a crucial down, Tebow got the shotgun snap from his center and hesitated for what it seemed like was years in the backfield. I figured there was a dead ball or a false start negating the play, but Tebow was just being content with waiting for the opportune moment before he attacked the Kentucky front 7. The interesting thing was, while he waited for a hole to open up, the Kentucky defenders waited for something to happen as well. It’s almost as if they were frozen scared by Tebow’s patience.
Andre’ Woodson threw for over 400 yards, 5 touchdowns, and no interceptions, but his play was overshadowed by Tebow. Woodson had the numbers; Tebow had the moxie and the clutch plays.
As the game ended with Kentucky scoring at the end of regulation we filed out, disappointed by the loss but in awe of how impressive Florida and Tebow looked.
The Florida-Kentucky game wasn’t the best game I’ve ever seen, but the atmosphere was awesome and it surely was a treat to watch these two great teams play. When the sun went down behind Commonwealth Stadium late in the game, I stood there on a warm October afternoon with friends by my side and I thought to myself, man this is the life.
This was a popular YouTube clip over the past week. After a Texas defender ripped the helmet off of Iowa State wide receiver Todd Blythe, one announcer appalled by the no-call on the play said something very questionable. I think I know what he meant to say, but he really needs to enunciate next time.
To commemorate Notre Dame’s embarrassing 38-0 loss at home to USC, I present to you Bud Light Real Men of Genius: A Tribute to the Notre Dame fan. Also, before this week's games (and I'm sure after), the Notre Dame Fighting Irish were ranked lower by one publication than the former D-III program, Buffalo.
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Next Week: Sunday Afternoon Quarterback will be in St. Louis to see the Cleveland Browns take on the St. Louis Rams. Not exactly college football, but I can't miss out on my home team coming to my college town.
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