Now for the first really, really, really big test for Rich Brooks and his Wildcats.
They face South Carolina’s Gamecocks at 7:30 Thursday night in Roosterville (you may know it as Columbia). It’ll be on ESPN. Not ESPNU or ESPN Classic. It’s the big one, the original and real giant. ESPN, the one that everyone has. The Wildcats and Gamecocks will own the night.
The big test is whether Brooks can keep wily Steve Spurrier out of the Wildcats’ heads.
Spurrier delights in playing mind games with his two favorite opponents, Kentucky and Tennessee. He has said all kinds of goofy things making fun of the Wildcats and Volunteers. It wasn’t funny to the Cats and Vols, especially when he tormented them year after year when he was coaching Florida.
No other football coach makes fun of opponents the way Spurrier does.
Bob Knight was more than his match in basketball and getting under Kentucky’s skin. Spurrier is a little bit funny; Knight was just plain nasty.
One thing is for sure: nothing shuts up The Old Ball Coach like defeat. If you tuned in late to watch him during the LSU game, his facial contortions and his wrestling with his cap made you know that he was getting an oldfashioned whipping.
After Kentucky, Spurrier can take it easy for two weeks against Vanderbilt and North Carolina and he can store up ammunition for Tennessee. South Carolina goes to Knoxville Oct. 27.
Spurrier isn’t exactly without talent. LSU had to hustle to beat him 28-16 in Baton Rouge.
Cats in the spotlight
UK’s impressive performances against Louisville and Arkansas have brought the Big Blue football program national recognition. The New York Times devoted a gushing halfpage of space Brooks and his Wildcats. If you keep up with presidential politics, you know that amount of space would have cost about $80,000. The story was accompanied with a big photo of quarterback Andre Woodson which has to help his Heisman Trophy chances if the Cats keep winning.
I both liked and disliked this paragraph in Pete Thamel’s story in The Times:
“. . . one of the few constants has been the program’s strong attendance. While their passion is not the same as it is for basketball, Kentucky football fans have shown up and supported the team through the coaching changes, NCAA scandals and lopsided defeats.”
About the Big Blue fans, Brooks added: “they’ve been pretty loyal through some pretty sorry football. Some of it was while I was coaching here. They are being rewarded for being faithful.”
Yes, UK fans are totally loyal, not just “pretty loyal.” Each year when the team has wound up in the 50s or 60s in the rankings, attendance has been in the top 25. Fans show up from all 120 counties when the Cats suit up in Commonwealth Stadium.
Wildcat fans have been much better to the University of Kentucky than the school, its administrators, directors of athletics and coaches have been to fans.
As I have told you before, governors may not be able to persuade the General Assembly to show up for special sessions, but both houses would have quorums if the legislators were asked to assemble at either Commonwealth Stadium or Rupp Arena when the Cats were playing.
Woodson & Heisman
I feel sorry for faithful fans from Paducah and other towns in the Jackson Purchase when the Cats play at night. I’m sure the preachers in those towns would appreciate it if the Cats would play more afternoon games. But when TV wants a game at night, the Cats and every other team in the nation will agree to play under the lights. It’s the money, stupid.
If you are interested in figures, try these, and you will understand why Brooks has been able to bring the Cats back: NCAA rules-breaking by the Hal Mumme regime limited Brooks to 68 scholarships. Said Brooks: “It helps to have 85 scholarships, my goodness, it really does.”
Brooks told The Times that six of them were walk-ons. Only one Wildcat regular ran a 40-yard dash under 4.5 seconds. In spring practice this year, 15 players ran under 4.5. That doesn’t qualify the Cats for matching defending national champion Florida, No. 2-ranked LSU or even Tennessee in the speed department, but at least they are in the race.
Of Woodson’s chances for the Heisman, Brooks said: “He’s got to be in the conversation. He’s put this program on his shoulders and brought it to new heights.”