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My 53 Year Love Affair with The Cats
My love affair with the University of Kentucky Basketball began on January 19, 1953, my dad's birthday. I was five years old when my dad took me to my first game in Memorial Coliseum that day. It was in all reality an Intra-Squad game, a glorified scrimmage between two teams. The squads had names, one being the Ramseys, the other the Hagans. The Ramseys won that day by 21 points, 71-50. The University of Kentucky was by far and away the best team in college basketball that season but due to suspension by the NCAA, they were never allowed to play a single game against outside competition.
Rupp's boys played four such games that suspended season, the Varsity defeated the Freshmen 76-45 on December 13, 1952; the Ramsey's defeated the Hagan's 71-50 at the game I witnessed; the Hagan's returned the favor 68-55 on February 4, 1953 and the Blues beat the Whites 49-47 on February 28.
Suspensions, no outside opponents, intra-squad games, regardless, I was in love with the Cats from that point on.
My next most memorable game came on March 21, 1958 , when Kentucky played Temple in the NCAA Semifinal game at Freedom Hall in Louisville , Kentucky . The Cats won that night in a game they should not have 61-60 on a basket with 12 seconds to play. [Listen to Coach Rupp's Comments on this game here] Kentucky followed up that semi-final victory by playing the great Elgin Baylor and his Seattle team the next night. The Cats came from 12 or 14 points down in the second half to claim Kentucky and Rupp's fourth NCAA title.
The love affair was only beginning.
My father and I made many trips to see UK play during the 50's and 60's, permitting me to see many great players and teams including Cotton Nash, the Runts, and the Issel-Pratt-Casey teams. I have been fortunate to watch all of these great teams and individual players during the last 15 years of Coach Rupp's career. Coach Rupp finally took an "early" retirement after 42 years as the Head Coach at UK following the 1972 season.
Thank you Coach Rupp, and Welcome to the helm Joe B. Hall. This began a series of events that lead up to the "GREATEST GAME" I have ever attended.
In July 1974, most UK fans were not full of anticipation about the upcoming 1975 season. Most UK fans at that time would not decide that UK was ready to play for a National Title the upcoming season. UK after all had just finished a 13-13 season, which to put that into context, was the first non-winning season since Coach Rupp arrived in Lexington in 1930. The 1974 Cats just didn't look "tough enough" to make a run at the National Championship the next year.
However, Coach Hall was not waiting idly by. In May, Coach Hall took his team almost under the radar on a barnstorming basketball trip to Australia . They played 19 games down under, winning 17 and losing only twice. When they returned home, the players and coaches were ready and hungry. They were really ready.
That fall, Coach Hall added a few freshman. Oh just a few guys you know, such as Rick Robey, Mike Phillips, Jack Givens, and James Lee to name a few. The returning lettermen were not chopped liver, and included Jimmy Dan Conner, Mike Flynn, Bob Guyette, and Kevin Grevey. This new mix of talent, seasoned veterans, and eager freshmen yielded a different team.
Under the guise of too much sun and maybe the influence of a mint julep or more at a pool party, I made a classic decision. I knew that by golly I was behind the Cats and believed in them so much, that I walked in, picked up the phone, and made room reservations for Dayton , Ohio . I then bought tickets for games to be played in March of the next year involving four teams that would not be decided until a week before the games.
God must have been looking out for me that day because on March 22, 1975 , I witnessed the undefeated Indiana Hoosiers, ranked Number 1 in the nation playing my Cats for the Mideast Regional Championship and a trip to the 1975 Final Four. Indiana entered the game as a 12-point favorite, and we all recalled that the Hoosiers had beaten the Cats by 24 points, 98-74 on December 7, 1974 in the third game of the season.
Getting there in Dayton , OH for the Mideast Regional Final on that Thursday we immediately knew we had a problem. We had two tickets but we had four in our party. In only what must be considered the most asinine, brazen, and stupid act of all time, I went for broke.
When we arrived at the Dayton Arena, and I went to the Will Call Window where I declared to the woman staffing the booth that I was a scout. Yes, I was a scout for Syracuse . I know that I made this declaration in a voice that screamed, "I am lying through my teeth." She looked out over her glasses at me for a moment and asked me how many were with me. I told her that there were four of us all together. She did not say anything for what seemed like about 4 hours, and then she directed us to come around the side of the window where she would take care of the "four scouts from Syracuse ."
She gave each of us a Press Row Pass , and then they ushered us in and seated us at press row. We had to control ourselves as we cheered for UK against Central Michigan . We were still wearing our Press Row Passes as scouts from Syracuse the next day when we attended the UK press conference. Even while we wore our Syracuse University Scout passes, we cheered every time Coach Hall would say something funny or interesting. I even had a picture of myself taken with Jack Givens. I know "The Goose" thought, even as a freshman, that it was odd that the Syracuse "Scout" wanted a picture taken with the Goose. I did not care, I wanted that picture.
Finally, the big game against Indiana arrived on Saturday. Without a doubt, this was the greatest game I have ever seen. The Kentucky team played their hearts out and beat a great Indiana team 92-90. As a 12 point underdog, this victory finally established Coach Hall with his mark of winning tradition with the UK Fandom. It was a glorious day, with my three friends and me sitting at press row, posing as Syracuse Scouts. We took advantage of our position and voted for the Most Valuable Player of the Mideast Regional Tournament. We voted for Kevin Grevey. We realized that Mike Flynn had been 6-6 in the second half of the Indiana game and probably carried the day, and we realized that Kevin Grevey was only 7-29 for the tournament. Nevertheless, I thought about Grevey's 4-year career, how hard he had played, and concluded that by God he should be MVP.
The ride home is something I will never forget, and this journey was a defining event for me as a UK fan. Words cannot describe the emotional intensity of these events. The entire UK team rode the team bus back to Lexington . My car was one of many that formed a caravan that stretched back for miles. We followed that bus through southern Ohio towards the Bluegrass State . The Kentucky State Police picked up the bus and escorted the caravan homeward when we crossed the bridge into Kentucky . Fans filled the overpasses. People stopped on the side of the road and got out of their cars to cheer and applaud as we drove by. Old men had tears in their eyes as they cried openly with joy. The Scott County Sheriff's Department picked us up, leading us to the Lexington City limits where the Lexington Metro Police assumed the escort privilege to the UK Campus. When the caravan reached campus, the UK Campus Police led the procession to the Coliseum.
In over 50 years as a UK fan, I have never witnessed a scene like that at the Coliseum. I shall never forget the emotions or the tearful joys of the moment. I remembered all the wonderful building blocks of UK basketball that history had provided to build the tradition, and I realized that I was living, seeing, hearing, and feeling yet another cornerstone of that tradition first hand. The greatest honor a fan could ever experience.
I think about that cold gray day many times. I recall how tears ran down my face when I saw UK fans of all ages lining the overpasses and cheering us as we brought the team home. I think about how Coach Hall finally gained acceptance that day as Rupp's successor. There has never been another day like that for me in UK Basketball history.
It was well over 30 years ago, but in my mind it was yesterday...
Submitted by Ron Goodbub
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