With another Kentucky Wildcats football season upon us, the staff at Wildcat Blue Nation are digging into their memory banks and recounting our favorite moments in Wildcat football. Over the next month, we will be looking at these games and sharing our thoughts and memories on them. It’s not a countdown, but a look back at what has made Wildcats football important to us and what stood out. Hopefully Mark Stoops and his staff will be able to add a few more special moments this upcoming season.
Following the dismissal of Joker Phillips and the hiring of Florida State defensive coordinator Mark Stoops to replace him, Kentucky fans had some reason for optimism. Stoops had a pedigree and his staff had cobbled together a Top 30 recruiting class in short time. A familiar feeling for Big Blue Nation, the high of a new coaching regime, only for the shine to fade as basketball season unfolds and the NBA draft rolls in.
But not this time. Stoops and company came to Lexington determined to change the culture of the university. That culture change started with the annual Blue/White Spring game, usually an afterthought. Football schools traditionally have fans show up in droves for a brief pigskin fix before the long Summer sets in. The previous year Kentucky announced 4,500 attendees for the Blue/White game. If there were 1,500 I’ll eat my hat. I was there. We walked in fifteen minutes prior to kickoff and sat directly behind the visitors bench with no competition in sight. The home sideline was equally scarce and the upper decks were completely empty. There was one concession stand open. It probably didn’t help that the date and time of the game hadn’t been announced until a week prior.
It was a welcome surprise when UK started to promote the event and attempt to sell out something that no one wanted to go to a year prior. It had a snowball effect. As so often is the case with Kentucky fans, social media created a perfect storm and the Cats pre-sold nearly forty thousand tickets. I even did my part, helping to run a Twitter account dedicated to promoting the Spring Game, @SoundtheSirenUK, and purchasing sixteen tickets to give to friends and family. But even I doubted Big Blue Nation would really fill all of those chairs. Boy was I wrong.
The day of the scrimmage, my friends and I, (including Kyle) set up our tents to tailgate in the Green Lot. At the time it was pretty much empty and the doubts began to creep back in. But after a few hours and strong drinks I realized that the place wasn’t empty anymore. By mid-afternoon Commonwealth’s parking lot was full and people were still streaming in. @SoundtheSirenUK was going crazy to the point that my phone died twice. And then I saw the turnout for Mark Stoops’ first Cat Walk. Kentucky sold 50,831 tickets for that day. I wouldn’t be surprised one bit if all of them were at the Cat Walk. A “tradition” only in name, it was typically just for family and die-hards. To see Big Blue Nation come together and rejoice in their support and belief in UK football was astounding.
There was of course a game to be played and the stadium rocked into the night. The team did their part in putting on an exciting show with Neal Brown’s new offense. UK made a spectacle of the whole thing, with a Master of Ceremonies and former Wildcat greats doing interviews between breaks in the action. They put fan tweets on the scoreboards at Commonwealth. At one point someone pointed and #SoundtheSiren was scrolling across the scoreboard at Commonwealth Stadium. I’m not ashamed to say that my eyes got a little misty with pride.
The 2013 Spring Game is a day that I will never forget. No, it wasn’t a real game. Kentucky both won and lost. But it will forever shine in my memory as the day that things changed. The day that Kentucky showed that we love our football and that we are ready to compete. Big Blue Nation sent the college football world a message, that we are coming and that once we arrive, we have no plans of going away.