By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
It was January 12, 1969 at the Orange Bowl in Miami. Super Bowl III was about to start. This game, which pitted the upstart New York Jets of the fledgling American Football League against what was considered the powerhouse team of the historically dominant National Football League, was supposed to be a mismatch.
No one in the media respected the Jets. They were an 18-point underdog. In fact Joe Namath, the former Alabama quarterback who led the Jets, became so agitated at the disrespect his team was receiving that three days before the game at a press conference he uttered his famous “guarantee” that his Jets would defeat the mighty Baltimore Colts in the Super Bowl.
No one was buying it. Not the media. Not the fans. Not the betting experts in Las Vegas. But the Jets believed. They had worked hard all year preparing for this moment. They had the talent. They had the coaching, former Baltimore Colts Head Coach and two-time NFL Championship winner Weeb Ewbank, and they had a chip on their shoulder. Since the AFL was considered an inferior league and had previously lost Super Bowls I and II by wide margins to the NFL, no one believed this year would be different. Except the Jets and their quarterback, Joe Namath. He believed. And the Jets players believed in him. They also believed in their coach, a proven winner with a great football pedigree, and they believed in their system.
And for those of you that were around for that game in 1969 or for those that know professional football history, you know that the Jets dominated the Colts that day. They built a 16-0 lead going into the fourth quarter. A late touchdown throw by Colts quarterback Johnny Unitas made the score 16-7 but by then the Jets team and fans were already in celebration mode.
Does this story sound familiar? Maybe. Fast forward a few decades. Look at a school that was always considered to be inferior in football. A doormat in the SEC. Media and fans alike felt they had little to no talent. At least they weren’t considered to have the same level talent of the bluebloods they played.
They consistently played against the best in college football. The historically dominant SEC teams from the past. Teams like Georgia, Florida, Tennessee, South Carolina and occasionally teams like Alabama, Auburn, Texas A&M and LSU. Those kinds of teams that consistently played for National Championships.
Why would anyone respect this team? After all they have a below .500 winning percentage for the history of the program. Could they possibly be any good? Wasn’t the 10-3 overall record, third place finish in the SEC and Citrus Bowl win in 2019 against a Big Ten Powerhouse in Penn State a fluke?
Does this sound a lot like the Jets against the Colts in Super Bowl III? No one believed in the Jets except the Jets players, their coaches and a few fans.
Sound like Kentucky Football heading in the Fall of 2019? No one believes in Terry Wilson at quarterback. He has been picked by various media outlets as the 12th to 14th best quarterback in the SEC. This is the same Terry Wilson that led his team to a 5-3 record last year in the SEC as a rookie. The same Terry Wilson who completed 67 percent of his passes last year ranking only behind Tua Tagovailoa of Alabama and Jake Fromm of Georgia. But rated as the 14th best quarterback in the SEC in 2019. C’mon, really.
By the way Wilson was also the second best rushing quarterback in the SEC behind Nick Fitzgerald of Mississippi State. Third best passer and second best rusher on a 10-3 team but can only make 14th out of 14 next season. No doubt if the helmet he was wearing had a big A or G on it his projected ranking would have been significantly higher.
Now let’s talk about running backs. No one respects AJ Rose or Kavoisey Smoke at running back. Adam Spencer of Saturday Down South recently rated the top 10 running backs in the SEC after the completion of 2019 spring games. Not a Wildcat on the list. In fact, Spencer mentioned three incoming freshmen that he might have included on the list if he had some history to go on. Coincidentally those freshmen play for Alabama, LSU and Ole Miss.
That means based on Spencer’s rating system a UK player — Smoke — that ran for 132 yards in the spring game on five carries and another UK running back — Rose — that ran for 86 yards on 11 carries can’t crack the Top 13 running backs in the SEC while playing on a team that is known to be “run-oriented” and finished sixth in the league in rushing yards per game last season. And that’s just the offense. What about a defense that ranked sixth in the country last season in points per game and second in the SEC?
Anyway, you get the picture. The Kentucky football team seems to garner about as much respect as the Jets did in Super Bowl III. And the players see it. The coaches see it. Vince Marrow, UK recruiting coordinator, said recently referring to the general disrespect for Kentucky Football, “I tell you what, I love this stuff. I am telling you. Our players see it. I see it. I really do believe that the Kentucky stigma impacts that.”
Marrow went on to say that the disrespect is a motivator for his team,
“People just keep disrespecting us. The season is right around the corner. We will take care of that very soon. I think our players are starting to get a little ticked off and so am I.”
Just like Joe Namath and the New York Jets. Sometimes when a team is supposed to win, like the Baltimore Colts, and they come up against a team that is tired of being disrespected, like the New York Jets, unusual things happen. Like an 18-point underdog beating their opponent in the Super Bowl.
So don’t be surprised this season if you see an angry bunch of Wildcats take out their frustrations on their competition. After all there’s a reason they strap on the equipment and play the games. Talk is cheap and predictions are just that, predictions. As they used to say in the old days, “Not worth the paper they are printed on.”