By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
Webster’s Dictionary lists the definition of pain as “mental or emotional distress or suffering.” If you have been a Kentucky football fan for very long you should be very familiar with that definition. In fact, for those fans that have watched the Wildcats play football for 20 years or more you have seen some of the most improbable finishes to games that have ever occurred in college football.
Games like the 33-30 loss to the LSU Tigers in November of 2002 on a final second “Hail Mary” pass play that has come to be known as the “Bluegrass Miracle” or even some of the more recent losses to Florida like the 2014 three overtime 36-30 loss known as the “:00 play clock game” that helped extend the UK losing streak to an eventual 31 games before it was mercifully ended in 2018. And the list could go on and on but I think you probably get the picture and I don’t need to increase your pain.
Pain is something every UK football fan is familiar with but that’s not the point of this article. In fact, if you have made it through the article this far and you aren’t depressed you are a true UK football fan.
And here’s the good news. Even with the overall losing record of the program and the historic losses the UK program has suffered in the past, it has also been a source of much joy for Big Blue football fans through the years. For instance, how many fans during the 1997 football season celebrated the long awaited win against Alabama when UK All-American quarterback Tim Couch hit wide receiver Craig Yeast over the middle for a 26-yard touchdown pass in overtime to allow the Wildcats to beat the Crimson Tide 40-34 for the first time in 75 years?
Or how many remember seeing UK linebacker Braxton Kelley stop LSU running back Charles Scott 1-yard short on a fourth and two play to preserve the Wildcat’s tremendous upset of the No. 1 ranked Tiger team that went on to win the 2007 National Championship? What about just last season when Mark Stoops took his Wildcats into The Swamp in Gainesville and watched Benny Snell and Company make a new pair of shoes out of the Gators hide in a 27-16 beatdown to end the record setting streak of 31 losses in a row?
Those are games that all UK fans can get excited about. It’s those type wins that kept the Big Blue Nation filling up the stadium known as Commonwealth for so many years. And each one of those wins had its own cast of characters that played a starring role in each one of those historic wins … and many others.
That’s what this article is about, the hundreds of great players that ran through the tunnel and out onto the turf of Commonwealth Stadium to fight another battle for the Blue and White. Even when they hadn’t won a game all season like the 1982 team that finished 0-10-1 or the 1994 1-10 team that included a blowout loss to Florida 73-7.
It’s about those guys that became All-SEC players and a few that became All-Americans, but it’s also about the guys that were a part of each team but never got much recognition. Guys like running back Matt Riazzi and defensive lineman Kurt Supe from the 90’s or punter Glenn Pakulak or defensive lineman Ventrell Jenkins from the 2000’s teams.
Even players that had stellar moments in their careers like Matt Roark as a quarterback against the Tennessee Volunteers. Most will remember that Roark, a little used 6’ 6” wide receiver from Georgia, played as a fill-in quarterback the last game of the season against Tennessee and helped lead his team to a 10-7 victory and ended the unprecedented 26 game losing streak to the Volunteers. The Old Rocky Toppers had no answer for Roark’s running on that sunny November day in 2011 as he gouged the Tennessee defense for 124 yards on 24 carries.
Those are the moments that also help to define a player and a football program. And just to be clear, that game wasn’t won by Matt Roark. Sure, he was the hero, but 21 other guys played on offense and defense along with the many other special teams players and everyone had a hand in winning that game.
So, all of that being said is just an introduction to a new series I will be doing on my five favorite Kentucky Football players from the modern era (1970s and beyond).
Hopefully as we count down each player you will think about your own favorite players and why they were special to you.
Either way I hope you will come along for the ride and take a little trip back In time to remember some of the special people that have worn the blue and white uniform for the Kentucky Wildcats.