By KEITH PEEL, Contributing Writer
Forty years. That’s a long time. The average life expectancy today for Americans is about 80 years. Forty years is half a lifetime of watching UK Football not achieve a winning record in the Southeastern Conference. It is the longest streak in the nation. Even other schools that have been perennially weak at football like Duke and Indiana have had winning conference records in the last few years.
Unfortunately not Kentucky. The best they could do is to play break even football as recently as last season. UK finished 4-4 and tied for second in the Eastern Division of the conference. A couple of plays away from having a winning record in the conference, breaking the streak and maybe even finishing in first place in the East.
One would think that with a daunting streak like that it would be difficult to get fans to the stadium. That is what makes the Big Blue Nation so unique. The fans continue to come and support the team – year after year – even when the results aren’t that exciting.
Most outsiders believe that UK is a basketball school. Rupp Arena holds 23,000 plus and it is generally filled for every game. The team averages winning 90% of their games played there. It would be natural to think that fans would show up to watch a winner.
But what about UK Football. They average winning 47% of their games over the history of the program. Not a very impressive record and yet fan attendance for home games historically ranks in the top 30 teams in the country – year in and year out.
Why do they do it? Why do fans continue to lay out large sums of money – season tickets are $310 each not including the required K Fund donation- knowing that the likelihood of UK winning is below 50%.
Here’s what Tom Leach, the Voice of The Kentucky Wildcats, said about what he thinks is most telling about UK Football fans, ” The passion of the Kentucky fans. They want it so badly for this program and when there’s been just the least bit of promise of a brighter day in the future, they have jumped in to help push the Cats forward with full force.”
The passion of the fans is what makes UK Football great. From the top of the heap in 1977 when UK finished 10-1, No. 6 in the AP Poll and tied for the SEC Championship with Alabama (technically UK was ineligible for the championship that year due to NCAA sanctions) to some of the dismal years like the 1994 season when UK finished 1-10 under Bill Curry, the fans of the Big Blue Nation stay true to form.
Former All-American punter Glenn Pakulak said about UK Fans ” I have lived all over the world. City to city playing in the NFL, NFL Europe, etc. and Lexington is right at the very top of this list, if not #1. I will cherish the people and fans of Lexington and Kentucky the rest of my life. The kindest people that my family and I have ever met. I’d like to eventually have a place in Lexington to spend parts of the year living there. Fans on gameday are so very loyal and caring about their Wildcats, it’s like nothing I have ever experienced and never will again. Week in and week out they were there yelling and cheering us on, whether we were 2-9 or 9-2. I’ll hold Commonwealth Stadium and Lexington very close to my heart for as long as I live.”
It seems that UK fans have a love affair with football that stays true no matter the situation or circumstances. So in this upcoming season – no matter how the players perform – the Big Blue Nation will be out in force filling the stadium to watch and cheer for the Cats. And just maybe 2017 will be the year to break the streak. Forty years is a long time.