LEXINGTON — The start of preseason football practice is only some two weeks away and one of the most anticipated seasons in UK history just a few weeks beyond that.
I’m going to list my all-time favorite UK football memories in this space, with realistic hopes that a similar column in, say, five years, will yield additional happy chapters.
I go back only to 1977, when I was 19 years old and just starting to appreciate a good memory:
1. UK over No. 1 LSU, 43-37, in three overtimes on Oct. 13 in 2007.
When LSU lined up on fourth-and-2 at the Kentucky 17 in the third overtime, needing a first down to stay alive, one of my peers asked me: “Do you think the Wildcats stop them here?”
I didn’t hesitate.
“No,” I said.
Such were the ghosts of UK football past.
But UK defender Braxton Kelley came out of nowhere to hold LSU running back Charles Scott to a 1-yard gain, sealing the improbable win for the Wildcats.
Quarterback Andre Woodson threw for 250 yards and three touchdowns for Kentucky, including the game winner, a 7-yard toss to Stevie Johnson in the third OT.
Johnson caught seven passes for 134 yards.
2. UK over Penn State, 24-20, in Happy Valley in 1977.
Coach Fran Curci had Kentucky football on the rise as the Wildcats went into Penn State at 2-1 in 1977, back when Penn State was still a national power under Joe Paterno.
The Nittany Lions took a 10-0 lead early, but an interception and touchdown runback by UK’s Dallas Owens gave the Wildcats momentum they never surrendered.
Curci’s team went on to finish 10-1, with the only blemish to Mike Singletary and the Baylor Bears, 21-6, in Waco in Week Two.
Quarterback Derrick Ramsey, a future athletics director at Kentucky State, led the Kentucky offense in ’77.
That was Penn State’s lone loss that season.
3. UK over Mississippi State, 34-31, on Oct. 28, 2006, in Starkville.
Kentucky came into this game 3-4, off a 49-0 loss at LSU two weeks earlier, with only one or two family members, including the family dog, believing that coach Rich Brooks would have a job in Lexington much longer.
But Brooks — then in his fourth season at UK — and the Wildcats managed to get this desperately needed win over the Bulldogs.
Kentucky then upset Georgia, 24-20, a week later at home.
The season ended at 8-5, including an upset of massively favored Clemson, 28-20, in the Music City Bowl.
4. UK over Alabama, 40-34, in overtime on Oct. 4, 1997.
Hal Mumme brought excitement back to Kentucky football in his first season in Lexington, capped by this dramatic overtime win over 20th-ranked Alabama.
Quarterback Tim Couch passed for four touchdowns, including a 26-yard game winner to Craig Yeast in overtime.
Mumme’s first team finished just 5-6, but that set the tone for a 7-5 season a year later that ended with an Outback Bowl berth against Penn State.
5. UK over Louisville, 40-34, Sept. 15 in 2007 in Lexington.
It was the perfect storm for the Wildcats as the Bobby Petrino-less Cardinals (Petrino left U of L for the NFL several months earlier) met up with a Kentucky team that had at least borderline top 10 talent, if not top 10 confidence.
A bad Louisville defense allowed the Wildcats to gain that confidence as wide receiver Stevie Johnson found himself wide open with 30 seconds to go, allowing him to gather in a 57-yard touchdown pass from Andre Woodson.
Woodson completed 30 of 44 passes for 275 yards against the No. 9-rated Cardinals.
6. UK over Tennessee, 10-7, Nov. 26, 2011 in Lexington.
For the first time in 26 years, the Wildcats found a Tennessee team they could beat.
It was especially memorable because UK did it with a wide receiver, Matt Roark, at quarterback. Roark rushed 24 times for 124 yards.
Roark didn’t necessarily win the game for the Wildcats, but, more importantly, he didn’t lose it, either.
A 24-17 loss at home to Louisville earlier in the season cost Kentucky a shot at a bowl and a winning season. The Wildcats settled for a 5-7 record.
7. UK over Wisconsin, 20-19, in the 1984 Hall of Fame Bowl in Birmingham.
One of the most overlooked truly great wins in UK football history. Jerry Claiborne’s Wildcats came into this bowl game 8-3 but were a three-point underdog against the Badgers, who had a dynamite wide receiver named Al Toon.
Joey Worley’s 52-yard field goal in the rain with 8:55 left was the difference for Kentucky.
Wisconsin marched inside the Kentucky 10 with less than two minutes left, facing a fourth-and-6 play at the 8-yard line. But Todd Gregoire never got off what would have been a chip-shot, game winning field goal, due to a bobbled snap.
Kentucky looked to have it going after three seasons under Claiborne, but the Wildcats lost the 1985 season opener to Bowling Green, 30-26, and didn’t knock on the door of greatness again until, arguably, Rich Brooks’ 2007 team.