Cat fans know the way to Nashville by now

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 7, 2009 

John Clay

Athletics Director Mitch Barnhart announced Sunday night that from now on the football entity of our local school of higher education will be known by the letters UKMC.

That is the University of Kentucky at the Music City.

OK, Barnhart didn't really make that announcement, but he could have, considering that over the past few years (and in future years) the great city of Nashville has turned in to the Cats' second home.

In 2006 and 2007, Rich Brooks' team won the Music City Bowl at Nashville's LP Field.

And UK has signed a contract with Western Kentucky University to play a four-game football series, with the 2011 and 2013 games to be played beneath the Nashville skyline.

And — what do you know — the Music City Bowl made it official Sunday night, extending UK an invitation to play in its bowl game for the third time in four years when the Cats play Clemson on Dec. 27.

Hey, didn't Brooks' boys already whip the Tigers back in 2006 before a capacity house filled with Big Blue Nation backers for the school's first bowl victory since 1984?

Told you Nashville has become Kentucky's home-away-from-home.

We won't even get into the fact the basketball Cats won the SEC Tournament title there in 2001, or that Ashley Judd has a home in Nashville, or that Loretta Lynn practically rules the Grand Ole Opry, or that the Louisville band My Morning Jacket recorded a song Nashville to Kentucky.

Yet, considering that most football fans want to travel to new and distant lands during the bowl seasons, is the Big Blue Nation growing tired of making the I-65 trip across the border into Opryland?

That could be easy to believe right now, especially considering, to use a word Tennessee whiskey-makers are as familiar with as Kentucky moonshiners, the hangover effect.

Kentucky football fans are still smarting from that 30-24 overtime loss to Tennessee back on Nov. 28. They believed with all their blue hearts that this was the year the previously cursed Cats would snap that 24-game losing streak at the hands of the Big (Rotten) Orange.

And when, trailing 24-21, UK was lucky enough to recover that fumble with 2:21 remaining at the Vols' 37-yard line, the Commonwealth surely thought this, yes, this, would the year.

It wasn't. Some controversial play-calling led not to a winning touchdown but a game-tying field goal. Overtime led from frustration to disappointment to anger as Tennessee prevailed 30-24.

The chance of finishing second in the SEC East with a trip to sunny Tampa and the Outback Bowl dissolved into the reality of a fourth-place finish and a get-well card from their old friends in Nashville.

We know you're disappointed, but we've been there for you before, and we're here again. You had a great time your last two visits. Remember? You'll have a great time again. We promise.

There are reasons to return. Despite the sad season-ender, this football team accomplished road wins at Auburn (first time since 1961) and Georgia (first time since 1977) even though it lost its starting quarterback in the season's fifth game.

Plus, UK could run its historic bowl-victory streak to four, in what may or may not be Rich Brooks' final game as head coach. (Word on the street is not even Rich himself knows for sure.)

Plus, let's be frank, a bowl game in Nashville two days after Christmas is a legitimate excuse to escape the in-laws.

Come on, UKMC.

It's your old friend Nashville calling.

You already know the way.

Reach John Clay at 859-231-3226 or 1-800-950-6397, ext. 3226, or jclay@herald-leader.com. Read his blog at Kentucky.com.

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