Thanks to fans, game's start beats its finish

jsmith3@herald-leader.comDecember 28, 2009 

NASHVILLE — There were flash bulbs popping all over as if a crowd of paparazzi had gathered.

There were screams and hollers and autograph seekers all around.

There were fans by the thousands craning their necks trying to get a glimpse.

Kentucky's players got the blue carpet treatment from the more than 1,000 fans who lined up five deep for more than 50 yards to greet the Cats during the Cat Walk before the game.

But this wasn't sunny Los Angeles.

It was easy to tell based on the number of layers each spectator was wearing.

"I have so many layers on if I fall down, I'll bounce back up," said Jim Fallin of Hancock County, who was waiting more than two hours before kickoff for Kentucky's players to arrive for the pre-game ritual. "If I went out there and played football, they could hit me and it wouldn't hurt I have so much padding."

Fallin was sporting a giant, puffy blue coat and a blue Santa hat.

"We're in a bowl game, it doesn't matter how cold it is," Harold Neikirk of Lexington chimed in. "We bleed blue, so this is what we do."

Before the Big Blue buses arrived, thousands lined the walkways at Second Street and Victory Avenue, despite the bitter cold.

In the LP Field parking lot, grills were converted from cooking devices to fire pits. Flames would shoot up every few seconds in nearly every row in the expansive lot.

"We're just doing whatever we have to do to stay warm," said Chris Smith of Nicholasville next to his makeshift fire pit, holding up his beverage of choice as further evidence of ingenuity.

At kickoff, the temperature was 38 degrees, but with winds gusting from 18 to 26 miles an hour, the wind chill was 28 degrees.

That didn't seem to deter Cat fans, who outnumbered Clemson fans considerably.

Many who had been to previous Music City Bowls with the Cats said they thought this year's version of the Cat Walk was the largest at LP Field.

On the side of the UK gauntlet, the cheerleaders led fans in C-A-T-S chants, and the band played the fight song.

"This is much, much bigger than before," Fallin said.

Coach Rich Brooks led the way between the two rows of fans, slapping hands as he went. Players and assistant coaches followed suit, some wide-eyed at the crowd so willing to arrive early in spite of the cold.

Dan Riley of Versailles, who was with 11 other relatives for the game, said he thought the players seemed pleased with their movie-star arrival.

"It was definitely a good way to welcome them," Riley said.

As if he were a film director in much sunnier, warmer Los Angeles, Jerry Taylor of Louisville got up inside an oversize planter at the start of the Cat Walk to film the event.

"I've got a great angle from up here," he said. "This is the best place to watch it from; you can take it all in. It's awesome."

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