Every time I hear of Larry Bird, I think of his great rival, Magic Johnson (and vice versa).
So when Western Kentucky University announced last Sunday that the iconic former Hilltoppers football coach, Jimmy Feix, had died at 83, I immediately thought of his fierce coaching rival, ex-Eastern Kentucky head man Roy Kidd.
Kidd, 82, said he called Frankie Feix, Jimmy's widow, last Monday to pay his respects.
"She said he'd been so sick, he's probably better off," Kidd said. "I told her that when I retired (after the 2002 season), I was ready to (leave coaching). But the one thing I told her I missed was coaching on Saturday, especially in those games against Western and Jimmy. Those games, they were so intense. I still miss that."
The world is so different now, this will sound unfathomable, but when I was a kid in the 1970s the annual Western-Eastern showdown was often the most anticipated game of the college football season in the commonwealth.
Back then, there was no Kentucky-Louisville football rivalry. The NCAA restricted the number of games that could be nationally telecast. Eastern (now FCS) and Western (now FBS) then played at the same level of college football. The archrivals always seemed to be battling for the Ohio Valley Conference championship.
Making the competition between the schools even more compelling was how similar were the backgrounds of the two head coaches.
Feix came to Western as a student from the Western Kentucky town of Henderson and became an All-America quarterback in 1952. Eventually, he was a Hilltoppers assistant and, in 1968, became head coach at his alma mater.
Kidd came to Eastern as a student from the Eastern Kentucky town of Corbin and became an All-America quarterback in 1953. Eventually, he was a Colonels assistant and, in 1964, became head coach at his alma mater.
At Western, Feix would win a school-record 106 games (106-56-6) from 1968-83. He claimed six OVC championships and took the Hilltoppers to national runner-up finishes in the NCAA Division II playoffs twice (1973 and '75).
At Eastern, Kidd would win a school-record 314 games (314-124-8) from 1964-2002. He claimed 16 OVC titles and took the Colonels to two Division I-AA (now FCS) national championships (1979 and '82) and two national runner-up finishes (1980 and '81).
When people ask Kidd to identify the sweetest win of his long career, he gives an answer he thinks surprises. "I know people expect me to say the national championship games," Kidd said. "But there was one I think I might have enjoyed a little more."
That came against Western and Feix, of course. Through five games in 1968, the Hilltoppers were not only unbeaten, they were unscored upon. Eastern travelled to Bowling Green for the official dedication of the then-new L.T. Smith Stadium.
In a 2008 interview with me, Feix described the atmosphere. "There was a huge crowd, had to be 23,000 or so," he said. "I've got this big print hanging in my den even now. It's an aerial view of the stadium with people everywhere. It was amazing."
Before this throng, Western seized a 7-0 lead. EKU seemed in deep trouble when starting quarterback Jim Guice "got his bell rung" and left the game.
However, Guice returned unexpectedly, and the momentum dramatically flipped. "Nobody had even scored on them," Kidd said, "and we won 16-7. I can tell you, that was sweet."
Ten years later, Feix and WKU got a similar moment at the expense of Kidd and EKU.
The 1978 Western-Eastern matchup was of such magnitude, ABC broadcast the game regionally. Eastern led 16-14 when a Western walk-on freshman kicker, Kavin McGarth, came on to attempt a last-second, 32-yard field goal to win the game.
He missed wide left.
Except ... EKU was called for roughing the kicker.
McGarth got to try the game winner again. Second time, he didn't miss. "To lose the way we did, that one really stung," Kidd said.
Thursday night, Kidd said it had been about a year since he had spoken with Feix.
"You know how some people, you like them and respect them and that just makes you want to beat them more?" Kidd said. "It makes it mean more to beat them because of how much respect you have for them. That's how I felt toward Jimmy Feix."