Tom Leach, the voice of Kentucky football and basketball, remembers the exact date: Feb. 14, 1998. Ahh, Valentine's Day. Love and affection reigns.
Alas, UK's home loss to Mississippi that day soured the post-game show, of which Leach then served as host. One fan wanted to snatch back his flowers and chocolates.
"This is the worst 22-4 team in America," a caller declared.
A trained straight man, Leach did not respond. "I didn't think of a snappy comeback," he said.
Never miss a local story.
But later he did. "Isn't that like dating the ugliest supermodel?" he said thinking back on the moment. "It's not too bad."
Not bad, indeed. Kentucky did not lose again as Tubby Smith guided Kentucky to its most recent national championship.
"They had just lost at home," Leach said in putting perspective on the outrageous. "You say things you don't really mean in the heat of the moment of frustration."
UK, one of college basketball's ever-gorgeous supermodels, smudged her lipstick last weekend at Indiana. Judging by the lack of panic, it would appear UK fans are following Coach John Calipari's advice to enjoy each season's ride, the occasional dip, as well as the wind-in-the-hair exhilaration.
Calipari isn't monitoring the fans' reaction. He noted how he hires someone to do his tweets, blogs and Facebook postings.
A package came to his home, without a return address. "It got torn up," Calipari said. "Never was opened. We can't get into all that."
That sounds wise.
If history is any guide, UK fans will find something to bemoan. The fretting about Kyle Wiltjer's lack of playing time against Kansas earlier this season led Calipari to say even his wife, Ellen, asked why the freshman didn't play more. Et tu, Ellen?
"That's a curse and a blessing," former UK All-American Dan Issel said of fan interest in Wiltjer, a freshman, in an early-season marquee victory. "Because you're Kentucky, you get all this talent. No matter how much talent you have, only five of them can play at the same time."
An Issel story about Kentucky fans being difficult to please is hard to top. What should have been a happily-ever-after begins with one of Issel's friends attending UK's victory over Duke in the 1978 championship game. After the game, the friend rode a hotel elevator with UK fans.
"(The UK fans) were complaining about somebody not getting enough playing time," Issel said before adding, "and they just won the national championship."
When asked what that story told him, Issel smiled and said, "No. 1, Kentucky fans are very passionate. No. 2, they all think they can coach better than whomever the coach is."
One season when Smith was coach, a caller offered what could be termed encouragement.
"I know our record is 21-3," the caller told Smith, "but I want you to know I'm not giving up."
Ralph Hacker, who then did radio play by play and served as the call-in-show host, confirmed the often-told story that sounds like an urban legend. Except that it's true.
"I remember Tubby looking at me and just shaking his head," Hacker said. "He then told the caller, 'Maybe things will get better.' Remember how he was such a gentleman?"
Former UK Athletics Director C.M. Newton saw Calipari as "the perfect choice" to be head nurse, er, coach.
"He understands that and isn't influenced by it," Newton said of fan interest. "He'll make sure the players are not affected by it."
Players can be affected, Newton said. They might try too hard to please fans or selfishly try to showcase individual skill at the expense of the team.
"There's one guy they need to please, and that's Cal," Newton said. "They don't need to please the fans."
As ESPN analyst Jay Bilas saw the final 5.6 seconds at Indiana last weekend, not fouling was Kentucky's biggest mistake. But it wasn't UK's only mistake.
Kentucky could have committed two fouls before Indiana shot the one-and-one bonus, thus bleeding precious seconds off the clock. "The chances of winning, if you foul, jump up by 75 to 80 percent," Bilas said.
Of course, UK did not foul.
Bilas saw two other mistakes that compounded the error of not fouling.
■ Cody Zeller's screen freed Verdell Jones to speed into the front court. Zeller's defender, presumably fellow freshman Anthony Davis, should have called out the screen to teammate Marquis Teague and/or impeded Jones' path upcourt.
"You've got to be there," Bilas said. "To call it out or to step in."
When it was noted that the screen happened about 50 feet from the basket, Bilas said, "It doesn't matter. When the screen's set, you have to be in the backcourt calling out the screen so your man doesn't get his head taken off."
Davis noted that UK was in a "scramble." Nobody had a specific man to guard except Teague on Jones.
Looking back on the sequence, Davis said he should have been nearby to switch off onto Jones.
■ Darius Miller moved off Christian Watford to block Jones' path to the basket. Miller could have fouled Jones. If he chose not to foul, Miller would have been better served to allow Jones to score the tying layup rather than leave Watford open for a game-winning three-pointer.
"In that situation, the only thing that can beat you is a three," Bilas said. "The three-point line is the most important thing. You can't really help out. ...
"Part of winning is eliminating losing. If you let them take a three, you're not eliminating losing. You're bringing that into the equation."
Bilas took a philosophical view of the final 5.6 seconds at Indiana. In the first game of the season on an opponent's court, a freshman-oriented Kentucky team could be expected to make mistakes.
The experience can be valuable later in the season.
"It's a really stressful, difficult environment, and you're asked to process a lot," Bilas said. "Usually, you rely on what you've been drilled on and what you've been taught. ... That was an important game, and it was great and all that. But it really doesn't count for anything. But it was a great learning experience for Kentucky and Indiana."
And what if Watford had missed the shot at the buzzer?
"You wouldn't be going over it like the Zapruder film," Bilas said.
John Calipari has tremendous depth when it comes to reasons Kentucky should end its series with either Indiana, Louisville or North Carolina.
As of last week, Cal's rationales numbered at least 16. That's almost one per day since Nov. 27, when he posted a request for fans to waste their time voting on which traditional rival they could accept dropping from the schedule.
Calipari keeps current. On his radio show Monday, he added the ugly outbreak of violence at the end of the Xavier-Cincinnati game two days earlier as a reason Kentucky should not continue playing Indiana, Louisville or North Carolina.
"Would I have my son in that situation?" Calipari said before answering his own rhetorical question. "Never!"
In the recent history of UK's games with IU, U of L and UNC, four regrettable episodes come to mind: Bobby Knight cuffing Joe B. Hall across the head (ancient history), a fan in Rupp Arena hitting Denny Crum with a coin (1984 NCAA Tournament), John Pelphrey scuffling with U of L's James Brewer (circa early 1990s) and DeMarcus Cousins shoving a forearm into the head/neck of a Louisville player (2009).
Conclusion: U of L should consider dropping UK for safety reasons.
Here are the other 15 reasons Calipari has offered for dropping a traditional rival:
1. The loss of home-game revenue because UK would have to continue playing at the rival school every other season.
2. "You can't learn against Popcorn State. You need those kind of (high-intensity) games. You just don't need 12 of them."
3. While conceding that fans like those series, he said, "My job is not to entertain."
4. He does not want to put the UK program at risk.
5. Other college basketball dynasties do not play three non-conference rivals.
6. The Southeastern Conference might expand from 16 to 18 league games.
7. He merely wanted to "create dialogue."
8. "Does it really matter? It doesn't matter."
9. It frees up the chance to schedule more neutral-site games. (Look for UK to play UCLA. Are you listening Shabazz Muhammad?)
10. What if UK doesn't have a highly rated freshman class every year?
11. What if the crop of top prospects in the high school senior class is not exceptional every year?
12. The schedule needs more flexibility.
13. He must be careful not to overburden the players.
14. The schedule must be tailored for the freshman-oriented team UK will have every season.
15. Kentucky can do whatever it wants. "We're Kentucky."
So long, Joe
Joe Peek, a UK finance professor and a faculty representative on the school's Board of Trustees, announced his imminent departure last week. He's leaving to take a position with the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston.
Peek will leave on what he considers a high note.
For example, UK President Eli Capilouto said last week that he considers the school's need to upgrade its dormitories and classrooms a higher priority than deciding whether Rupp Arena should be renovated or a new arena built. What's more, Capilouto said he would consider any state funding of a Lexington entertainment district, which would include UK basketball's homecourt, as taking money from the upgrade of dorms and classrooms.
"Hey, it's about academics here," Peek said of Capilouto's message.
When Capilouto spoke to the faculty senate later in the week, he received a rousing ovation.
Peek did not argue with the idea that the faculty was starved to hear a UK president put the school ahead of the basketball program. The faculty was "extremely pleased to hear that," he said.
Peek also welcomed UK Coach John Calipari's words of support for Capilouto's vision. More than once, Calipari has expressed his willingness to defer to campus needs.
"I thought that was wonderful," said Peek, who interpreted Calipari as saying, "We are in this together."
On Friday, Calipari acknowledged that UK can be the gold standard of college basketball while continuing to play in Rupp Arena. Peek agreed.
"Anybody who was at the North Carolina game would say, 'C'mon, how can it be better than that?' " Peek said.
To several former UK players. To Deron Feldhaus. He turned 43 on Friday. ... To Jeff Brassow. He turns 41 on Tuesday. ... To Roger Harden. He turns 48 on Monday. ... To Allen Edwards. He turned 36 on Friday. ... To Myron Anthony. He turns 34 today. ... To Rupp Runt Thad Jaracz. He turned 65 Thursday. ... To Kelenna Azubuike. He turned 28 on Friday. ... To Adam Chiles. He turned 29 on Friday.