Robert Moss “Bob” Hardy, the quarterback who gave Bear Bryant his only win as Kentucky head coach over Tennessee and who beat the Volunteers three times as UK’s starter, died Sunday in Florida. He was 83.
According to Hardy’s son, Rob, the elder Hardy had a stroke two years ago and suffered from Parkinson’s disease, a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement. “The Parkinson’s was the real issue,” Rob Hardy said.
A product of Augusta Tilghman High School in Paducah, Bob Hardy became Kentucky’s starting quarterback as a sophomore in 1953.
He directed a UK team captained by Ray Correll and Tommy Adkins to a 7-2-1 record. The most notable victory came in the season’s final game, when Hardy and Kentucky beat Tennessee 27-21 at Stoll Field.
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It was Bryant’s first victory over the Volunteers in eight tries as UK head man, the coach having gone a frustrating 0-5-2 against UT before that.
“I think by 1953, Coach Bryant finally realized that we could just do what we would normally do in that game (and win),” Hardy said in 2009. “Before, when we got to Tennessee, he’d make a lot of changes to both the offense and the defense. It was hard to take all that in in three days.”
That win over Tennessee turned out to be Bryant’s final game at Kentucky. The coach left for Texas A&M before the 1954 season.
So Hardy, a junior, became the first starting quarterback for the new UK head man, Blanton Collier.
A 7-3 season in 1954 was capped by Hardy’s most famous play as Kentucky quarterback. With the Wildcats trailing Tennessee 13-7 in the season finale in Knoxville, Hardy hit end Howard Schnellenberger with a game-winning touchdown pass for a 14-13 victory in Neyland Stadium.
“It was raining, just a miserable day,” Schnellenberger recalled Wednesday. “We were behind and drove it down the field. I was the left end, and they called a sprint-out pass to the right. Bob rolled that way, felt pressure and started scrambling around.
“The defense was drawn to all that running around with the ball and left me wide open. It was raining, and Bob threw me kind of a wobbly pass. I had to wait on it, but all I had to do was catch it and run about 10 yards for the touchdown.”
Kentucky went 6-3-1 in Hardy’s senior year, 1955. The quarterback ended his college career by directing a 23-0 shutout of Tennessee at Stoll Field.
In the 61 years since Hardy secured his third win for UK over UT, Kentucky has beaten Tennessee in football only 10 times.
Across the decades, Rob Hardy says his dad got a full measure of enjoyment out of being known as the Kentucky quarterback who beat Tennessee three times.
“He loved all of them,” Rob Hardy says of the victories.
After departing UK with a degree in commerce, Bob Hardy eventually settled in Frankfort and worked for Investors Heritage Life Insurance, rising to vice president. He later pursued other business ventures.
In 1988, Hardy moved to Boynton Beach, Fla. Besides allowing him to pursue his passion for golf (he won the 1989 American Seniors’ Golf Association Stroke Play Championship), it eventually allowed him to rekindle his college friendship with Schnellenberger.
At the end of the latter’s longtime coaching career, Schnellenberger started the football program at Florida Atlantic University in 2004.
“He would come to practice sometimes and come to games,” Schnellenberger said. “We sort of reconnected and spent a lot of time together.”
Twice married and twice divorced, Hardy is survived by two children, Rob Hardy (Lisbon) of Frankfort, and Laura Lee Dobie (Bruce) of Nashville, and four grandchildren.
A memorial service will be held Sept. 27 at 3 p.m. at the Church of the Ascension in Frankfort, with visitation beginning at 2 p.m.