If there's one thing I could say about the Kentucky football beat this past 10 years it would be that it has never, ever been boring.
I took over the beat from John Clay in 2000, and the first game I covered was the infamous "Lightning Game" that featured a long weather delay and a dramatic Louisville overtime victory. Thrilling for the fans, but a nightmare for a young beat writer on deadline.
Then, four months later, an NCAA scandal broke out. At the time I thought, "What did I get myself into?"
Then the fun stuff started. Spending my weekends traveling to the storied Southeastern Conference stadiums. Covering both a heartbreaking last-second loss to LSU and then a miraculous upset of the then-No. 1 Tigers five years later.
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But as I prepare to move on to a new challenge, I think about what has been the best part of covering the UK football beat the past 10 years:
■ Kentucky football has always been surrounded by a wide variety of characters that have provided me with many classic moments.
■ The media gatherings at the Nutter Training Facility during and after practice.
■ The fans tailgating around Commonwealth Stadium.
■ I've covered four head coaches, six offensive coordinators and five defensive coordinators and had good and bad times with just about all of them.
Here's a look at the best of the best from my 10 years covering Kentucky football.
1. Kentucky 43, LSU 37, 3OT (2007); 2. Kentucky 40, Louisville 34 (2007); 3. Kentucky 31, South Carolina 28 (2010); 4. Kentucky 22, Louisville 17 (2002); Kentucky 28, Clemson 20 (2006).
1. Tennessee 52, Kentucky 50, 4 OT (2007); 2. LSU 33, Kentucky 30 (2002); 3. Tennessee 38, Kentucky 35 (2001); 4. Louisville 40, Kentucky 34, OT (2000); 5. Arkansas 71, Kentucky 63, 7 OT (2003).
Here are the top Kentucky players I covered since 2000:
1. Randall Cobb
2. Derek Abney
3. Trevard Lindley
4. Andre Woodson
5. Wesley Woodyard
6. Keenan Burton
7. Rafael Little
8. Jacob Tamme
9. Corey Peters
10. (tie) Jared Lorenzen and Derrick Locke
Honorable mention: Jeremy Jarmon, Dewayne Robertson, Steve Johnson,
Myron Pryor, Garry Williams, Micah Johnson, Artose Pinner, Glenn Pakulak, Braxton Kelley, Dennis Johnson.
Ebbs and flows
Nobody symbolized the roller coaster that is UK football better than Rich Brooks, who proved to be not only the most successful coach of my tenure, but one of the most successful in Kentucky football history.
Left for dead after three straight losing seasons with a probation-saddled roster, Brooks stabilized the program, leading it to four straight bowl games.
Here's a look at some of the twists and turns of the Brooks era:
Louisville 40, Kentucky 24 (Aug. 31, 2003): FireRichBrooks.com pops up.
Ohio 28, Kentucky 16 (Oct. 2, 2004): Thought this might have been the beginning of the end.
LSU 49, Kentucky 0 (Oct. 14, 2006): Thought this was the end.
Kentucky 34, Mississippi State 31 (Oct. 28, 2006): Brooks survives.
Kentucky 24, Georgia 20 (Nov. 4, 2006): Well, maybe this old guy isn't too bad after all.
Kentucky 40, Louisville 34 (Sept 15, 2007): Rich is the man.
Kentucky 43, LSU 37, 3OT (Oct. 13, 2007): Rich Brooks Field, anyone?
Most memorable quotes
Even in this politically correct era of extensive media relations training for athletes and coaches who often choose their words carefully, you could always count on a colorful quote or two slipping out while covering Kentucky football. Here are a few that stick out to me from the past 10 years.
■ "It's not that important of a game for us. The important games for us are the conference games. I know everyone likes to make it seem like a big deal, but we don't really benefit from playing a team that lives to beat us." — Former UK Coach Hal Mumme after Kentucky lost the season opener to Louisville in 2000.
■ "Some places overmarket and underperform, and others undermarket and overperform. You can pick which to want to apply to with (Louisville)." — UK President Lee T. Todd Jr. during the 2006 Kickoff Luncheon.
■ "We've got to have it (the game), we want to have it, we should have it, and I think we will have it. I don't think we should lose this game. Coach Brooks has been telling us that they're a good team and saying all the right things, but I really feel like we're better. I feel like we can get our backups in; I want to play that type of game. I want to do to them what LSU did to us (in a 49-0 loss)." — UK receiver Dicky Lyons Jr. a few days before Kentucky was scheduled to travel to Mississippi State in what was considered a must-win for Brooks.
■ "It stinks. No one ever expects to win the starting job and then lose it because guys around him aren't performing the way they should be. But it's best for the team, and I'm a team player, and that's just the way it has to be." — UK quarterback Mike Hartline after losing his starting job to Randall Cobb late in the 2008 season.
Best interview, player division
1. Corey Peters
2. Dicky Lyons Jr.
3. Jeremy Jarmon
4. Ricky Lumpkin
5. Jacob Tamme
6. Jared Lorenzen
7. Keenan Burton
8. Alfonso Smith
9. Randall Cobb
10. Eric Scott
Best interview, assistant coach division
1. Mike Archer
2. Tim "Bubba" Keane
3. John Goodner
4. Tony Franklin
5. Rick Smith
6. Wesley McGriff
7. Mike Summers
8. Tee Martin