The most pressing sports issue in the commonwealth last week was unexpected: Was Abraham Lincoln really a Kentucky Wildcats fan?
In a clever bit of marketing, Kentucky billed its men's soccer meeting with archrival Louisville last Tuesday night as an "Abe Out." Promotional material showed a silhouette of the 16th president of the United States decked out in a pair of sunglasses featuring the UK logo over each eye. The accompanying text said "Born in Kentucky, Abe chose to be a Cats fan. Come cheer on Abe's team."
Maybe the pull of the Kentucky-Louisville sports rivalry was the main attraction for last week's soccer match. Or maybe, 149 years after he took an ill-fated trip to the theater, Honest Abe still has swag.
Either way, a UK men's soccer record crowd of 3,368 turned out to see the No. 9 Cardinals edge the Wildcats 2-1.
Now, why would we think that in a matchup of the two most prominent college sports programs from the state of Lincoln's birth that the Civil War-era president would side with UK?
"We're making an assumption," said Nathan Schwake, UK's assistant athletics director for marketing and licensing.
Noting that UK traces its roots back to 1865, the same year Lincoln was murdered by an assassin, Schwake says "there could have been some overlap, you know."
According to The Kentucky Encyclopedia, The Agricultural & Mechanical College of Kentucky — the forerunner of UK — was created by an act of the state legislature on Feb. 22, 1865. Confederate sympathizer John Wilkes Booth killed Lincoln at Ford's Theater in Washington, D.C., on April 15, 1865.
Still, UK did not play its first football game until Nov. 12, 1881. It did not play a men's basketball contest until Feb. 6, 1903. So Lincoln, who was born in a log cabin at Sinking Spring Farm near Hodgenville on Feb. 12, 1809, never had a chance to lead a "Go Big Blue!" cheer.
It could be that, in any conflict, Lincoln would always go with the side in blue.
Schwake said the idea of using The Great Rail Splitter to promote the UK-U of L soccer match came out of a brainstorming session involving UK sports marketing graduate assistant Greg Herbert, men's soccer publicist Jacob Most and Kim Troxall, the creative director for UK Athletics.
Moving forward, the possibilities for utilizing historical figures associated with the state of Kentucky to promote future UK events are enticing. You could have a "Boone Out" in which any fan wearing a coonskin cap for pioneer Daniel Boone gets a free burger. You could have a "Rupp Out," in which people showing up in brown suits such as those once favored by Adolph Rupp get in free.
Or there could be more fun to have with Lincoln.
Jason Schlafer, a UK senior associate athletics director, said his vision for the "Abe Out" included a machine-produced fog from which a figure dressed as Lincoln rode a horse onto the Kentucky soccer pitch while waving a machete.
"Maybe," Schwake says, "for 'The Second Annual Abe Out.'"
Stein gets another ring
Lexington's Alan Stein is accumulating an impressive collection of baseball championship rings. Stein, who brought the Lexington Legends to town, is part of the ownership group of the Triple-A Omaha Storm Chasers.
For the second year in a row, Omaha, a Kansas City Royals affiliate, won the Triple-A national championship when the Storm Chasers of the Pacific Coast League beat the Pawtucket Red Sox of the International League.
When he gets his 2014 Omaha championship ring, Stein says he will have five from his time in professional baseball — a South Atlantic League ring from Lexington for 2001; a World Series (participation) ring from the Houston Astros (who were then Lexington's parent club) in 2005; a PCL title ring for Omaha in 2011; and the back-to-back Triple-A national championship rings from Omaha.
"I wear one of them every day," Stein said of the rings.
Stein notes there were two pitchers on the championship-winning Omaha roster, Scott Alexander and Christian Binford, who pitched for the Legends last season.
At one time, one of Stein's partners in the Omaha club was billionaire investor Warren Buffett, a Nebraska resident. No more.
"We bought him out," Stein says of the world's fourth-richest man.