As Kentucky Wildcats head coach, Joker Phillips could use some more good moments soon.
On Saturday, when struggling UK travels to face No. 1 LSU, Phillips will return to the place where he once played a starring role as a wide receiver in one of the more unique Kentucky Wildcats victories ever.
When Jerry Claiborne's 1983 Cats traveled to Baton Rouge, UK was coming off a winless season (0-10-1) the year before. At 4-1, the '83 Cats were off to a good start but still trying to give their second-year head coach his first SEC victory after seven straight league losses.
On a Saturday night in the Bayou, Claiborne would finally get an SEC victory in a memorable manner.
The Cats got on the board first on the game's fourth play from scrimmage when senior cornerback Kerry Baird stepped in front of a Jeff Wickersham pass on an out pattern and took it 35 yards to the house.
After LSU took a 10-7 halftime lead, Kentucky quarterback Randy Jenkins rallied the Blue by hitting Phillips — referred to in the Herald-Leader game story by his given name Joe, not his nickname, Joker — with touchdown passes of 6 and 12 yards.
The Kentucky defense made it stand up for a 21-13 victory.
Even in the Simpson County seat of Franklin, down in Western Kentucky, it may have taken the citizens just a moment to fully grasp just how unique this UK win was.
Cawood Ledford, the iconic Kentucky radio play-by-play man, made sure the whole state realized what had happened.
"The game ended, Cawood sort of wrapped things up, then threw it to commercial," says Steve Thurmond, the executive director of the Franklin-Simpson Chamber of Commerce. "When he came back, he began with, 'It was Franklin-Simpson High School 21, LSU 13 tonight in Tiger Stadium.' Then he talked about what Joker and Kerry had done in the game."
Baird and Phillips were both graduates of Franklin-Simpson High School. They had known each other since they were kids, played Little League football together and run high school track. Together, they combined to lead Franklin-Simpson to the 1979 Class 3A state football title.
(Phillips, an option quarterback, led the Wildcats to another one in 1980 after Baird graduated and came to UK).
"He and I played together in Little League, didn't win a game," Phillips said Thursday of Baird. "At the time, Kerry was an offensive lineman, he was a little big, and I was a running back. So we had played together since the fifth, sixth grade."
In Baton Rouge after the game, Baird says now even he and Phillips did not immediately recognize the significance of what they had done in Tiger Stadium.
"I remember Joker scoring. And I was excited for him," Baird said Tuesday night. "I was excited — I was on defense — that I scored. I think we made the comment that two Franklin-Simpson boys had scored. But at the time, we didn't really think of it that we scored the only points. Well, other than the kicking team."
After Ledford's game wrap-up, Simpson County could hardly contain its pride.
The Franklin-Simpson High football boosters "invited us back," Baird says. "They were fired up and happy about what we'd done. They had big banners. They produced bumper stickers. People were excited that two Franklin-Simpson boys were able to score and had the headlines."
Some 28 years later, Baird and Phillips still occasionally reminisce about the night Franklin-Simpson beat LSU.
Baird, who will turn 50 next month, is a married father of two here in Lexington who owns a moving company.
"I text Joe," he says of Phillips. "He's a busy man now, so I text him."
Last week, Baird says some of the guys he and Phillips played with at UK came to Lexington for the Florida game. On the Thursday night before the contest, Phillips invited them to his house.
"We just talked about old times, relaxing times," Baird said. "I think it was good for him."
When the conversation turns to the night that two guys from the same small town scored all the touchdowns in a UK victory over LSU, "the best part of that memory is winning. We won the game," Phillips said.
The UK coach says, even now, he has one of the F-S 21, LSU 13 bumper stickers the folks in Franklin produced way back in 1983.
If the 2011 Cats could pull an upset for the ages Saturday, "I'd like to make a new sticker," says Phillips.