Date story was published: Sunday, September 4, 1983
It wasn't Tennessee or Georgia or any of the other Southeastern Conference rivals. Nor was it any of the 11 tormentors of last season.
But, it wasn't bad.
Kentucky had to jog its memory banks all the way back to Nov. 21, 1981, to remember what winning a football game was like. Yesterday, the Wildcats proved they hadn't forgotten.
Shaking off early adversity, UK whipped outmanned Central Michigan 31-14 at Commonwealth Stadium, providing home-state hero Jerry Claiborne with his first victory as the Wildcat coach.
Claiborne had waited through last season's 11-game Chinese-torture of a schedule for his first "W." He -- and his staff and players -- weren't going to let a little thing like the quality of competition stand in the way of a celebration.
Brian Williams and Frank Hare, two of the UK defenders who limited the tiring Chippewas to three first downs in the second half (12 for the game), carried Claiborne on their shoulders to his mid-field meeting with CMU Coach Herb Deromedi.
Lawrence "Choo Choo" Lee, usually the most demure of Wildcats, strode off the field with a two-touchdown grin.
In the UK locker room, assistant coaches delivered flying high-fives and hugged unashamedly. The players jumped up and down excitedly, first yelling incoherently, then singing (?) the UK fight song, "On, On, U of K."
"You couldn't tell me the Philadelphia Philharmonic sounds any better," said Claiborne, clutching the game ball in his left hand and a bologna sandwich in his right. "It was great music to my ears.
"Central Michigan isn't a Southeastern Conference football team, it's true. The reason we won is because we had more people. But, we're just happy to get a win."
Claiborne came into yesterday's season opener with a 138-86-6 record in 21 years of coaching. He needed one more victory to become the winningest pupil of the late Paul "Bear" Bryant. Of course, he could have made the same claim this time last year.
Yesterday, despite an unnerving beginning, was the day.
"I'm happy, but it was a long time coming," Claiborne said with a sigh, apparently as relieved as enraptured. "We've had a lot of wins, but we've never had so long between wins.
"I make no bones about. I'm as happy as I've ever been. I don't know if I've ever won one so big, one that meant so much to a program."
To put their coach in nirvana, the Wildcats had to twice rebound from early setbacks. A fumble and a fluke, both major contributors to last fall's disaster, played a part, putting the Cats behind 7-0 and 14-7.
A George Adams fumble -- the only fumble of the game and UK's only giveaway -- stopped the Wildcats after a 62-yard drive from the 1-yard-line. Central Michigan took over and went 63 yards on seven plays. Freshman quarterback Ron Fillmore rolled right and scored from 4 yards out.
The quarter ended with CMU ahead 7-0 and a Commonwealth crowd of 51,232 quietly waiting for something to cheer. One press box wag couldn't resist. ''Only 43 quarters left in the season," he said.
Vultures weren't circling Commonwealth, but there was a plane trailing a sign that read "See Real Football At EKU 13-0 In 83."
Adding insult to insult, two of those responsible for the plane are employees of the University of Kentucky. One is a faculty member. Both begged that their names not be used.
Then, strange -- perhaps revealing -- plays alternately delighted and disgusted the onlookers.
In order, they were:
* A 32-yard burst by back-up fullback Tom Wheary for a touchdown on his first carry in a college game. Wheary, a redshirt freshman, took off on a simple dive play, broke a tackle near the 25-yard-line, spun and ran untouched from there. Wheary's run tied the game at 7-7. More importantly, it would be the first of several big plays by UK.
"We gave up their scores too easily," Deromedi said. "The long plays were the difference."
Prime among the big plays were four passes to tight ends cutting over the middle. The four netted 67 yards. A 24-yarder to Oliver White, one of his four catches, set up Wheary's run.
"We were sending our backs into the flat and their linebackers were going with the backs," said quarterback Randy Jenkins, who completed 16 of 22 passes for 185 yards and one touchdown. "That left it up to the safeties to go both ways out there."
* A 48-yard pass completion from Fillmore to a UK lineman to safety Paul Calhoun to split end John DeBoer.
Near the line of scrimmage, a lineman tipped the pass 15 feet into the air. Calhoun and at least two other Wildcats closed in. Calhoun bobbled the ball and DeBoer grabbed it and took off. John Grimsley caught DeBoer from behind at the UK 14-yard-line. Two plays later, Curtis Adams, who rushed for 97 yards on 20 carries, swept right end for a 5-yard TD. Central led 14-7.
"It was kind of unbelievable," Lee said.
Again, the Wildcats' gumption was up for inspection.
"That wasn't the same type of thing that got to us last year," co-captain Scott Schroeder said. "Last year, the other team made its own big play. That was pure luck."
* UK made its own luck, beautifully executing a misdirection bootleg. Jenkins did the faking at the CMU 18. Turning to his left, he found Rick Massie wide open. One delicate flip and UK tied it at 14-14 with 1:25 left in the first half.
Jenkins had the option to run, but "there was no option then," the fifth-year senior said. "There was nobody there but Rick. I sure wasn't going to overthrow it."
Instead, he slightly underthrew the pass, but Massie had room to break back, fall to the turf and cradle it home.
"Those two comebacks really showed the character of this football team," Claiborne said. "They didn't give up today. I think that shows they believe in themselves. They're thinking of ways to win instead of ways to lose."
The second half was all Kentucky as the Wildcats held Central Michigan to three first downs, 55 total yards and no points.
"We thought they'd be cutting back a lot and they didn't," Schroeder said of UK's slow start defensively. "A lot of teams did that last year. We'd fly over and they'd cut back.
"They (the Chippewas) were running basics. We said 'Hey, let's fly to the football.' "
In talking with Schroeder, linebacker coach John Devlin summed it up thusly: ''It looked like you lined up and knocked their heads off."
Offensively, UK wasn't out of big plays.
Digging deep into the UK playbook, the Cats used a halfback option pass from Tony Mayes to Joe Phillips to set up the go-ahead touchdown.
Asked if he was surprised such a play would be unveiled so early, Mayes said: "No, I didn't think we'd run it. But, it was a real important win. We'd do anything to get it."
Mayes, an all-state quarterback at Paintsville High, rolled right on the play and looked for Phillips, often called "Joker," at the sideline on a play the Cats call "Pass 48 Streak."
" 'Joker' is supposed to wait until the cornerback comes up, then he streaks," Mayes said. "I just laid it up and, thankfully, it come down in his hands."
The cornerback -- Anthony Elliott -- didn't bite, but he did slip as Phillips broke back for what can politely be called a wobbly pass. Hit before he threw, Mayes got nothing on the ball, but it found Phillips.
"It was very lucky," Mayes said. "When I let it go, I didn't see it anymore. I was just praying it wasn't intercepted."
Lee took it over from 2 yards out, capping a 77-yard, nine-play drive and giving UK a 21-14 lead with 4:45 remaining in the third quarter.
Less than two minutes later, Lee scored again, turning a trap play into a 63-yard touchdown sprint.
"They were slanting their defense to stop the off-tackle play and sweeps," Claiborne said. "We tried to trap the tackle slanting outside."
In the final quarter, Chris Caudell hit on one of two field-goal attempts, missing from 46 yards and hitting from 18.
Then, the Cats and company got down to some overdue celebrating.
Vanderbilt athletic director Roy Kramer, a former head football coach at Central Michigan, was one of the visitors to the UK locker room.
Kramer posted an 83-32-2 record -- including a Division II national championship in 1974 -- in 11 seasons at Central. But, yesterday, he only wanted to shake Claiborne's hand.
"I'm proud as hell for you," Kramer said. "Nobody is as happy for you as me."