Brooks' Cats erase ghosts of seasons past

John Clay
John Clay

In the post-game press conference underneath Sanford Stadium, Rich Brooks' voice could barely be heard over the voices coming from the locker room next door.

There were whoops. There were hollers. There was singing. There was chanting.

"As you can tell," said Brooks, the Kentucky coach, "they're enjoying something that hasn't happened since 1977, and that's for a Kentucky team to walk out of here with a victory."

That's what it's all about.

The giddy locker-room scene was one the Kentucky players will tell their grandkids about, the type of memory-making moment that makes the sport worth playing in the first place.

But there is something else Kentucky football followers should be enjoying, something that Saturday night's thrilling 34-27 win over Georgia between the famed hedges at Athens drove home with hammer-like force.

Those ghosts of the past are gone.

You remember those ghosts, those masters of disasters who so often callously pulled defeat from the jaws of a UK victory.

You remember Kentucky's almost permanent rendezvous with heartbreak.

Before Brooks arrived, Kentucky would be the team losing a fumble late in the fourth quarter two yards away from the game-tying touchdown.

Saturday night, that team was Georgia.

Before Brooks arrived, Kentucky would be the team suffering a crushing face-mask penalty negating a bizarre first down achieved when it recovered and advanced its own blocked punt.

(How often do you see that?)

Saturday night, that team was Georgia.

Before Brooks, Kentucky would be the team that outgained its opponent 487-260 and found a way to lose. Kentucky would be the team blowing a 20-6 halftime lead with four second-half turnovers.

Now Kentucky's the team that shrugs off a hometown deficit and sends the unhappy crowd home early.

UK erased a 14-7 halftime deficit to win 21-14 at Auburn. It rallied from a 13-10 halftime deficit to win 24-13 at Vanderbilt. It rallied from 27-13 down in the third quarter to beat Georgia 34-27.

These Cats no longer slip on the banana peel; they have the team speed and determination to fly right past it.

See, it's funny how suddenly the breaks start evening out, or even bounce your way when you have talent.

If Randall Cobb isn't this team's MVP, then it's linebacker Sam Maxwell with his five interceptions. If Derrick Locke is the SEC's comeback player of the year — and he might well be — he needs to cut a share of that honor off for his offensive line.

Surely few teams have shown as much fight when the chips are down this season as this group of Cats.

And surely no SEC staff has been better at making halftime adjustments than Brooks and his staff.

No wonder ESPN's Chris Low wrote Sunday, "If Kentucky does this coming Saturday what it's failed to do every year since 1984 — and that's beat Tennessee — the SEC Coach of the Year Award this season should take its rightful place in Lexington, Ky. The more you watch this team play, the more respect you gain for what Rich Brooks has done with this team."

To this Kentucky team, a series of unfortunate events is merely a series to be overcome.

Simple rule: Better players (and coaches) make their own breaks.

And celebrations.