Sports

UK fans in love at first sight

In 1987, UK's Cedric Jenkins tipped in a shot at the buzzer to beat Louisville in Rupp Arena. A young Cameron Mills was there.
In 1987, UK's Cedric Jenkins tipped in a shot at the buzzer to beat Louisville in Rupp Arena. A young Cameron Mills was there.

If you grow up in most parts of Kentucky, there is one sports experience that tends to stay with you forever.

When did you first see the Kentucky Wildcats play in person?

Sometimes, the "first UK game" is meaningful because of who it is shared with.

Bill Ransdell, the 1980s-era UK quarterback, was 6 in 1969 when his dad took him to see Kentucky play Tennessee in Stoll Field.

"I remember, I kept pestering my Dad to let me go buy a pennant," Ransdell said.

When Ransdell came back with his purchase, his father, the early 1960s UK running back also named Bill Ransdell, found himself in a pickle. His little boy had bought an orange pennant.

"I'll never forget, my Dad was real patient, sort of talked me through it, finally said 'you know, you got the wrong color,' " said Ransdell.

Before UT finished off UK 31-26, father and son exchanged the orange pennant for a blue one.

Fifteen years later, Bill Ransdell would quarterback Kentucky to victory in Knoxville.

"I learned that day in Stoll Field, I was against the orange," Ransdell said.

Lexington Legends honcho Alan Stein was 9 when his dad, Ed, took him to Stoll to see Kentucky play Xavier in 1961.

Stein remembers the thrill of seeing UK All-America end Tom Hutchinson play. "There was some kind of safety in the game, too," he said.

Kentucky won 9-0.

"Stoll Field was the coolest place in the world to me," Stein said. "I loved it."

Georgetown College men's basketball coach Happy Osborne was 7 in 1965 when his Dad, also named Happy, brought him to Memorial Coliseum to see Adolph Rupp's Cats play Mississippi.

Osborne said he had been to Kentucky games earlier in his life to see a cousin, Larry Pursiful, play for UK.

"But I don't remember any of those games," Osborne said. "I count that Ole Miss game as my first because it's the first one I remember."

Larry Conley, Tommy Kron, Pat Riley and Louie Dampier helped Kentucky strafe Ole Miss 102-65.

"We sat catty-cornered to the UK bench," Osborne said. "I just remember how loud it was. How fun it was. How excited I was."

Sometimes, the "first UK game" memory that lingers comes from a specific play.

Cameron Mills, who played on the Kentucky basketball teams that made it to three straight national title games in the 1990s, said the first UK game he recalls seeing in person came on Dec. 12, 1987.

It was his 12th birthday. His father, former Kentucky guard Terry Mills, took him to the Kentucky-Louisville game in Rupp Arena as a present.

Cats forward Cedric Jenkins won the game 76-75 with a tip-in milliseconds before the final horn.

"After Cedric's tip, Rupp just erupted," Mills said. "I never forgot how loud that was."

Lonny Demaree, a longtime backer of UK football, had just gotten out of the military when he saw his first Kentucky game in Stoll Field on Sept. 25, 1965.

UK was playing Mississippi. Running with a fake punt on 4th-and-41 from his own 30 and Kentucky clinging to a 9-7 lead late in the contest, the Cats' Larry Seiple scored a 70-yard touchdown.

It is one of the most famous plays in UK football lore.

"I went to the game by myself," Demaree said. "I didn't have any relatives that were into sports. That Seiple fake punt, it was something."

For some, what they retain from their "first UK game" is more a memory of the experience than the actual contest.

Joe B. Hall — who would coach Kentucky basketball to three Final Fours and the 1978 NCAA title — said his first UK live event was a football game in Stoll Field "some time in 1940."

"I would have been 12. Our boy scout troop in Cynthiana would come over and usher at the football games," Hall said. "Once the game was over, we'd go down on the field and run on the turf like we were playing ourselves. I loved that."

Tom Hammond, the NBC sportscaster, said his first UK game was football in Stoll Field with his dad, Claude, in the early 1950s.

Hammond does not recall the opponent. He does remember bumping into Kentucky star Steve Meilinger before the contest in the UK Student Center.

"I can remember talking to him before the game," Hammond said. "For a boy, you can't imagine what a thrill that was."

Kentucky football super-fan Jim Brown, now 91, became semi-famous for seeing every UK home game from the start of the 1945 season until last year's Alabama game, a streak of 412 straight.

The first game Brown ever saw was Sept. 24, 1938. Then in his initial year as a Kentucky student, Brown saw the Cats blast Maryville 46-7.

"I lived in the Sigma Nu house, which was on Euclid Avenue," he said. "I don't really remember much about the game; I do remember walking across the street for the game."

Sometimes your "first UK game" is memorable because, 35 years later, you still can't believe what you saw.

My first Kentucky sporting event in person was Oct. 11, 1975. Led by the flamboyant running back Sonny Collins, UK was facing Auburn. My 11-year-old self was more excited to be in Commonwealth Stadium than I was the first time my family visited Disneyland.

Throughout the game, the Cats controlled the visiting Tigers. Yet instead of scoring touchdowns, Kentucky kept kicking field goals. After a John Pierce kick with 6:33 left in the game, the Wildcats led 9-0.

Following the kickoff, disaster struck. UK blew a pass coverage and gave up a 72-yard Auburn touchdown. Collins fumbled and lost the ensuing kickoff. The Tigers scored the winning touchdown in three plays.

Sealing doom, Kentucky running back Steve Campassi lost another fumble on the next kickoff return. The Cats lost 15-9.

My "first UK game" came in a loss that was bizarre even by the historically star-crossed standards of Kentucky football.

If nothing else, it was memorable.

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