It was gray, cold and misting in Commonwealth Stadium on Nov. 15, 1986. Though no one in the crowd of 52,160 knew it then, those who braved the weather to see Bill Ransdell and Tony Mayes lead Kentucky to a 10-3 victory over Florida were witnessing something historic.
Twenty-six UK-UF games later, that remains the last Wildcats victory in the series.
On Saturday at 7 p.m, Florida will again be in Lexington as Mark Stoops gets his first crack at ending the one remaining epic Kentucky football losing streak.
"I think it's motivation, I do, I think it needs to be talked about," the new Kentucky coach said Monday of UK's 0-26 stretch versus Florida. "But that can't be the focal point. We have to get better each and every day, each and every game. That's what we have to be worried about."
Florida Coach Will Muschamp downplayed the effect of the UK losing skid on this year's game. "Whatever the streak is, it doesn't matter," Muschamp said. "It only matters what we do on Saturday."
Regardless of what one thinks of Joker Phillips' ultimately ill-fated, three-year stint (2010-12) as UK head football coach, the Kentucky alumnus was a darned effective streak buster.
Under Phillips, UK ended its 0-for-17 all-time mark against Steve Spurrier-coached teams with a 31-28 upset of No. 10 South Carolina in 2010. A year later, forced by injuries to play wide receiver Matt Roark at quarterback, Phillips and UK snapped a 26-year losing skid against Tennessee with an improbable 10-7 victory.
Phillips never had anything for Florida, however. In his 23 years as either a player, staff member or coach at UK, the Cats were 0-23 against the Gators. So in a case of "if you can't beat 'em, join 'em," Joker is now in his first season coaching wide receivers for Florida.
While embarrassing in its own right, UK's two-decades-plus losing skid against Florida has always seemed more understandable to me than the one against Tennessee was.
In the talent-rich Sunshine State, the Gators enjoy a massive recruiting advantage. According to Rivals.com, Florida has signed 61 players rated as a four-star recruit or higher in its last four recruiting classes. Over the same period, Kentucky has inked six such players.
Even with that, UK has had at least four prime opportunities since 1986 to end the Gators' streak.
1993. The seventh Kentucky interception of the night set up a 25-yard Juha Leonoff field goal that gave the Cats a 20-17 lead with 1:26 left in the game. However, Danny Wuerffel's 28-yard touchdown toss to a shockingly open Chris Doering on a post pattern with three seconds left bailed Florida out.
2002. In The Swamp, Kentucky's Derek Abney returned a kickoff (100 yards) and a punt (49 yards) for touchdowns. UK rallied from 19-0 down at halftime to lead 28-25 late in the third quarter. Alas, Florida outscored the Cats 16-6 the rest of the way and won 41-34.
2003. UK entered the fourth quarter leading 21-3, but true freshman quarterback Chris Leak led a furious Florida comeback. After the Gators pulled within 21-17, then-UK senior QB Jared Lorenzen — trying to avoid a sack by Florida linebacker Channing Crowder — slung a no-look pass that was picked off and returned to the UK 1-yard line to set up UF's game-winning TD.
2007. College GameDay came to LexVegas for a quarterback showdown between UK senior Andre Woodson and Florida sophomore Tim Tebow. Woodson threw for 415 yards and five touchdowns, while Tebow answered with four passing TDs and a rushing touchdown. UK special teams miscues helped Florida escape with a 45-37 victory.
Since that 2007 Woodson-Tebow duel, Kentucky has not even been competitive against Florida. In the last five Cats-Gators meetings, Florida has outscored UK 238-36 — 97-3 in the first quarter alone.
This year, UK would seem to enter Saturday's meeting with Florida with some advantages. The Cats enjoyed a bye last week, while Florida faced Tennessee. After the season-ending injury suffered by UF quarterback Jeff Driskell against UT, Kentucky will catch the Gators having to start a backup QB, Tyler Murphy, on the road.
Whether any of that is enough to help UK close what has been a gargantuan competitive gap against Florida over the past five years is problematic.
What is certain is that negative perceptions of UK football can never be fully altered as long as the Cats have a losing streak against a conference rival that is more than a quarter of a century long.
Kentucky vs. Florida
The Kentucky-Florida football series since UK's last victory (Years in which Kentucky was home team in bold):
1986 Kentucky 10, Florida 3
1987 Florida 27, Kentucky 14
1988 Florida 24, Kentucky 19
1989 Florida 38, Kentucky 28
1990 Florida 47, Kentucky 15
1991 Florida 35, Kentucky 26
1992 Florida 35, Kentucky 19
1993 Florida 24, Kentucky 20
1994 Florida 73, Kentucky 7
1995 Florida 42, Kentucky 7
1996 Florida 65, Kentucky 0
1997 Florida 55, Kentucky 28
1998 Florida 51, Kentucky 35
1999 Florida 38, Kentucky 10
2000 Florida 59, Kentucky 31
2001 Florida 44, Kentucky 10
2002 Florida 41, Kentucky 34
2003 Florida 24, Kentucky 21
2004 Florida 20, Kentucky 3
2005 Florida 49, Kentucky 28
2006 Florida 26, Kentucky 7
2007 Florida 45, Kentucky 37
2008 Florida 63, Kentucky 5
2009 Florida 41, Kentucky 7
2010 Florida 48, Kentucky 14
2011 Florida 48, Kentucky 10
2012 Florida 38, Kentucky 0