Other Sports

Higgs had the chance that Cobb never got

Kentucky may have lost yet another football game to Tennessee in 2009, but there was a figure from UK's sports past who was a winner as a result of the way things played out.

Somewhere in the afterworld, the late Jerry Claiborne has to be smiling.

The current Kentucky coaching staff has taken a post-game pounding for failing to have the ball in the hands of the Cats' best offensive player, Randall Cobb, with the game on the line and UK inside the UT 10.

A stalled, potential UK game-winning drive and an eventual loss in overtime was the result.

As The Long Suffering UK Football Fan knows all too well, Claiborne took the opposite tack and did put the ball in the hands of his best offensive player four straight times in 1987 in a similar situation against Tennessee.

In the lore of The Streak, it's known as "The Mark Higgs Game."

Some of the mythology that has grown up around the third game of Tennessee's now 25-game winning streak over UK is wrong.

Kentucky did not run four unsuccessful plays from the UT 1. UK also did not run Higgs up the middle four straight times.

The recap: UT was leading 24-20 when UK mounted a late-game drive. Kentucky quarterback Glenn Fohr connected with tight end Charlie Darrington on a 13-yard pass to give UK first-and-goal at the Tennessee 5.

On first down, Higgs — one of the best running backs in Kentucky history — took a pitchout right, cut it back just outside the tackle and gained 3 yards.

It was second-and-goal from the 2 when Higgs ran behind UK right guard Dermontti Dawson — who would go on to be a perennial All-Pro offensive lineman with the Pittsburgh Steelers — but was cut down for no gain.

On third-and-goal from the 2, Higgs dove over the top of the line and came up inches from the goal line.

Claiborne and his offensive braintrust decided to run the same play again, sending Higgs over Dawson and fifth-year senior right tackle Greg Kunkel.

Tennessee nose guard Mike Whitehead anticipated the play call, penetrated the line and hit Higgs before the back could launch his dive.

No gain.

UT ran down the clock, took an intentional safety and left Lexington with a 24-22 victory.

"We thought we could knock it in behind our best blockers with our best ball carrier," was Claiborne's post-game rationale for running right with Higgs four times.

That strategy has been second-guessed in the commonwealth for decades.

No more.

In the aftermath of this year's version of the annual UK football loss to UT, the near-universal verdict from the post-game rehash has been:

You put the ball in the hands of your best player with the game on the line and take your chances.

What Jerry Claiborne did in 1987.

Somewhere, the coach (who died in 2000) has to be smiling at the way what he always called the old iff'n game turned last week.

More UT torture

This won't make you feel any better, Kentucky fans, but since the last time (Nov. 24, 1984) UK beat Tennessee in football, the following schools have all bested the Vols on the gridiron at least once:

Army, Duke, Memphis, Maryland, Vanderbilt and Wyoming.

Bowden bows out

When Kentucky faced Florida State in the 2007 Music City Bowl, it was a chance to see the legendary Seminoles head coach Bobby Bowden up close.

All those stories you hear about how nice Bowden is?

They're wrong.

In person, Bowden is even better — warm, genuine, funny — than his reputation, just a wonderful guy.

However, in the short time we were around FSU, it was also apparent why the Seminoles program had slipped so in recent years.

In the post-game news conference after Kentucky's 35-28 win, the then-78-year-old Bowden congratulated FSU quarterback Drew Weatherford for throwing no interceptions.

"Coach," Weatherford sheepishly replied, "I had two."

Later, Bowden talked at length about how impressed he had been from watching Kentucky film with the mobility of Andre Woodson.

As a college QB, Woodson had many virtues: Mobility was never one of them.

Even for a "CEO-type coach" like Bowden, that level of detachment from football reality was stunning.

I thought about all that again this past week when Bowden, facing the prospect of having his authority sharply curtailed if he returned in 2010, announced his retirement.

One wishes things had not deteriorated to the point that such a legendary figure had to be all but forced out. Based on what I saw in Nashville, FSU needed to make that change.

Bobby Bowden and his two national championships prove once and for all that nice guys can finish first.

On several levels, that's a pretty nice legacy to leave.