In these parts, there are more than a few who believe the University of Kentucky football program is under a malevolent curse.
This time, of course, the Wildcats found a bizarre, new way to lose a football game they should have won by giving up two touchdowns to Gators receivers who were uncovered at the line of scrimmage.
Not many fan bases have endured the litany of torment that Kentucky fans have.
An impossible Hail Mary (LSU, 2002). A no-look, underhanded pass turning into a game-altering interception (Florida, 2003). An easy field goal to win a game blocked from right up the middle (Tennessee, 2007). Inexplicable play-calling taking the ball from the hands of UK’s best player with victory only 10 yards away (Tennessee, 2009).
Those are just the lowlights from the 21st century.
Across the years, I’ve had fun with the idea UK football is cursed. Remember when I took the Ghostbusters to Commonwealth Stadium in 2006? (Kentucky proceeded to win its next seven home games, two over top 10 foes. Coincidence, right?).
Yet amidst the current frustration, I would like to make a serious point.
Kentucky football is not cursed.
In almost every case, the Cat-astrophes at the end of games that have caused Kentucky fans so much trauma are human error, not the work of a jinx left by an under-appreciated Bear Bryant or any other supernatural force.
That confounded LSU Hail Mary in 2002?
It never takes place if a Kentucky offensive lineman hadn’t mistakenly stopped the clock before the Cats’ (ultimately successful) go-ahead field goal try with 15 seconds left in the game. Let the clock run down to three seconds before calling that timeout, and LSU never gets the ball back.
Blowing a 21-3, fourth-quarter lead against Florida in 2003?
It might not have happened if a UK QB hadn’t set up the Gators’ go-ahead score with a no-look, underhanded pass attempt thrown while in a defender’s grasp that became a game-altering interception.
Losing to Tennessee in four overtimes in 2007?
It may never take place if a UK interior offensive lineman doesn’t get hammered back into the backfield, allowing UT to block what could have been a 35-yard, game-winning field goal in the second overtime.
The bitter overtime defeat to UT in 2009?
It might not have happened if Kentucky play-calling had kept the football in the hands of its best player near the goal line at the end of regulation.
And what happened Saturday night, when UK seemed poised to snap its embarrassing, three-decades losing streak to Florida, may never have happened if Kentucky could have just gotten a defender lined up over Florida receivers on two plays that became Gators touchdown passes.
At his weekly news conference Monday, a chagrined Kentucky Coach Mark Stoops took responsibility.
Noting that UK had also given up a TD reception to an uncovered Vanderbilt receiver on a trick play in 2015, Stoops said he is making game-management alterations to make sure this never happens to Kentucky again.
“I’ll have two people watching the edges, the perimeter of the field,” Stoops said, “and, if we’re not in position, somebody better he hitting me over the head and I need to call a timeout.”
Rich Brooks used to point out that it’s not fated that the earth has to open beneath Kentucky football teams late in close games.
During its five-year bowl streak from 2006 through 2010, UK won 14 football games in which it was behind or tied in the fourth quarter. Included were three wins over top 10 foes, plus road victories at Auburn and Georgia.
Just last year, Kentucky beat Mississippi State and No. 11 Louisville with clutch, last minute drives that set up game-winning field goals.
For all the talk of curses and the late-game anguish that has been endured by The Long Suffering UK Football Fan, Kentucky players and teams can learn how to handle game-deciding stress, stop making mental errors and win important games.
I’ve seen it.