‘This is why we play so hard.’ Brooks, bowl teams honored at halftime
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Kentucky’s 50 Best All-Time Football Wins
Mark Story, sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader and Kentucky.com, is counting down the 50 best wins in University of Kentucky football history. Click below to view previous installments of this five-part series.
Ranking the 50 best Kentucky football wins of all time: Nos. 50-41
Ranking the 50 best Kentucky football wins of all time: Nos. 40-31
Ranking the 50 best Kentucky football wins of all time: Nos. 30-21
Ranking the 50 best Kentucky football wins of all time: Nos. 20-11
Ranking the 50 best Kentucky football wins of all time: Nos. 10-1
Historically, following Kentucky football has not been for the faint of heart.
The pigskin Cats have an all-time losing record (616-621-44). A member of the Southeastern Conference since 1933, UK has endured 15 seasons in which it did not win a league game. Conversely, Kentucky has had only eight years with a winning mark in SEC contests.
Yet, even amid ample suffering, the football Wildcats have produced moments of exhilaration, too. This summer, for both the fun and challenge of it, I set out to rank the 50 best Kentucky Wildcats football wins of all time.
All-time, Kentucky has 44 victories over ranked foes, 13 over top-10 teams — and three over opponents who entered the game ranked No. 1 in the country.
UK has won nine bowl games, two of them major bowls. The Cats have beaten teams that went on to win an SEC Division championship three times and beaten the teams that won the overall SEC league title twice.
Twice, Kentucky has beaten the football teams that went on to be recognized as the national champion.
Any list such as this is subjective, of course. My list of the 50 best Kentucky Wildcats football wins is filled with games that featured:
1.) major UK upsets; 2.) victories over teams that went on to have stellar seasons; 3.) victories that ended the decades-plus losing streaks vs. opponents that have been a frustrating part of “the Kentucky football experience;” 4.) bowl wins; 5.) victories in rivalry games; 6.) wins with memorable finishes.
On the countdown of Kentucky’s 50 Best All-Time Football Wins, here are numbers 30 through 21:
The plot: Bill Boller scored an offensive touchdown (15-yard run) and a defensive TD (49-yard interception return) and George Blanda quarterbacked UK to victory before 14,908 fans in Cleveland Municipal Stadium.
Why the game mattered: Kentucky was victorious in its first-ever bowl appearance.
Lexington newspaper headline: Kentucky scores 24-14 victory over Villanova in Great Lakes Bowl inaugural
UK coach: Bear Bryant
The plot: UK halfback Bruce Fuller ran for a 6-yard touchdown in the third quarter and the Wildcats defense withstood in the fourth quarter what a Lexington sportswriter described as “the desperate aerial attack of the southern eleven.”
Why the game mattered: Only two games prior, Alabama had upset undefeated Pennsylvania in a game credited with helping establish credibility for southern college football. It was a major coup for UK to beat the team that had beaten Penn.
Lexington newspaper headline: Alabama, conqueror of Pennsylvania, vanquished by Kentucky Wildcats
UK coach: W.J. Juneau
The plot: Donald “Dopey” Phelps returned a punt 60 yards for a touchdown; halfback Bill Boller hit end Wallace “Wah Wah” Jones with a third-quarter touchdown pass; and the UK defense held the defending Sugar Bowl champions to 128 total yards.
Why the game mattered: Kentucky’s first win ever over an opponent ranked in the Associated Press Top 20 poll.
Lexington newspaper headline: Kentucky Wildcats astound Georgia Bulldogs and fans with 26-0 upset win
UK coach: Bear Bryant
The plot: Down 29-18 in the third quarter, UK rallied behind Tim Couch (338 yards and two touchdowns passing), Derek Homer (130 yards rushing, two TDs) and Craig Yeast (spectacular 6-yard TD catch to provide winning margin).
Why the game mattered: Kentucky became bowl-eligible with a victory over an MSU team that went on to win the SEC West.
Lexington newspaper headline: Cats have ‘six’ appeal: UK rejoicing over bowl eligibility, 37-35 win over State
UK coach: Hal Mumme
The plot: Andre Woodson threw for 358 yards and four touchdowns and was named Music City Bowl MVP for a second-consecutive season.
Why the game mattered: UK registered bowl wins in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the 1949 (Sugar Bowl) and 1950 (Cotton Bowl) seasons and reached eight victories (8-5) in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1976 (9-3) and 1977 (10-1).
Lexington newspaper headline: Senior sequel: First back-to-back bowl wins in over 50 years
UK coach: Rich Brooks
The plot: UK junior quarterback Andre Woodson threw for 299 yards and three touchdowns and was named Music City Bowl MVP before a Music City Bowl-record crowd of 68,024.
Why the game mattered: Kentucky earned its first bowl victory in 22 years.
Lexington newspaper headline: Brooks shows record crowd what he’s built
UK coach: Rich Brooks
The plot: George Adams rushed for 110 yards and two touchdowns; UK punter Paul Calhoun drew a roughing penalty that set up Joey Worley’s 34-yard field goal that extended the Wildcats’ lead from two to five points; and the Kentucky defense stopped UT’s final drive at the Cats’ 12-yard line as time expired.
Why the game mattered: UK reached eight victories in a regular season by winning before 93,791 fans in Neyland Stadium, at the time the largest crowd ever to see Kentucky play football.
Lexington newspaper headline: Cats win heart-stopper over Vols: Kentucky wins 17-12 as Orange runs out of time
UK coach: Jerry Claiborne
The plot: Rodger Bird ran for 112 yards and a touchdown on offense and returned an interception 95 yards for a TD on defense as UK whipped previously unscored upon Auburn.
Why the game mattered: A week after upsetting No. 1 Mississippi, UK recorded a second straight victory over a top-10 foe while running its record to 3-0.
Lexington newspaper headline: Cats kayo another giant as Auburn falls 20-0
UK coach: Charlie Bradshaw
The plot: After Archie Manning led Ole Miss to a 9-0 lead, 14-point-underdog UK rallied behind a Bobby Jones field goal, a Bernie Scruggs touchdown run and clutch plays from Wilbur Hackett (helped force game-saving fumble near UK goal line) and Houston Hogg (set up UK’s sole TD with long run on third-and-5).
Why the game mattered: Snapped a nine-game SEC losing streak by UK and gave the Cats a victory over southern football icon Manning.
UK coach: John Ray
The plot: Greg Woods scooted into the end zone with a 62-yard touchdown pass from Derrick Ramsey in the first quarter and a Bob Winkle-led UK defense that never allowed Tennessee to penetrate deeper than the Kentucky 39-yard-line made the score stand.
Why the game mattered: Kentucky needed a win to earn a Peach Bowl invitation. The victory gave UK a seven-win regular season for the first time since 1954 and snapped an 11-game losing streak vs. UT.
Lexington newspaper headline: Peach Bowl-bound UK tops Vols 7-0
UK coach: Fran Curci
(All newspaper headlines cited are from the Lexington Herald-Leader and/or its predecessors).
About this series
Mark Story, sports columnist for the Lexington Herald-Leader and Kentucky.com, is counting down the 50 best wins in University of Kentucky football history. Victories 50 through 41 and 40-31 were published online and in print earlier this week. Watch for Nos. 20-11 online Thursday and in Friday’s print edition.