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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 team 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 20 through 11:
The plot: Steve Campassi ran for two touchdowns and Mike Fanuzzi and Joe Dipre scored one TD each as UK clawed back from a 17-6 deficit to stun Sugar Bowl-bound Florida.
Why the game mattered: Kentucky’s first win over a top-10 foe in five years.
Lexington newspaper headline: Sugar futures go plunging as ‘sweet’ UK bops Florida
Kentucky coach: Fran Curci
The plot: Lou Michaels played what his head coach called “the greatest football game I have ever seen a tackle play.” The Kentucky star recovered a Tennessee fumble in the end zone for a touchdown, then set up the other two UK TDs with a forced fumble and then another fumble recovery.
Why the game mattered: UK, 2-7 entering the game, scored one of its greatest upsets ever, beating a Tennessee team that finished 8-3 and won the Gator Bowl.
Lexington newspaper headline: Alert Kentucky romps over Tennessee, 20-6
Kentucky coach: Blanton Collier
The plot: Art Still returned a blocked field goal 52 yards for a touchdown; Dallas Owens brought an interception back 81 yards for a touchdown; and Derrick Ramsey ran for two TDs as UK routed LSU in Baton Rouge.
Why the game mattered: Broke a 12-game Kentucky losing streak at Tiger Stadium.
Lexington newspaper headline: Cats quiet Tiger roar, 33-13
Kentucky coach: Fran Curci
The plot: Marc Logan scored two touchdowns and Joey Worley tied the UK school-record with a 52-yard field-goal with more than nine minutes left that ultimately proved the game winner.
Why the game mattered: Gave Kentucky (9-3) its fifth all-time bowl victory (in seven tries to that point) and only its fifth nine-win season (to that point) since World War II.
Lexington newspaper headline: UK fights back to win Fame: Worley hits FG to beat Wisconsin
UK coach: Jerry Claiborne
The plot: With no scholarship quarterback healthy enough to play, UK used wide receiver Matt Roark at QB. Running the read option from the pistol formation, Roark rushed for 124 yards and directed Kentucky to one of its most unlikely — and sweetest — wins ever.
Why the game mattered: Stopped an embarrassing 26-game UK losing streak vs. UT.
Lexington newspaper headline: Rocky topped: Streak-ending win was a senior moment that will never get old
UK coach: Joker Phillips
The plot: With UK down 34-33, Andre Woodson hit Steve Johnson with a 57-yard touchdown bomb with 28 seconds left to win the game.
Why the game mattered: Kentucky won what is still the most-hyped game in the modern history of the Governor’s Cup rivalry. It was UK’s first win over a top 10-ranked foe in 30 years.
Lexington newspaper headline: Cats deep-6 U of L: Johnson’s 57-yard TD reception lifts Cats
UK coach: Rich Brooks
The plot: In overtime, UK safety Tremayne Martin forced an Alabama fumble that fellow defensive back Jeremy Bowie recovered. Tim Couch then hit Craig Yeast with a 26-yard, game-winning TD pass.
Why the game mattered: UK’s first victory over Alabama since 1922. The first overtime game played at Commonwealth Stadium. The first time celebrating Wildcats fans tore down the goalposts at Commonwealth.
Lexington newspaper headline: Cats stun Alabama with 40-34 OT victory
UK coach: Hal Mumme
The plot: Before a UK-oriented crowd of 54,132 in Atlanta, fullback Rod Stewart ran for 104 yards and three touchdowns. A Mike Martin-led Kentucky defense intercepted three passes, set up UK’s first score with a fumble recovery and recorded its third shutout in its past four games.
Why the game mattered: A victory in Kentucky’s first bowl appearance since the 1952 Cotton Bowl.
Lexington newspaper headline: Cats win Peach Bowl: Record crowd sees UK whip N. Carolina 21-0
UK coach: Fran Curci
The plot: UK’s Harry Kirk blocked a Tennessee punt and that set up fullback Ralph Paolone for a 23-yard, game-winning touchdown run.
Why the game mattered: It was the first victory over the Volunteers for eighth-year UK head man Bear Bryant (0-5-2 vs. UT entering the game) and Kentucky’s first win vs. Tennessee under any coach since 1935. It also turned out to be Bryant’s final game as Wildcats head man.
Lexington newspaper headline: Wildcats bury Tennessee jinx with 27-21 victory
UK coach: Bear Bryant
The plot: Trying to complete a 10-1 regular season, UK trailed underdog UT 17-14 in the fourth quarter. With an injured shoulder preventing Kentucky quarterback Derrick Ramsey from passing, UK backup QB Mike Deaton came off the bench and hit Felix Wilson with a 36-yard bomb that ignited Kentucky’s game-winning touchdown drive. Kelly Kirchbaum recovered a UT fumble at the Wildcats’ 23-yard line with 55 seconds left to secure victory.
Why the game mattered: Kentucky finished an undefeated SEC season (6-0) for the first (and still only) time while also clinching what was then only UK’s second 10-win season.
Lexington newspaper headline: 10-1! Cats edge Vols, 21-17
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, 40-31 and 30-21 were published online and in print earlier this week. Watch for Nos. 10-1 online Friday and in Sunday’s print edition.