Mark Story

Fanfare: Big Blue passion like no other

Moe just didn't seem like himself. That was worrying his buddies to the core.

There are oodles of people all around this commonwealth who claim they are the most passionate Kentucky Wildcats sports fans of all.

But there is a small group of guys in Central Kentucky — Chris and Larry, Will and Van Meter, James and Moe — who do far more than talk the Big Blue talk.

When the Kentucky Wildcats compete, these guys are there.

"I figure we go to 80, maybe 100 UK games a year," said Will Hopkins.

It's not just the glamour sports, football and men's basketball, either. Volleyball, women's basketball, baseball, soccer, if the team wears Kentucky across the chest, these guys show up.

"I used to be all basketball myself," said Chris Kalb, another member of the loyal six. "But I realized something: The athletes in soccer and volleyball work just as hard as the football and basketball players and don't get one-tenth of the support. I liked the idea of supporting the underdog."

At the UK volleyball games, Moe, Will, Chris and Van Meter Alford, Larry Bartlett and James Marsalla, always try to sit together.

"It's a special little group," Moe said.

Moe's given name is David Marcus. Yet since the late 1960s, the former U.S. Navy man has been better known by a nickname.

He got out of the military and thought he would grow one of those shaggy Beatles haircuts that Paul, John, Ringo and George made fashionable.

His co-workers looked at him and saw a member of another famous yet very different troupe.

Moe Howard.

The Three Stooges.

"I've been Moe ever since," Marcus said with a laugh.

For Moe — an old softball player and umpire — the spring is the best time of the year. Going back to the days of his all-time favorite athlete, Pete Rose, he's been a rabid baseball fan.

Yet early last spring, when Moe showed up for the Kentucky games at Cliff Hagan Stadium, he didn't have his normal pep.

"He kept trying to come to the games, he'd show up, but you could tell something wasn't right," said Van Meter Alford. "We were really worried about him."

Battling cancer

The reason Moe, 62, was not getting his normal enjoyment from Wildcats baseball was a dire one.

Doctors said the lymphoma was all over his body. If the cancer wasn't bad enough, Moe was also suffering from the infectious disease known as histoplasmosis.

He checked into the hospital on April 15. So advanced was the cancer, doctors told Moe's family he was not apt to live past July.

In the meantime, the chemotherapy he was taking to fight the lymphoma often seemed worse than the cancer.

Moe's weight, in excess of 200 pounds before he got sick, dwindled into the 140s.

"At one point, he was on tube feeding and, as a family, we got the impression that the doctors thought it was time to end that. It was really, really, really bad," said Tony Marcus, Moe's son.

"But Dad never stopped fighting and I just felt as long as he was fighting, I was going to fight right along with him."

Eventually, Moe rallied, came off the feeding tube, and started regaining some strength.

Visitors from UK

Through his time in the Navy, a couple of marriages and the births of a son and daughter, a constant in Moe's life has been his love for UK sports.

Across the decades, he has gathered autographs from Kentucky Wildcats sports figures (among others) on baseballs. His collection is now well over 3,000 signed balls.

In recent years, Moe has been a member of the Committee of 101, the volunteers who serve as ushers at UK sporting events.

"There's no more adamant Kentucky fan in the world," said Tony Marcus.

In his time of need, the guy who has spent so much time supporting UK athletes in non-marquee sports has gotten a payback he never anticipated.

One day in his room in a Lexington Veteran's Administration hospital, Moe looked up and saw a stranger.

Jon Lipsitz is in his first year as Kentucky's women's soccer coach. For that reason, he and Moe had never met.

Yet Lipsitz not only came to visit; he brought along much of his team.

"I was so flattered," said Moe. "All the young ladies were just super nice."

At Craig Skinner's summer volleyball camp, someone told the UK coach about Moe. Skinner didn't recognize the name.

When he was later approached again about Moe by Kalb, Skinner figured if Moe was as big a Kentucky volleyball fan as was being reported, he should pay him a visit.

So on a Sunday, Skinner went to the VA hospital. When he saw Moe's face, "I placed him," the UK coach said. "I've seen him at a ton of games."

As the two talked, Skinner was seized by inspiration.

"He'd been in the hospital for quite a time, but you could still see the passion for UK sports in his eyes," the coach said. "So I asked the nurse, what would we have to do to get him to be able to come to a game?"

Skinner soon had it set up for Moe to get a pass out of the hospital. The coach offered to send a UK van to get him and bring him to Memorial Coliseum.

Instead, on the night of Sept. 8, Tony Marcus picked his dad up and took him to Kentucky's volleyball match against Cincinnati.

Skinner brought Moe down to sit right behind the Kentucky bench.

Now, likely it was a coincidence. But on the night when it had a guy who will flat not quit on life sitting behind its bench, Kentucky dug out from losing the first two games to score a dramatic five-game victory over Cincinnati.

"Maybe his spirit had some effect on the outcome of the match," Skinner said.

Though it wore him out physically, being there definitely had some effect on the spirit of Moe.

"It meant so much to me," Moe said. "It made my day. Heck, it made my month."

On Friday, Moe was scheduled to come home from the hospital. Back in the spring, that's a trip few thought he would be making.

Long-term, a lymphoma that has spread throughout one's body is a stern foe. But Moe plans to fight all the way.

"I've still got a lot of living I want to do," he said.

After all, along with his buddies, Moe still has so many UK games in so many sports left to attend.