Tue, Oct. 19, 2010
UK's fickle fan base a product of past disappointments
Cobb's Tweets preceded by history of bad beats

Mark Story / Herald-Leader Sports Columnist

The column I planned to write for Tuesday would have started with some Head Ball Coach-style snark.

I thought UK had done something when it played Auburn tough then I remembered South Carolina played them tough, too.

Steve Spurrier? Never beaten a Joker Phillips-coached team.

Ultimately, I planned to examine the significance which is huge to Phillips' standing as Kentucky head coach after UK slayed the Spurrier hex so memorably Saturday night.

[HIGH-LIGHT]That was all before one of the best football players ever to wear Kentucky blue changed the narrative by taking to Twitter to blast the fickle nature of the UK fan base.

There is truth to part of what Randall Cobb wrote in his now-famous tweets. It was also a public relations mistake to change the subject off one of the grandest victories in Kentucky football history by going public with a rant.

You go to college to learn. Cobb, who normally carries himself with unquestioned class, will no doubt absorb the right lessons from this.[/HIGH-LIGHT]

Meanwhile, I can't help but think that the UK players and the Kentucky fans could use a dose of mutual understanding.

[IMGR]http://i56.tinypic.com/14oc41e.jpg[/IMGR]Over the decades, few fan bases in all of American sports have had such an emotionally wrenching experience as University of Kentucky football backers.

From the time of Bear Bryant until 2006, Cats fans got to cheer for a whopping two bowl-winning teams (1976 and '84).

Between 1977 and 2007, UK backers saw their team play 45 games against top-10 teams and beat exactly none of them.

Wildcats fans have seen their team lose to Miami (Ohio), Bowling Green, the school formerly known as Northeastern Louisiana and Ohio University.

They've seen their team lose to Florida after UK led 21-3 in the fourth quarter (2003). They've seen their team lose to Florida on a night when UK intercepted seven passes (1993).

They've watched their team lose rip-your-heart-out games to Tennessee when UK gave the ball to its best player at the goal line and he couldn't get it in (Mark Higgs in 1987) and when UK didn't give the ball to its best player at the goal line and couldn't get it in (Cobb in 2009).

UK backers have sat through 25 straight years of losing to Tennessee and 24 consecutive defeats to Florida. Before Saturday night, they'd endured 17 straight losses to Spurrier.

We won't even get into LSU and that tipped Hail Mary pass that came while some Cats backers were already tearing down a goal post.

The nation's entire population of jilted lovers doesn't carry around as many emotional scars as Kentucky football fans.

Yet the current Wildcats players are not responsible for the star-crossed history of the program they represent.

For decades, I've heard fans lament that UK can't seem to build a consistent winner in football. Well, over the past five years, you have seen what the first steps in that process look like.

The same Kentucky program that didn't beat a top-10 team for some 30 years has now beaten three in the past four seasons.

The same Kentucky program that won two bowl games from 1952 through 2005 has won three in the prior four seasons.

The same Kentucky program that seemed to always break your heart late in tight games has won 15 times since the middle of 2006 in contests in which it trailed or was tied in the fourth quarter.

Starting in 2006, Kentucky has beaten Louisville (four times); Georgia (twice); Clemson; Arkansas (twice); LSU; Florida State; Conference-USA champion East Carolina; Auburn; and South Carolina.

There have been no embarrassing home-field losses to teams from lesser conferences, either.

UK has been bowl eligible four straight years and is in position this season to do that again.

Yet carrying their decades of emotional baggage, the Kentucky fan base hasn't seemed to fully make the adjustment to the fact their program has at least begun to change.

When the Cats started the current season 3-3 and the defense, especially, looked ragged, the fan base tended to see that through the prism of UK football past. A lot of the fans gave in to the same old negativity.

You can certainly understand why Cobb, a player who has put so much passion into UK football and provided so many memorable moments, would not understand that and be hurt by it.

Even if for both public relations and recruiting reasons he'd have been better served keeping his tweets to himself.