With all apologies to George Orwell, imagine that the year is 1984. The date is November 24th. I haven't the faintest idea what the weather was like in reality - though I welcome somebody to clue me in - but it seems like it should be gray, cold, and dreary. The 3rd best Kentucky team of the last 50 years (UK went 11-1 with a loss to UT in 1950, 10-1 with a loss to Baylor in 1977) comes to Knoxville with a 7-3 record to take on the 6-2-1 Vols. Big Blue contains the Vols that day, leaving Knoxville with a 17-12 victory. With 4 wins in the last 9 games of the series (also '76, '77, and '81), the Cats and their fans probably don't think too much about the triumph as they head north on 75. Obviously, they should have spent a lot more time savoring this particular moment.
The Sugar Vols smoked UK in 1985 and brought the Beer Barrel back to Knoxville. If it still existed, the Barrel's residence in Knoxville would exceed mine. I was born in March 1986, at which point the Vols had a one game winning streak over their northern neighbors. 18 years later, when I graduated high school in 2004, the Vols still hadn't lost to UK since 1984. When I graduated college in 2008, the Vols still hadn't lost to UK since 1984. Now, here we are in 2010, and the story remains unchanged.
It's really sort of difficult to comprehend 25 straight wins. While there have been a number of strong UT teams in the last 25 years, you would think the odds would be against such a streak. But even the worst UT teams of my life (2005 and 2008) have beaten Kentucky by a combined score of 55-18! The level of domination has been simply astounding. I'm not overlooking the fact that there have been some nervous moments...but c'mon, we've beaten them by 517 points over the last 25 years! That's an average of almost 21 a game! Consider my mind officially boggled.
Given that there are no losses to revisit...let's get on to the wins!
The good: One game sticks in my mind more than others: the comeback in 2001 (apologies to Peyton, but I just don't have that many memories of his ridiculous outings against UK in the mid-90's).
I was volunteering at the West Hills Elementary Fall Festival on November 17, 2001. I vaguely recall helping to man one of the booths in the gym, but word leaked that there was a TV in the library that was showing the game. Given the general awesomeness that had been the 2001 season, there was no way I was going to let the Fall Festival interfere with me watching the game (please don't judge me!).
Even by Kentucky standards, this was a bad UK team. While they had fought gamely in close losses to Ole Miss, LSU, and Mississippi State, the Cats were 2-7 with wins over only Ball State and Vanderbilt. Even with the Pillsbury Doughboy (a.k.a. Jared Lorenzen) at QB, the Cats were terrible...which made it all the more surprising when they marched right down the field to take a 7-0 lead. I wasn't too worried, though, as I expected the Vols to quickly seize control. They didn't. The offense could go nowhere, and early in the 2nd quarter, the Doughboy himself rushed for another TD to put Big Blue up 14-0. And 5 minutes later, another short TD pass put them up 21-0. At this point in the game, the Vols had 0 first downs and were being dominated by a 2-7 football team. You can imagine my dismay at this juncture (it was quiet dismay, of course...I was in the library, after all).
Clausen finally found Stallworth to give the Vols some life before halftime, but we were still down 21-7. The defense stiffened to start the 2nd half and Casey threw a bomb to The Answer to pull us within 7. On the ensuing drive, the Vols' D responded once again, creating a pick/fumble 6 to tie the game (interception run most of the way back, then fumbled into the end zone where the Vols recovered). The Wildcats refused to go quietly, taking a 28-21 lead and then coming back to tie it at 35 after a couple more Casey to Donte connections had put the Vols ahead late in the 4th. I was a wreck at this moment as the Festival came to an end. The timing wouldn't have been a problem, but given that I was 15 and couldn't drive, I had to go run out to get picked up at this crucial juncture! Thankfully, my mom had the game on in the car and we listened intently as Alex Walls put the Big Orange ahead 38-35 with just under 3 minutes to go. I got home in time to turn on the TV and see the D come up with one more big play, recovering a fumble that allowed the good guys to run out the clock. Phew!
Honorable mentions: 2007 (because multiple overtimes are generally memorable...Ainge had 7 TD's, Gerald Jones had that ridiculous catch, EB had an EB moment, Dan Williams saved us with a FG block...and those plays were just in the overtimes!), 2004 (we sweated it out 'til the end...I heard a rumor that once the Vols had the East locked up, Fulmer spent all his time practicing for Auburn and none of his time on Vandy or Kentucky...the results suggest this might have been true)
For the first time in my life, I'm legitimately afraid that the streak could end on Saturday...but when something has never happened in your existence, it's hard to take that threat seriously (don't remind me I said this if UK wins on Saturday). What are some of your favorite memories from past meetings with Kentucky?