I was 7 years old at the time. If I knew then what I know now I would have plopped myself in front of the TV and made sure the images of that game were permanently etched into every fiber of my mind. The next 26 years would be absolutely brutal in the history of the Kentucky-Tennessee rivalry. Kentucky would go 0-26. Now that’s not Boston Red Sox 86 year drought, Curse of the Babe level stuff. But it might as well be. For Kentucky fans The Streak was every bit as agonizing as The Curse. Besides, the Red Sox reversed the curse and won 2 World Series titles in 2004 and 2007 while The Streak was still in progress.
There were a wide variety of games that occurred during the The Streak. Each one was like its own individual movie, but the common thread that bonded them all together was that they had the same ending. There were blowouts, 42-0 in 1985, 28-0 in 1993, and shootouts, 59-31 in 1997. There were nail biters, a 24-22 loss in 1987, and the 28-24 game in 1988. There were games where inferior Kentucky teams outfought and sometimes outplayed Tennessee only to come up short in the end, 34-31 in 1995, 38-35 in 2001, and 37-31 in 2004.
There were years when the Vols had bad teams that had issues but were trumped by Kentucky teams that were worse and had more issues. Phil Fulmer endured the first losing season of is career in 2005, but was still able to leave Commonwealth Stadium with a 27-8 win. History repeated itself in 2008, a second losing season in four years was more than the UT brass could stand, but Fulmer who had been terminated earlier in the season still beat the Cats 28-10 in his last game as the Vols head man.
Then you had the games that just ripped your heart out and stomped it to a pulp. The games where you actually allowed yourself to expect the Cats to come away with a win. No one can forget (no matter how hard we try) the game in 2007, perhaps the hardest one of all to swallow, as Tennessee somehow escaped with a 52-50 win in four overtimes. Finally there’s the 2009 game where Lane Kiffin made his one and only appearance in the series and came away with a 30-24 win in overtime.
On the surface, the game Saturday had the look of another UT is bad, UK is worse, here we go again game. Kentucky was 4-7 and hosting a Tennessee team that was 5-6 and could become bowl eligible with a win. Kentucky was in desperation mode at the quarterback position. Morgan Newton and Maxwell Smith were both out with shoulder injuries. In steps senior wideout, yes wideout, Matt Roark with limited practice time and an even more limited playbook. Roark did just enough, he ran just enough, passed just enough, rolled out just enough, and bootlegged just enough to will the Cats to a hard fought 10-7 streak ending win. The defense came to play as well and was stout all day.
It was a great scene in Commonwealth Stadium as ecstacy, relief, jubilation and sheer joy erupted from the long suffering fans who had longed for the day to come. It was a perfect ending to a not so perfect season. Joker Phillips was a receiver on the 1984 team that beat the Vols, now he can say The Streak was ended on his watch as head coach. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done, you’d be crazy to think otherwise, but one win over UT makes a lot of things feel better.
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