Making a list and checking it twice – of the things that require faith, hope, trust and – sometimes, merely a suspension of disbelief. They would include – not a limited-to list or a serious/frivolous ranking – a Supreme Deity, Santa, the Easter Bunny, heaven, wedding vows, “I’ll respect you in the morning,” miracles, “Your secret is safe with me,” fairies and elves. . . Add your own and rank at your pleasure.
Today, I’m adding to this list UK Football.
All because of a Christmas card.
Let me explain.
I don’t want to believe again. Been there, done that so long. I know the pain and frustration of holding on to the innocent fan-hope that preys on the emotions of connectedness.
I became a real believer in the ’60s – Charlie Bradshaw was coach and I was a giddy freshman in the stands for my very first college football experience at the grand, old Commonwealth Stadium. It took my breath away just to be there, in a sea of blue, participating in a tradition that felt so special. It wasn’t just the football game – it was a new life and new, heady expectations.
So it was that in the very first kickoff of my very first game, UK returned the ball for a touchdown.
To my naïve young self, that was an omen not to be taken lightly. A sure sign that only great things lay ahead. My fate was sealed as a true believer.
My husband and I, both proud UK grads, bleed blue. Grateful for the opportunities our first-generation-college degrees have provided for us, we have not been passive alums. We have headed fund-raising for projects big and small. We are Fellows and life members of the alumni association. We have actively served on advisory boards and task forces and been guest speakers in classes. We have established several scholarship funds, not of the name-on-building kind or anything that would impress the athletic office, but enough that may make a difference for some deserving students.
For nearly 30 years we were the proud season-ticket holders of four decent, non-chairback seats to UK football games. And for more years than I want to count, we trekked off to every game with hope in our hearts, anticipating the glory of a winning season – seguing into settling for respectable competitiveness.
For years, we braved distance and traffic and crowds to sit through freezing conditions, downpours (one of which ruined my favorite watch), and more to cheer on our team. There were small rewards – the kind that keep hope alive – along the way: Spectacular athleticism. Post-season play. Singular wins in rivalries that brought the goal-posts down.
But mostly there were disappointments, so many that the group of people in the seats around us, who had become friends, began to drift away, leaving us on an island amid strangers. Then, when our team kept getting penalty after penalty for not having the right number of players on the field, I had had enough – and started leaving the game early to read a book in the car, waiting as my die-hard husband and sons took the rest of the punishment.
Believe me, I am just a fan. I know next-to-nothing about the strategy of football nor do I have a full appreciation for its physicality or roughness. I could only qualify as a fan of the Blue. But I think, even I, could count the number of players on the field.
It was a wrenching decision to give up those long-held season tickets just last year. A truly painful cutting of the strings that bound us to the tradition – and the hope. We vowed to move on – to find another way to invest the emotions that had kept hope on life-support for so long.
Now, a Christmas card has changed things.
It came in the mail, hand-addressed in all its Big Blue glory, wishing us a Happy Holiday from the Stoops Family: Mark, Chantel, Will and Zack, complete with a picture of the smiling, happy family.
Mark Stoops, UK’s new football coach, has been a busy guy the last few weeks – hiring impressive assistant coaches – “with chips on their shoulders” and “having something to prove.” And he sent Christmas cards to about 17,000 season ticket holders (including last year’s), Big Blue fans who were likely just as surprised as we were to receive them.
Over all these years, we have never received a Christmas card from any UK coach – not in any of the years, as season ticket holders, we suffered the cold or nearly drowned or nursed broken hearts and spirits.
Dare we allow hope to raise its fickle head? Dare we expose our vulnerability yet again? Dare we think things really could be different?
Well, there is that Christmas card.
Judy Clabes is editor and publisher of KyForward. Click here to read more from her.
Click here to read more about new UK football coach Mark Stoops.