Come with me now, back to 2013 – Saturday, Sept. 7 to be precise.  A Kentucky football team, led by rookie head coach Mark Stoops, playing host to the Miami Redhawks from Oxford, Ohio. Their head man is Don Treadwell.

These Wildcats are 0-1, having lost to Western Kentucky in the season opener down in Nashville.  It was an embarrassment both for the team and their fans who, following a pre-season rife with hype, fully expected victory in the new head coach’s first game. 

Instead, it was the SEC falling to the Sun Belt, a team coached by the villainous Bobby Petrino.

So now, in their home opener, the Wildcats have a chance to make things right and boy, did they ever. The Miami team that came to town all those years ago in no way resembled any of the Mid-America Conference teams that have visited UK in years gone by.  

In fact, Miami itself stole a win from Fran Curci’s Cats back in 1978.  Kentucky scored what would have been the go-ahead touchdown in the closing seconds but tight end Jim Campbell was called for clipping, which nullified the TD. There was no replay back then, of course, but later the game film showed Campbell was a good five feet away from the defender he allegedly clipped; the official who threw the flag had a bad angle but called it, anyway.

In 1985, Jerry Claiborne’s Wildcats blew a late lead in their season opener and gave up a TD to Bowling Green with 23 seconds left, falling to the Falcons, 30-26. 

It was a MAC team that turned a faction of the Big Blue Nation firmly against Rich Brooks in 2004, just his second season in Lexington. Ohio University came to town as designated Homecoming cannon fodder.  But it was the Bobcats who blew up Kentucky, 28-16.

That Ohio U program was so bad that even the road win over an SEC team couldn’t save head coach Brian Knor, who was fired at the end of the season.

Even though other MAC schools had found success in the Bluegrass, not too many people expected it to happen in 2013 and they were right. That Miami team was one of, if not, THE worst non-conference team ever to accept a fat paycheck for playing the Wildcats.

Those Redhawks finished 0-12, never scoring more than two touchdowns in a game. Treadwell would move on at season’s end.

Of course, Kentucky wasn’t much better. The Wildcats would win only one more game that season, finishing 2-9.  But the win over Miami did settle the UK fanbase, however briefly.

Those same fans are expecting huge things this season, starting with a convincing win over the Redhawks who, comparatively speaking, might have come farther than the Wildcats since then, given how horribly bad Miami was in 2013.

The man in charge now, Chuck Martin, has himself a football team, just like the guy he’ll be facing on the other sideline. Stoops’  UK squad is favored by 16.5 points in the season opener for both, but the Redhawks have been picked by the media to win the MAC’s East division. 

That victory back in 2013 was Stoops’ first as the UK head coach, something he hadn’t even considered when it was pointed out to him at his Monday news conference.

Mark Stoops said he never realized his first career win as a head coach came over Miami (Brandon Turner photo)

“I didn’t even really realize that until you told me,” he said. “It does seem like a long time ago. But (I’m) grateful. You know, year 10, that was a long time ago.”

It was, especially by football standards. Stoops is now the second-longest tenured head coach in the SEC, working at a school where the careers of most head coaches have gone to die.  But his Kentucky teams have followed up his first win with 58, leaving him one shy of Bear Bryant’s UK record for victories. 

He can pull even with The Bear on Saturday and take aim at a new record down in Gainesville.  It’s reminiscent of  the 1961 home run chase as Roger Maris took aim at Babe Ruth’s single-season record.

At 60, Stoops will share the record.  At 61, he’ll be The Man, although just as Maris never claimed to be the next Babe, Stoops was careful to avoid any comparisons to The Bear.

“I would never want to disrespect the name, Paul ‘Bear’ Bryant, and I think everybody that understands football puts that name at the very top,” Stoops said,  “along, with maybe one other guy right now.”

 Alabama’s current head coach, Nick Saban, does, indeed, have a pretty good thing going in Tuscaloosa. 

Stoops is harboring no delusions about what win totals mean when it comes to any comparison to Bryant. “It is totally different,” he said. “I would rather them be comparing me to how many national championships I won like him. So, you can’t… I would never put my name in the same regard as him.”

Maybe not. But just as when The Bear was stalking the sidelines at Stoll Field, any victory in college football is solid gold. Stoops picked up number one against Miami and now has a chance to reach a major milestone with another win over the Redhawks. 

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