The Path To Birmingham
Who could have ever imagined the University of Kentucky basketball team taking a back seat to the men who reside at Commonwealth Stadium? Well, don't look now but Jerry Claiborne's bowl-bound Cats are soaking up all the attention these days around the Bluegrass state. After beating Tennessee a couple of weeks ago, the 8-3 Wildcats are headed to the Hall of Fame Bowl for a December 29 encounter with Wisconsin in Birmingham. Even with the NCAA finals being in Lexington along with the expectations of Joe Hall's team developing into an exciting ballclub, the road to the southern industrial city seems to be more popular among Wildcat fans.
Nick Nicholas
Cdis' Pause Columnist
The enthusiasm following the football Wildcats was obvious two weeks ago in Knoxville and Lexington.
More than 13,000 UK fans converged at Neyland Stadium to watch Kentucky defeat border-rival Tennessee 17-12. Three nights later in Lexington during halftime of the UK-Toledo matchup, the biggest roar of the evening came when the Kentucky cheerleaders circled the court with a gigantic Hall of Fame game banner.
I guess that shows what winning at Tennessee can do to Wildcat supporters.
Those 5,000 tickets were directly sold from the Memorial Coliseum ticket office as of Wednesday (November 28). However Friday, according to sports information director Russell Rice, the count had jumped to around 7,000. Who knows how many more Wildcat fans are planning to attend?
Already season ticket holders are receiving in the mail colorful brochures informing the UK fans about the bowl. Also, the University has sent out information to 10,000 UK alumni. Local radio and television networks are publicizing the Wisconsin-Kentucky matchup with the song "Fame."
"We're promoting it in a big way," said Hagan. "We're talking it up every opportunity we get."
Persons interested in obtaining reservations for Birmingham can call 205-252-9823 (Birmingham travel agency).
For fans attending a day early, Hagan mentioned that there was going to be a UK gathering at the Birmingham Civic Center (across from the Hyatt Regency Hotel) Friday, December 28 from 7:00 p.m. to 11:00 p.m. The popular southern band Poonanny will be performing. UK's band and cheerleaders will also be at the Kentucky party. Tickets are $5.00 per couple.
According to Jim Mott, sports information director at Wisconsin, the fans are just as excited.
"I think the attitude is very positive," said Mott in a recent telephone interview. "On Monday (November 26) alone we had telephone orders for 900 tickets. I expect a good contengent of Wisconsin people to be there.
"We're very excited. We know we are going to be playing a fine team in Kentucky."
The Badgers, who were 4-0-1 in their last five games, had some other postseason possibilities, but decided to accept the Hall of Fame's invitation. Apparently former Green Bay Packer coach and Alabama quarterback Bart Starr regarded highly the Hall of Fame contest to the Wisconsin coach.
"I'm sure it's a fine bowl," stated Mott. "We're certainly looking forward to it."
"Tennessee can make or break a season," said UK Athletic Director Cliff Hagan, "and they certainly did make our season."
Hagan feels that the team's hearty finish (Vanderbilt, Florida, and Tennessee) is one of the reasons that Kentucky will be sending a lot more fans to Legion Field than last season.
"We played beautifully in those last three games," indicated Hagan about the 2-1 finish. "I think people are real excited because we're coming off a real big finish."
The December 29 scheduling seems more favorable to the fans than last year's before-Christmas date.
Said Hagan, "the timing is perfect."
He noted that the ticket sales for the bowl game are going pretty good right now. "I think it's going over tremendously. We've already sold 5,000 tickets." UK started selling the $18 seats Monday following the Tennessee
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The Kentucky football team is scheduled to roll into Birmingham Wednesday, December 26, while the Wisconsin Badgers will be in town Christmas Day . . . The two school's combined record of 15-6-1 is the best won-loss statistic to ever compete in this the eighth Hall of Fame Bowl . . . Administrative Assistant Dick Redding, in relation to recruiting, commented on the importance of beating the arch-rival Volunteers while also participating in their second straight bowl game. "Anytime you go to a bowl it's going to help," said Redding. "(Beating Tennessee) that's going to help us. Being so close to Knoxville they come up here to recruit. Maybe now we can go into Tennessee and get some players.
"(Overall recruiting) it's hard to tell right now, but I'm sure we're going to have some positive responses."
Bringing Out The Banner During Halftime Of UK's Opener