GIDEL: History on Mind for Bowl-Bound 'Cats

Ronald Reagan just defeated Walter Mondale with 59% of the popular vote, A Nightmare on Elm Street had just opened in theatres across the United States and thirty-six of Britain and Ireland's top pop musicians gathered in a Notting Hill studio to form "Band Aid," and record the song "Do They Know It's Christmas", in order to raise money for famine relief in Ethiopia.

You guessed it, the year was 1984.

Strapped in the deep rubble of some of history's more unique footnotes of late November of that same year was a victorious Wildcat football team that strutted into Knoxville and defeated the hated Volunteers for its 8th victory of the season.

If it seems like an eternity since the Wildcats earned that precious 8th win in a season, you are more than close in thinking so.

That Wildcats team, led by Jerry Claiborne and company, would eventually go on to win its bowl game against Wisconsin a month later in the Hall of Fame Bowl - oddly enough - 22 days to the day the Wildcats take on Clemson in the Music City Bowl in 2006.

"We have got to that point and we are excited about getting to a bowl game," senior center Matt McCutchan said. "That is what I have waited for, that is why I came here – to turn this program around and do some good things."

Oddly enough, McCutchan and the 2006 Wildcat seniors have a chance to walk-away having done something no team since Bear Bryant walked the streets of the Commonwealth in 1951 could do - finish the season with 8 wins.

That's right. Sprinkled in are plenty of 2,3 and 4 win seasons, some 9 and 10 win seasons and enough 6 win seasons to last you a lifetime, but 8? The Wildcat football program hasn't ended its season on 8 in 55 years.

"We have built a foundation," senior defensive end Durrell White said. "We really wanted to make a statement this year for the University of Kentucky. We wanted to show people that we really could play football, that we haven't forgot how."

The question surrounding the Wildcats and its ability to get its first bowl win in 22 years centers around preparation. While many programs still playing this time of year have had the luxury of experience, the Wildcat football program does not, having not one player that has played past November.

"The difficult thing to judge is you never know, with a long layoff, exactly where you're going to fall on gameday," UK coach Rich Brooks said. "Some groups handle that process better than others."

Brooks hasn't coached a bowl-bound program since his final days at Oregon, when he led his Pac-10 Champion Ducks into the Rose Bowl. Even at that juncture, when bowl games had become a sort of regularity for the old ball coach and his program, Brooks had little trouble motivating his players.

"It won't be hard for us to understand what we have to do and understand our motivation," junior wide receiver Keenan Burton said. "This is our next game and that is important and regardless of who it is or where it is we have to be ready to play."

"The future of the program - we have to make sure that it is going to continue to stay bright," junior Wesley Woodyard echoeing Burton's comments, said. "We have to come out and take advantage of this game and get a victory. It will help to build off this success for recruiting. A lot of guys will be excited to play and they will step up and come out and have fun."

The first step is magic number 8.


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