This Time Was Different
"Please take a moment to find the nearest exit in the unlikely event of emergency," bellowed out across C.M. Newton Field at Commonwealth Stadium moments prior to kickoff last Saturday. Just like before any other Kentucky home game.
But this time fans paid attention to the peacefully imperative P.A.-system voice. And this time they did take that moment.
Because this time was different.
Hours before the game, when you peregrinated about the grounds surrounding the stadium sniffing tailgate parties you heard things like, "This thing is going to be long, drawn out" "I hope they don't allow any more carry-ons" "We've got to get him"
These phrases aren't atypical talk before a SEC game, especially one against Florida. But this time, nobody was referring to football.
This time you saw bright-yellow-shirted security guards. You'd not seen them before - maybe that's because you just overlooked them. Or maybe you saw them this time because there now are more to see. Or maybe because now you want to see them.
This time you didn't see, however, planes bearing banners for eateries or internet service providers flying overhead. And you did not want to see them.
When you entered the stadium, you were subject to search. And you rather welcomed it.
This time you got to your seat with a flyer they gave you at the gate. It was the first time you hadn't let a flyer slip to the concrete or into a trashcan. It was the first time a flyer was the American flag.
You witnessed players walk, and slowly at that, out of the tunnel - maybe for the first time since tunnels were invented. They were single file. They lined up shoulder to shoulder - right up against their opponents - along the length of the field. Every helmet was in every right hand.
As the countdown to game time reached 10 and a half minutes on the scoreboard, 30-seconds of silence preceded "God Bless America," which everyone sang. A plethora of God Bless America's echoed throughout the afternoon - not at all a bad thing. Then "Proud to Be an American" came on, and everyone sang that one too.
Why are these songs not played - and sung along with - more often? And not just before sporting events.
A half-ring of police and firemen stood at mid-field and were honored by a standing crowd. Everyone in the press box applauded, an anomaly, another first. Clapping in the press box is impermissible - shows partiality - and you can get escorted out for it.
This time, however, was different.
This time, when you heard across same press box that the Kansas State-New Mexico State game was "postponed" (officially, delayed), you wondered. Stomach rolled, mind cringed. In Kansas? What's happened?
Later - too long later - you heard that it was "isolated tornadoes." This time tornadoes (officially, lightning storms) were a relief.
This time, the band played the "Star-Spangled Banner" as usual, but unusually sweet. And this time, the P.A. voice asked the fans to place their right hands over their hearts. The P.A. voice really didn't have to ask.
The game was finally played, the outcome was 44-10, Florida. Given past UK-UF scores, this may have not seemed all that strange. Or all that bad.
But yes, this time was different.
This time the Wildcat defense played well. Well, well-enough. Staunch, mostly, at the line against the run. There, mostly, in the backfield against the pass. And forcing turnovers (3).
While the Wildcat offense didn't turn the ball over once, except on downs. That's something unexpected against the Gators.
Another something unexpected was to observe a Kentucky signal-caller shift and sprint by and beyond Florida defenders. But this time, this UK quarterback did - easily and often. Shane Boyd averaged 5.7 yards per carry, second in the game only to Gator tailback Earnest Graham.
And this time, some inopportune calls against the Cats - bad calls by the officials - actually could have kept Kentucky in the game. A few interference flags, most notably one that nullified an interception in the end zone by UK's Anthony Wajda. A weird illegal substitution call against the Florida defense, when not all of it was on the field as Boyd completed a pass to Derek Abney. And even a blown spot on a booming Glenn Pakulak punt, giving the Gators a touchback when Champ Kelly clearly downed the ball on the Florida one-foot line.
But those calls would not have won the game for Kentucky.
Yet this time, merely playing the game was a victory. And anyway, although a defeat did not please, it was still merely a defeat.
Not a loss.
Not this time.
Not when you consider what Americans now know about losing.
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