How Dry I Am
Way back in 1925, two University of Kentucky alumni, Guy Huguelet and Rollie M. Guthrie decided that UK and the University of Tennessee needed a trophy or a symbol for their annual football game. Something like the "Old Oaken Bucket" that went to the winner of the annual Indiana/Purdue game. After much thought, they came up with a whiskey barrel. A great idea, they thought, but unfortunately the Women's Christian Temperance Union did not agree. So, they decided on a beer barrel. This, of course, brought the ire of the Anti-Saloon League. So, it became the Ice Water Barrel. That is, until prohibition was repealed, and then it was, again, the Beer Barrel, and starting with UK's victory in 1925, was awarded every year to the victorious team.
On November 15, 1998, the UK Football family was hit with a great loss. Defensive lineman Arthur Steinmetz and Eastern Kentucky University student Scott Brock were killed when starting center Jason Watts' pick-up truck flipped over on a rural highway. Alcohol was involved in the accident. Out of respect to the families of the victims, the Beer Barrel was not awarded during the upcoming UK/UT football game. Then Athletic Director C. M. Newton also instituted one of the strictest alcohol policies in the nation for the athletic department and cut off advertisements with all members of the alcohol industry, including Anheuser-Busch, Miller Brewing, and Maker's Mark. The Beer Barrel has not been awarded since.
This is a strange season for UK Football. They are 7-4, with a very good chance to beat UT, but they will not be able to go to a bowl game. The season began with a victory over the Louisville Cardinals, and a repossession of the Governor's Cup. It could end with a victory over another, more reviled, rival, UT, -and wouldn't it be nice if there were a trophy for them to take home. There are a few solid reasons why now is the time to bring back the Beer Barrel.
1. UK has already altered the original policy. No disrespect is intended. The alcohol-related tragedy hopefully taught a valuable lesson to student athletes everywhere. However, the policies instituted by Newton afterwards were reactionary, strict, and harsh. Since that time, parts of this policy have been altered. No longer are athletes automatically suspended from practice and competition after being charged with driving under the influence. They are suspended from competition for a year, but are still allowed to practice, as long as they attend the mandatory counseling. Since there was never any formal calling for the discontinuation of the Beer Barrel, it would not be re-writing any policy.
2. The UK/alcohol divorce does not appear to be final. The other big reaction was the severing of the partnership with the alcohol industry. Newton received much fanfare for cutting off the relationship between UK and the alcohol companies, winning an award from the same National Women's Temperance Union that forced the initial name change, but how much of it was real, and how much of it was just window dressing?
UK allows alcohol to be served in the luxury suites at Commonwealth Stadium. Drinking occurs unabated in the parking lot before and after football games. If truly serious, there would be road blocks set up on Cooper and Alumni after games. The relationship between the university and Maker's Mark distillery also seems to be going strong. The most recent example of this is last year when Mr. Wildcat Bill Keightley was featured on special edition bottles of Maker's Mark Bourbon. This was advertised on the UK Athletics Association's official website. Maker's Mark is also a big sponsor of the UK Basketball Museum. So, despite the initial cease and desist, alcohol still has a big presence around the Wildcats. Bringing back the Beer Barrel would not be crossing any line UK has not crossed many times since 1998.
3. Tradition. One of the beautiful things about college sports is the tradition. "Between the Hedges" at Georgia, "Touchdown Jesus" at Notre Dame, "Student Body Right" at USC, and "Dotting the I" at Ohio State, are just a few examples. We have plenty of basketball tradition, but when it comes to football, the cupboard is kind of bare. That is why we need the return of the Beer Barrel. Athletic Director Mitch Barnhart has shown that he is not afraid to step into sticky situations. This would be one of those situations. Again, not one wants to trivialize a tragedy, but bringing back the Beer Barrel is not an intended affront to anyone's memory.
In fact, there is a way to bring it back and still avoid the problem with the "Beer/Alcohol" association. Just go all the way back to its roots and call it the "Ice Water Barrel." Pretty simple and it allows UK to still hold the high moral ground. Instead of just awarding it to the winning team, perhaps UK and UT can go a step further and use it as an opportunity to address the problem of drinking and driving. Have a donation to charity be part of the competition. Have UK and UT athletes come together to record Public Service Announcements. (Their Blood Drive competition is going on all week, pre-game.)
On Thanksgiving Day 1925, six representatives from each school marched to midfield, accompanied by their respective bands. One representative from each group drank from the Ice Water Barrel and toasted the foe. Then, to the tune of "How Dry I Am," the ceremony concluded. There is no reason why this tradition should not resume. This game is it for this edition of your Wildcats. Wouldn't it be nice if they could bring our barrel back home?
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