Party Like It's 1999

Do you remember 1999? It should not be that difficult, it was only a few years ago. Bill Clinton was still in the White House, and sure he had some minor "women issues," but at least the stock market was high and most of the rest of the world still liked us. The University of Kentucky basketball team was knocked out in the regional finals by Michigan State, ending a streak of appearing in three-straight championship games. The Thoroughblades still played hockey in Rupp Arena, we could all afford UK season tickets, and people in Boston still thought Rick Pitino was going to lead them to the Promised Land. 1999 was also when the UK football team appeared ready to take the next step to respectability. They had lost Tim Couch to the NFL, but Dusty Bonner led the team to a 7-5 record, a second-consecutive bowl game, and led the SEC in passing efficiency. It appeared that Hal Mumme and his brilliant offensive system was going to turn the Cats into a team that could challenge in the SEC and consistently make a bowl game. We were so innocent then. As you know now, Clinton gave way to Bush, the Thoroughblades left town, Pitino led Boston to the lottery, all season tickets now require a healthy "donation" to the University, and it would take four years for the basketball team to travel that far again in the NCAA Tournament. And the football team, well, there is no reason to rehash the Bonner/Lorenzen drama or the Mumme scandal, but it is enough to know that 1999 was the last year UK went to a bowl game.

Why all of the fondness for 1999? Because this past Saturday, it felt like '99. Going into the WayBack Machine with Sherman and Mr. Peadbody, the next thing I know Bonner is throwing passes to Dougie Allen, Martez Johnson is running in touchdowns, and Tony Franklin is on the sidelines calling plays. The only thing missing was fat Claude Bassett driving around in his golf cart. This, however, was not the 1999 UK football team, but instead the 2003 Lexington Horsemen of the National Indoor Football League.

This past Saturday was only the second home game for the Horsemen, they lost their opener before a record crowd of 10,004, so the excitement and newness was still there for the crowd of over 7,000 people that attended the game. The game itself is a lot of fun. Some people thought it might be odd watching football in Rupp Arena, but plenty of crazy stuff goes down in Rupp Arena, from Motley Crue, to the Ice Capades, to the Judds, so a little football is nothing to freak about. The concession stands are open, and since this is not an SEC event, beer is served. This is, of course, a major plus. The Horsemen have all the usual frills of minor league sports. The crazy mascot Spike, halftime contests designed to make normal people act silly, the Kiss-Cam, and birthday announcements. One suggestion to the operators of the Kiss-Cam: We live in the year 2003 and as a society we have come a long way. With this in mind, what would it hurt to throw the Kiss-Cam on two ladies every now and then? Hasn't anyone else seen that T.A.T.U. video on MTV? Just a suggestion. The video messages from Dusty Bonner explaining what could happen if a football flies into the stands and hits you in the head is a nice touch. In case you cannot hear him, he acts this out using a football and his head, and follows that up by showing you a picture of an ambulance he drew himself. Apparently, the Horsemen are a little short on cash in the graphics department. Coach Franklin appears a few times to help explain some of the rules. This is nice, especially during the first season when people are still new to a lot of the concepts.

The game itself was over fairly quickly. For some reason, the Oklahoma Crude felt like they needed to establish the run. This did not make much sense, but then again, the straw hats the Crude coaches wore indoors did not make much sense either. By the time the second half started the only drama was whether or not the Horsemen would reach 50 points. If so, it meant my ticket stub could be redeemed for a free taco at Qdoba. The Horsemen eked out a 61-20 victory that was so lopsided that in the 4th quarter, the video screen began taunting the Crude, declaring not only did they have the worst offense in the league, but that they liked to be cuddled. Bonner threw six touchdown passes to four different receivers, the defense held the Crude to an average of 2.4 yards per play, and former Wildcat and Dunbar Bulldog Dougie Allen was the player of the game, with two touchdowns. The Crude could only go back on the team bus, beaten and humiliated, and presumably cuddle.

In an odd coincidence, the day of the Horsemen's victory was also the day the Lexington Men O' War pretty much lost any chance of returning next season. Through a series of financial moves, none of which turned out like everyone involved hoped, it appears that hockey in Lexington is dead again. So, will the Horsemen survive? A big factor they have in their favor is that everyone knows football and a lot of people know the players. Every one of the players on the team played college football in Kentucky except for one and about 2/3 of them played for UK at one time. If they can continue to recycle local players, they will have an easier time remaining in the public eye. Lexington is not a big city, and perhaps with the success of the Lexington Legends baseball team, it can only support two minor league franchises. When you put hockey up against baseball and football, it is going to come up short every time.