GETTING THERE: Like most quick road trips covering a great distance, this one had its fair share of stupidity and difficulty involved. The person going with me to this game didn't get off of work until 6:00 p.m. on Friday and we had a target time of leaving at 7:00 p.m. which would put us in Lexington around 1:00 or 1:30 a.m. That wouldn't have been so terrible except kickoff was at 11:30 a.m. on Saturday. Clearly there wasn't going to be much time to sleep or a lot of opportunity for soaking up pregame atmosphere.
Just north of Knoxville, we encountered a horrific traffic jam that was partially due to construction and partially due to a multi-car wreck. You'd think it couldn't be that bad on a Friday night outside of the city, but you'd be wrong. C'mon, it's Knoxville after all...everything they do is wrong. So, instead of arriving around 1:00 a.m., we pull into town just a bit after 4:00 a.m. We just had the hotel for one night, so now we were essentially paying well over $100 for a place to take a short nap and grab a quick shower.
Much to our surprise, the woman working the counter of our hotel said she felt terrible about taking our money for such a short amount of time and offered us the opportunity to stay Saturday night in the hotel for free. Having no concrete plans for the rest of the weekend in Alabama, we took her up on her offer and turned a quick overnight trip into a full weekend in Lexington. This turned out to be fantastic if for no other reason than we were able to crash out after the game and rest up for a bit of Lexington night life on Saturday.
PREGAME: We made it to the grounds of the stadium about 30 minutes before kickoff after paying some obscene amount of money to park. The good news is that we were incredibly close to the stadium and were able to soak in a bit of how Kentucky does a football Saturday...which as it turns out involved a whole lot of basketball.
Quickly, we discovered a ton of tents around campus not too terribly far from Commonwealth Stadium. As it turns out, tickets for Kentucky basketball's Midnight Madness were going on sale soon and students were camped out in droves hoping to get tickets to Kentucky's first basketball practice of the year. Kentucky's always been the oddball in the SEC in that football isn't their main sport and it was on full display this morning in Lexington in the form of a tent city anticipating a future basketball practice more than the day's visit from the #3 Crimson Tide. The other thing we remarked on pregame was just how many Kentucky students were wearing Uggs. It seemed like about half of them were.
ARCHITECTURE: Commonwealth Stadium, as it turns out, is the youngest stadium in the SEC (at least as far as initial construction is concerned) having opened for business during the 1973 season. Architecturally speaking, it's nothing to write home about. The exterior is kind of drab and has no particularly striking features, which is not surprising at all for governmental architecture of the time period. Inside, there's pretty much only bleacher seating with two small scoreboards. There are currently plans to upgrade the public address system, add two much bigger LED scoreboards and to add ribbon boards. These improvements are scheduled to be ready by their 2011 home opener and should do quite a bit to help modernize a stadium lagging behind much of the rest of the conference.
THE GAME: Kentucky has only beaten Alabama twice and tied them once in the 37 meetings up to this point. The first loss came in 1922 in Lexington (a 6-0 victory) and the second coming in 1997 when Kentucky beat a Mike Dubose led Crimson Tide 40-34 in a game I still catch crap about from my Kentucky friends. My only response to them is "We beat you way more often in basketball than you beat us in football." That doesn't make me feel any better about that game, but it tends to quiet them down, so mission accomplished.
History clearly doesn't predetermine winners, but a record that lopsided certainly shows the expectations of both fan bases as to the eventual outcome. Kentucky football had been on the rise a bit though and their fans were optimistic about their chances.
Javier Arenas returned the opening kickoff 60 yards and Alabama waltzed down the remainder of the field on their opening possession with Mark Ingram putting the Tide up 7-0 with an 11 yard carry less than a minute into the game. Tide fans were ecstatic and talk of a blowout was already in the air. Kentucky held their own though and Lones Seiber booted a pair of 49 yard field goals to have the Wildcats still very much in the game at the end of the first quarter only trailing 7-6.
The 2nd quarter was a fairly dull affair with the teams trading three and outs for the majority of the half before Alabama mounted a 13 play, 97 yard drive to go up 14-6 with forty seconds left in the half. Only being down 8 points to the #3 team in the country just before the half was something of a victory for the Wildcats and the outcome at this point was far from certain.
Then the wheels totally fell off for Kentucky. Kentucky fumbled on their next possession and Alabama returned it 45 yards for a TD. The Kentucky crowd was demoralized to say the least. 20 seconds ago they trailed by 1 and now they faced a 21-6 scoreline just before the half.
The Tide intercepted Kentucky 32 seconds into the 2nd half and Mark Ingram punched it in from 32 yards out on the second play of the Alabama drive to put Alabama up 28-6 with over 13 minutes remaining the quarter. Despite a very slow start to the game that found Alabama only up a point with less than a minute before the half, the Tide rattled off 21 points in one minute and fifty-seven seconds to completely shock both Wildcat players and fans.
Kentucky picked up a TD in the third quarter and another in the fourth, but the game was essentially over after the early third quarter Mark Ingram touchdown.
SUMMARY: Lexington's a long haul for a football game and you're likely to face the dreaded morning kickoff. On the plus side, a Bama victory is nearly a sure thing.
Enjoy highlights of the game: