By Max Godby
“Go Big Blue” echoed in Papa John Stadium. Fans cried tears of joy. Coach Stoops and Company hoisted The Governor’s Cup into the air after a five year drought against the Cardinals. The scene was priceless – a staunch difference from the Southern Miss game that ended in defeat, doubt, and finger-pointing. No one had an answer except Coach Stoops–“Don’t flinch.”
“Don’t Flinch” has been a motto since the beginning of the Stoops Era. After the loss to Southern Miss and the complete implosion at Florida, this phrase was put to the test. Could this team put words into action? In the midst of some people wanting to fire Coach Stoops, the spreading of rumors, national media making jokes about UK Football, a backup JUCO quarterback as the new starter and developing a whole new philosophy on offense and defense, this team did not flinch when adversity hit. They invited it. They attacked it.
The resilience of this coaching staff and these players against #11 Louisville was symbolic of the entire season. A quick Lamar Jackson touchdown delivered adversity within the first two minutes of the game. I sat back in my chair and thought to myself: This is either going to be high scoring or a blowout.
However, before the first play for Kentucky was even snapped, I knew this team was going to win. Stephen Johnson scanned the field to read the coverage; he knew he had a play action pass to run. At that moment, he knew Louisville was going to take the bait – and he smiled. It seemed like a scene out of a Disney football movie. Stephen Johnson’s only fault this whole season was that he was not the true starter. Through all the heckling and some people playing quarterback from the stands, with a microscope on him judging every move and call he made, he did not flinch. At that moment, Stephen Johnson bloomed into a UK Football hero we will never forget.
Let us all take a lesson from Coach Stoops and Johnson. It was easy for some fans after the first game to write off this team. Southern Miss hurt, but unlike us, the players still had eleven more games to play. People hate when he says it, but Coach Stoop’s simple response after disappointment is always, “We have to get back to work.” Let us learn from this team about resilience. No matter how something starts, no matter the hand that we are dealt, no matter the odds . . . if we do not flinch and keep grinding, something good will happen. I do not know for sure, but I think that moment was realized in Johnson’s first snap. He knew something good was coming.
To the loyal fans of Big Blue Nation, your patience was rewarded. The bowl game was the goal – mission accomplished. Beating Bobby Petrino and Louisville– that is an extra helping of blessing and reward for waiting faithfully and hopefully since 2010. You stayed the course; you paid the price, and you did not flinch. To a player, that kind of support does not go unnoticed.
The Battle for the Governor’s Cup is won, but the season is not over. There are fifteen more practices, over thirty more lifting sessions, countless meetings and film sessions, and a bowl game to be played.