Whitley: Expect a weird win in Lexington
Florida is an 8.5-point favorite over Kentucky tonight. If you’re tempted to wager on the Gators, check instead to see if you can bet on Kentucky fans crying themselves to sleep after the game.
Odds are it’s going to happen.
“Weird things seem to happen,” Chris Doering said, “and they happen specifically with us.”
He’d be the King of Weirdness in this series, of course. Doering’s last-second TD reception in 1993 and Mick Hubert’s “Doering’s Got a Touchdown!” radio call will forever echo in Gainesville and Lexington.
There are plenty of other sounds and sights Kentucky fans wish they could get out of their heads. It’s not just that the Gators have won all but one game since 1986. It’s that so many losses felt like football versions of Christian Laettner hitting a turnaround jumper at the buzzer.
OK, we are talking Kentucky. Nothing football-related will ever match the 1992 NCAA basketball tournament for ongoing agony. But there have been enough torturous twists to make you wonder if Charley Pell hired a witch doctor to put an eternal curse on Kentucky.
What a long, strange trip it's been. We could go back to prehistoric times like 1980, when Cris Collinsworth caught a sideline pass (Kentucky still swears he was out of bounds) to set up a last-second field goal. UF 17, UK 15.
In 2003, the Wildcats had a 21-3 lead in the fourth quarter. Florida rallied and Kentucky missed a field goal as time expired. UF 24, UK 21.
In 2014, Florida scored on a fourth-and-seven to stay alive in overtime (Kentucky still swears the clock ran out before the snap). UF 38, UK 30 in triple overtime.
In 2017, Kentucky was called for holding on its last-ditch drive. That turned a makeable field goal into a 56-yard prayer. It was not answered. UF 28, UK 27.
In 2019, Feleipe Franks broke his ankle with UF trailing 21-10 in the third quarter. The team gathered around the fallen QB before he was carted off. In came perpetual backup Kyle Trask. The rest is Florida passing history, though it still took a missed 35-yard field goal to seal the win. UF 29, UK 21.
Ten years earlier, the UF team gathered around Tim Tebow after he was knocked out on a sack. UF won easily, 41-7, but the enduring memory was Tebow being carted off and needing a barf bag.
Then there was the granddaddy of them all in 1993. Terry Dean and Danny Wuerffel combined for seven interceptions, but Wuerffel hit Doering for a 28-yard TD with eight seconds left that gave UF a 24-20 win.
People still come up to Doering and recall where they were when he made the play. It’s a frozen memory moment, like a presidential assassination attempt.
“You expect, with seven interceptions, to get more than 20 points,” Kentucky coach Bill Curry said.
The only thing to expect in this series is a UF win with a side dish of voodoo. On the play before Doering’s catch, he almost snagged a pass that would have downed the ball short of the goal line. With no timeouts left, the clock would have expired.
“It was almost a tremendous one-handed catch,” Doering said. “That would have been the worst thing that could have happened.”
Will history repeat for Gators in Lexington?
So, what does all this portend for the 2021 encounter?
UF is a promising team that’s been getting its act together. The Gators and Emory Jones haven’t faced a hostile environment. Kroger Stadium isn’t The Swamp, but it can be unpleasant.
“Everybody thinks of Kentucky as a basketball school,” Doering said. “But they support the hell out of football.”
Especially since Mark Stoops has come along. He’s the coach who finally broke the Gators’ 31-year winning spell in 2018.
The Stoops Way is tough defense and pound-it-out offense. The Wildcats are trying to add some passing spice, but transfer QB Will Levis has thrown five interceptions.
Kentucky’s been able to sleepwalk to four wins. The feeling in Kentucky is that the season really begins Saturday night in a place where UF hasn’t lost since 1986.
The past is just that — the past. It has no effect on the present. At least that’s what Kentucky fans have been saying for years.
But if you are the wagering type, you know the safest play. Bet on a close game, something weird happening and a lot of people going home to cry themselves to sleep.
— David Whitley is The Gainesville Sun's sports columnist. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. And follow him on Twitter: @DavidEWhitley