November 3, 2012 was a cold and dreary day, an appropriate metaphor for the underachieving Kentucky Wildcat football team. Embattled coach Joker Phillips’ squad limped into Commonwealth Stadium against the Vanderbilt Commodores with a 1-8 record, hoping futilely to salvage some SEC pride. The combination of a disappointing season, an early kickoff time, and the threat of cold rain led to the lowest attendance in anyone’s memory. Although the announced crowd was 44,992, those actually present know that the true attendance was much, much lower. The disgruntled crowd continued to dwindle as the Vanderbilt lead widened.
The Commodores ended up embarrassing the Cats 40-0, and not unexpectedly, Joker was fired the following Monday morning.
You know how the story ultimately has unfolded. Joker’s replacement Mark Stoops has found success, and he has solidified his place as perhaps the greatest coach in Kentucky football history. Bear Bryant may have a valid argument for that title, but barring the unthinkable, Stoops will pass him early this season for most wins ever as a Kentucky head coach. He’s already won more bowl games as UK coach than anyone else, and has put together an impressive streak of four consecutive bowl victories in four seasons. Excitement for the upcoming season is at a fever pitch.
That’s not how it was back in 2012. And there is a storyline within the Vanderbilt game that’s worth bringing back up, as we remember how far we have actually come since that chilly November day.
The basketball team had won the National Championship earlier that year. With the success of John Calipari and the struggles of the football team, there was a lot to talk about on the radio and on the internet. Kentucky Sports Radio was cementing itself as a major player in UK media coverage. Matt Jones and Drew Franklin were reporting from every game in the most ridiculous manner possible, commenting on social media and building their following with every radio show, podcast, blog post, and tweet.
The game got out of hand quickly. Vanderbilt struck early when QB Jordan Rodgers hit future NFL star Jordan Matthews running in stride past Kentucky’s Bud Dupree for an easy TD. Already frustrated with the season as it unfolded, the Kentucky fans were increasingly disgusted with the product on the field. Many at the game headed for the exits early, and the ones that stayed voiced their displeasure. As usual, social media was even worse, with some calling for Joker’s head before the end of the game. Matt and Drew were in the press box digesting what was unfolding around them. Along with their eager new college student writer Nick Roush, they spotted something across the stadium in the upper deck that caught their attention.
One fan was sitting by himself high up in Section 206, with nobody else anywhere close to him.
Who was he? Why would he possibly be there all by himself? Of course, Nick was sent to talk to him.
Patrick Johnson was a senior at UK, finishing up his last semester before graduation in December. A die hard UK fan, born and raised in Pendleton County, he never missed a game as a student. Even despite Kentucky’s horrible record and disappointing season, he was determined to remain optimistic and cheer on the Cats no matter what. He tried to convince his friends to attend the game, but frankly, like a large portion of the Wildcat fanbase, they had already checked out. So he went to the game by himself, and sat among a few hundred other students in the corner of the lower bowl. A true fan, and always an optimist, Patrick was dismayed by all of the negativity surrounding him.
“Joker, you suuuuuuuuuckkkk!” “Kentucky MILDcats!!!!” “Get a real quarterback!!”
He decided he had to escape the gloom and doom and go watch the game by himself. He wanted to cheer for the team without being heckled. Not wanting to listen to venomous fans bashing the coaches and the players, he hiked up to the upper deck and found a solitary spot, all by his lonesome, just to tune out the frustrated fans and actually enjoy the game. Patrick basically had Section 206 all to himself.
Of course, the game didn’t get any better for Kentucky fans. James Franklin’s Commodores scored an additional unanswered 20 points before halftime to take a 27-0 lead.
Nick arrived in Section 206 sometime during the 2nd quarter, and reported back to Matt and Drew that Patrick was sitting there simply to escape the negativity. Matt and Drew decided to join him, and the #teamPatrick movement was born.
Cell service in 2012 at Commonwealth Stadium was generally terrible. But on this day, with a historically small crowd, messages and tweets could be sent and read with no problem. Impressed with Patrick’s positive energy, they used social media to encourage like-minded fans to join them in Section 206 to cheer on the Cats no matter what.
Midway through the 3rd quarter with UK down 34-0, a crowd of over 100 die-hard fans had assembled to cheer on the Cats.
Of course, by the bitter end, even the faithful #teamPatrick had disbanded and left the scene as Vanderbilt shut out Kentucky 40-0. But for about an hour during the second half, section 206 was rocking, a preview of what was to come over the next decade of Kentucky football.
Matt and Drew continued to grow KSR, and several years later signed me up as their photographer. I had no idea I even had photos of them with #teamPatrick until yesterday when I looked through my files and zoomed in while researching this story.
Patrick graduated, went away to law school, and now works as an attorney for the federal government with the Environmental Protection Agency in Alaska, a long way from his alma mater. He remains a devoted Kentucky fan, and although he can’t make it to many games, he watches them all and still roots as hard as ever.
“I have a toddler who, despite being raised in a land better known for moose and muskox than college athletics, is developing a love for UK sports. One of his first phrases was ‘Go Cats,’ and he still says it everytime he sees anyone playing a sport, on a screen or in person.”
He adds, “As illustrated on that day in 2012, I remain fiercely loyal towards UK sports and am deeply optimistic about the future of UK football. I am strongly considering a trip to Lexington for the Georgia game this fall, as I think it could be the game where the Cats finally get over the hump and secure their place in the SEC championship game.”
I look forward to welcoming Patrick back to Kroger Field this fall for a #teamPatrick reunion, but this time with 61,000 ecstatic fans going wild right along with him in an electric atmosphere, cheering the Cats on for a berth in the SEC Championship game. A pipe dream 10 years ago, we are all believers now. We’ve come a long way, and we’re just getting started, bro. We will forever be #teamPatrick. GO BIG BLUE!
This story was written and all photos were taken by me, Dr. Michael Huang, who at some point will start working on my book of photos and stories like this one, spotlighting Kentucky fans and their love for our Cats, the Heart of Big Blue Nation. If I’ve taken a special photo of you at a game that means something extra to you, or if you have a story to tell about your love of the Cats please contact me at email@example.com. Thanks to Patrick for sharing his story, along with KSR for helping to make it happen. If you’re so inclined, I’d love for you to click the links to find my social media accounts, follow me, and subscribe to this blog.