Psyche big key for Cats

September 23, 2003|JEFF ZURCHER

Editor's Note: Jeff Zurcher is a former starting safety for the Kentucky football team and played in the 1999 Outback Bowl.

The Florida Gators lay heavy on the horizon.


Sixteen years Lexington has toiled in vain versus Gainesville. Sixteen years it has suffered, coming closest at 24-20 in 1993 and falling farthest away at 65-0 three seasons later.

Sixteen consecutive losses to UF: the University of Kentucky Wildcats morph into mere kittens against the sunshine state reptilians.


Because 16 consecutive losses is habit - a festering sickness in the head, doggedly gnawing away the cerebrum (cognition/senses), the cerebellum (coordination), and even the brain stem (involuntary functions) of Wildcat footballers.

They understand. They know that there is, realistically, little statistical chance that they will win against Florida. In fact, in the decade since that 1993 oh-so-close one, only one Kentucky squad has been a seriously competitive (finishing within two touchdowns) foe for Florida: last year's team.


Yet this team is, essentially, that team. Well, okay, it's technically that team minus Artose Pinner/Dewayne Robertson and plus Rich Brooks and Co. But - and get this - against the Gators it's not so much what the UK players can or cannot do with their physical abilities as it is what they can or cannot do with their psychological aptitudes.

Kentucky's psyche must outperform Florida's speed for Kentucky to have a shot this Saturday. That is, UK must play psychologically perfect in this game.


To play a perfect psychological game is far from equivalent to playing a perfect physical game - which, by definition, equals flawlessness.

Rather, to play a perfect psychological game means that a team fully subscribes to the fact that it will win despite any and every situation it may face during the course of the physical game.

Doubt, fear, and other negatives are certainly present in the minds of the psychologically perfect team. However, every time these enter the mind they are immediately vanquished by positive thoughts.

How a team achieves psychological perfection starts with its individual members. Leaders of the team - guys like Derek Abney, Jared Lorenzen, Vincent Burns, and Jeremy Caudill - must convert the emotional belief that they will win into the mental knowledge that they will win.

To do this, each leader first must personally accumulate the belief in large quantities. Then, they must dwell on the belief consistently until at some point - ideally, well before the game begins - they are convinced that the belief is fact (a fact that exists on a higher plane than confidence and can readily fend off the occurrences of doubt, fear, and the like).

Then, by the leaders' actions, speech, and demeanors, they attempt to instill the same belief/fact in the rest of the team.

Sometimes the entire team buys in (resulting in psychological perfection), sometimes not. Depends on the leaders - and followers.

Where (in the world do they get that belief to begin with)?

Good question.

Face it, Florida currently (and for a foreseeable time) has more talent than Kentucky. And Florida has had more talent - in varying degrees, of course - during the past 16 seasons. So what business do Kentucky players have believing they can pull off the upset? Well, based upon their playing the Gators tight last year, the current version of the Kentucky team has belief it can best Florida - whereas so many past Kentucky teams have had nothing from their previous games with Florida on which to base any such belief.

Yeah, yeah. But what, you may ask (again), about all that stuff written above about festering brain sickness caused by 16 straight Gator W's? If all that's true - if this year's team (like so many preceding ones) has that same performance-encumbering brain block - then how can they possibly conjure up a molecule's worth of belief?

Because, to put it simply, the brain is not the spirit. And the spirit - according to 1920s theologian Clarence Larkin - is the source of hope (while the brain is stuck doing that dull sensory and cognitive stuff). In other words, Kentucky players can have all their brains gnawed half away by a long losing streak but still, in their spirits, maintain hope that this year they'll cease to be Gator bait.


Sound complicated? That's because it is. Football is tough on the noggin - and not just on account of the hitting.

But if you didn't catch all that the first time around, just read ahead. Remember this: Against Florida, if UK has a hope, it has a prayer; if it has a prayer, it has a chance.

Do I, personally, have hope? Not a chance.

But then, the outcome doesn't depend on what (and/or how) I think.

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