Yet now he's gone. He won't be at Rupp Arena next year to watch the Cats play and see his daughter perform with the UK dance team. He won't be at Commonwealth Stadium Saturday for the Blue-White Game that ends spring practice. He won't be on the air Sunday to find the most positive spin possible on the scrimmage and see what he can do to stir the passion in callers.
Gillstrap was owner of Comedy Off Broadway in Lexington. He had also recently bought a club in Louisville and often told WLAP listeners about how painful it was to listen to Louisville fans talk about their basketball and football teams because Gillstrap was all blue.
That's why I could only chuckle Saturday when Kentucky athletics director Mitch Barnhart approached Gillstrap during UK's football scrimmage. It seems Gillstrap had noted on air that Louisville "owned" Kentucky because of its wins in football and basketball. Barnhart countered by noting how many times Kentucky had beat Louisville in other sports.
"But what about football and basketball?" Gillstrap shot back.
Gillstrap tried to get Barnhart to call his radio show and call him out for his comments. Barnhart laughed and said he didn't want to embarrass Gillstrap.
"Heck, it would be great for my ratings," Gillstrap laughed and said.
With him, nothing was personal
That was Gillstrap. He could laugh with you, but he could also laugh at himself. I probably disagreed with him more than I agreed, but that was fine. With him, nothing was personal.
"I am in shock and in mourning. I never agreed much with Jeff about anything in sports, politics or life, but I really liked him. He always wanted to argue and challenged me. Please pass my condolences to his family," said Gabe Balasquide, a regular caller on WLAP.
Tirey's two-hour show Monday was a lovefest for Gillstrap - and should have been - as callers shared their favorite Gillstrap memories. Former UK receiver Derek Abney was among those who called to reminisce about Gillstrap. Former UK coach Guy Morriss and his wife, Jackie, sent their condolences via e-mail to the station Tuesday.
Gillstrap's last show was Sunday when the special guest was UK linebacker Jon Sumrall. Gillstrap wanted him on the show to help cheer him up since Sumrall had learned three days earlier that he had to give up football or risk a life-threatening injury. Gillstrap thought he could help cheer Sumrall up and that fans needed to hear what football meant to this player.
"I just think he's a great kid who played with all heart. He's my kind of player," Gillstrap said Saturday as we watched UK's practice.
Gillstrap was the same way. He was all heart and he's going to be missed. I'm just glad I have those last memories from Saturday because that was Gillstrap at his best - trading barbs with Barnhart and reaching out to a fallen player.