Sometimes it’s hard to get a perspective on just how fans feel about a particular team, especially from fans you know well and might tend to say more to you than they would otherwise.
Stacy Heineman is one of those die-hard University of Kentucky fans who desperately wants the football team to be better than it is this year. That was obvious when she replied to a Twitter question I posted asking if fans were still interested in reading about UK football with the team 2-4 and struggling to even get a first down.
“I'm usually an optimistic fan who will never boo our team in any way at a game but it's been a tough time since last year's Tennessee game. I got a chance to talk to Joker for quite some time after an alumni event and just love him. I want him to be successful so badly. I just don't know if it's gonna happen though,” said Heineman, 36, a UK¿alum who now lives in Lexington.
“I don't remember not being a UK fan. My Dad was a huge fan so I watched games from a very young age. I went to my first basketball game when I was 9, first football game not long after that, and haven't looked back. I've always loved the atmosphere on football game day and that grew into loving the game itself. The highlights of my UK fandom are great ones that I was lucky enough to witness in person: the 1996 Final Four and the 2007 win over LSU.”
That passion for UK let me know Heineman, who was living in Atlanta when UK beat Georgia in football in 2009 and went to the game, was perhaps a perfect person to express the sentiments UK fans feel about football right now. Since we had never met, no way could I influence her perspective.
“I've almost never left any UK football or basketball game early, even during two-win seasons in the coldest weather. I'm one of those who thinks that is when the team needs fans the most. That said, I left the Florida game at halftime. I've rarely missed watching any UK game over the years but I barely watched the second half of LSU, and as I hate to admit, fell asleep during the third quarter of the USC (South Carolina) game,” she said.
“I can't quite put my finger on what really bothers me about this UK team because we've seen bad UK teams before that haven't brought on the same feeling. Is it the constant dropped passes? Ultra conservative play calling (remember punting on fourth and two at Tennessee last year)? Lackadaisical efforts? A defense that could be good if they could get some rest on the sideline? These feel like things that go beyond being ‘out-talented.’ I'm not even angry anymore because I don't expect better from this team. This apathy is what I find troubling.”
That’s what should be troubling to UK¿coach Joker Phillips, his players and especially the UK administration. It could translate to a lot of empty seats for the Oct. 22 homecoming game against Jacksonville State that starts at noon and will be ESPNU.
“I know I'm not alone in my feelings. I'm hearing the same thing from a lot of fans that I talk to regularly, not one of which is a fan only when times are good,” Heineman said. “I can't count how many people I know who have dropped their season tickets or are planning to do so unless something changes this year.”
Now that should really catch someone’s attention at UK.
“If my family's renewal was due today, we would choose not to,” she said. “I'm not sure the athletic department even realizes mass cancellations are a possibility because we, as fans, always come back. This time, it feels like it is not merely talk but that people are fed up with the path of the program.”
Again, that’s what I am sensing, too. Die-hard fans who have sat through bad football are disillusioned with this team’s lack of offense and, worse yet in their minds, lack of effort.
“Rich Brooks was able to get the program to a level that met the reasonable expectations of most fans, and it's been painful to see the drop. I love Joker Phillips as a person and hope that the team can prove me wrong over the rest of the season,” Heineman said. “At this point though, I have little confidence that it will happen. I don't know what the solution is but whether it is with the players, coaches, administration, or some other factor, I hope that things change soon.”
What UK¿fan doesn’t? However, with Big Blue Madness set for Friday, the attention is going to turn to basketball even sooner this year. Just ask Heineman.
“Of course, I am ready for basketball but as a fan who loves basketball and football equally, I truly miss the excitement that we've experienced as UK football fans over the last few years,” Heineman said.