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Beating Vols tops bowl game any day

Quick, where were you when news came that Kentucky had defeated Clemson in the Music City Bowl? How about East Carolina in the Liberty Bowl?

STUART HINES AND JOKER PHILLIPS

Nothing?

Now, where were you when Kentucky finally defeated Tennessee to snap an excruciating 26-year losing streak on Saturday? Moreover, what are the odds you will ever forget details of such a momentous occasion? Matt Roark the game-winning quarterback, seriously?

The Streak is dead and having had the privilege to play a role in that improbable outcome means more to Kentucky’s football players than any mid-level bowl game ever could. It means the pain of a disappointing season can be salved. It means the seniors can exit their collegiate careers with heads held high. It means, to quote “A Christmas Story” scribe Jean Shepherd, that “All is right with the world.”

Kentucky 10, Tennessee 7. Nov. 26, 2011.

“It’s the best win I’ve ever been a part of and I’ve been part of a couple of bowl wins. It’s not even close,” senior offensive lineman Stuart Hines said. “It’s hard to say it’s better than a bowl because you always strive each season to make a bowl, but this is about as good as it gets.”

“I’ve been fortunate to have some big wins in my career,” offensive coordinator Randy Sanders said. “I’ve had some wins in Atlanta in the SEC Championship that were big. I had a national championship win that was pretty big. But I think a year from now or two years from now that this one is going to rank up there pretty high. It’s probably one of the few big wins that I’ve had that didn’t involve getting a ring afterwards. That makes it special.”

Since the loss at Georgia the previous weekend had eliminated Kentucky from bowl eligibility, many players had already set their mind to make the UK-Tennessee clash their own bowl game.

“I felt like this game against Tennessee was my bowl,” linebacker Winston Guy said. “Now I can say that I was the one who beat Tennessee and ended the streak. This will be a memory forever. I will live with this forever. When we come back in 10 or 20 years to see guys again, we’ll know that we were the guys that beat Tennessee.”

“I’d rather end the season this way than in a bowl game any day,” fellow senior linebacker Ronnie Sneed said. “It was awesome. Just to see the happiness on everybody’s faces is something that can’t be replaced. It’s a memory we will always have. This really overshadows any bad thing that happened throughout the season. This is awesome.”

Coach Joker Phillips did his best during preparation to downplay the nation’s longest losing streak. His words might have found an audience with the some on the roster but Hines, who grew up 25 miles from the Tennessee state line in Bowling Green, was having no part of it.

“Early in the week coach Phillips said, ‘We’re not going to make this about the streak.’ Well, for me it was 100 percent about the streak,” Hines confessed. “I was keeping that to myself all week, but now it doesn’t matter. To be able to end it as a senior is an amazing feeling.”

Hines had added incentive, family ties.

“My mom is from Franklin, she lived right on the state line,” Hines said. “So a lot of her family lives in Portland or Fairview, Tenn., and a lot of those people are Tennessee fans. Growing up as a kid, they tried to get me to be a Tennessee fan. They would buy me clothes or hats or whatever. So to be able to end the streak and come away a winner today is something I’ll be able to rub in their face forever.”

Phillips may have intentionally avoided using the words “streak,” but he did get his point across just the same.

“I give all the seniors a chance to stand up and talk to their peers about what Kentucky football has meant to them and every one of them talked about everybody in that room as being their brothers. So at the end I asked their brothers, are they willing to fight, scratch and claw to give their big brothers a memory of a lifetime? At halftime up 3-0, we talked about how much are you willing to give for a lifetime memory?”

Kentucky gave all. Consequently, the memory is immortal.

“It’s a blessing,” Guy said, “to leave this stadium the last time I get to strap on that UK helmet and put on that jersey to go out with a win like this.”

“For me, just trying not to break down and cry,” Hines said. “I didn’t want to get down in my stance for the last victory formation and be crying, but it’s an amazing feeling to know that you’re part of the team was able to do it.”

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