It’s game week. Game. Week. I had never given much thought to the allure of attending a University of Kentucky football game until someone once told me he’d never been to one because he didn’t like football.
This Saturday, the Wildcats open their 2018 season at home at 3:30 p.m. against Central Michigan. The game? It provides only a fraction of the excitement.
Arriving prior to gametime and parking in the best available spot, usually somewhere along Limestone, we hop out of the car and join the sea of blue already making its way toward the stadium. Hello, Big Blue Nation. We are here to spend the day with you.
Entering at the base of the parking lot, we meander through the host of tailgaters who are enjoying food, beverages, games and camaraderie. We run into family members, folks we haven’t seen in years, folks we haven’t seen since the last football game, neighbors we never see at home, even colleagues we see every day at work. They’ll invite us to stay for a sandwich or a game of corn hole, but we will politely refuse and make our way on to the stadium. We pass family-friendly vendors, all offering samples of food, games, give-a-ways.
Beginning outside Gate 1, two hours and 15 minutes prior to the game, the coaches and football players make their way to the Joe Craft Football Training Facility located outside Gate 12. Known as the Cat Walk, this trek along Talbot Todd Way allows us, the collective Big Blue Nation, to show our support for the team and for the team to show its appreciation for the fans.
Once the Cat Walk concludes, the focus for the fans transitions to a nearby plaza where a concert takes the stage. Aspiring artist and son of John Michael Montgomery, Walker Montgomery, entertained fans last year at the opener. This year, Brother Smith, a Northern Kentucky-Cincinnati-based group, has the honors for Saturday. We turn around, every once in a while, to catch the players and coaches making their way from the locker room to the field. We can take in a tune or two, or stay up until 30 minutes before gametime, because that’s how long the band will be there.
On the way to our seats, I’ll snag a bag of freshly made kettle corn. If I’m lucky, the attendant will fill a bag just for me. It will be hot to the touch and will melt in my mouth. I’ll settle in to enjoy the pre-game activities: watching the rest of BBN take their seats, listening to and watching the band, surveying the line-up and pyrotechnic display that will accompany the dramatic entrance of the team.
Eventually, the football game will begin. We will enjoy the opportunity to cheer on our team. To chant, “Oh, C-A-T-S, Cats, Cats, Cats!” with tens of thousands of other members of BBN. But we’ve easily already had a great experience so far.
On a fall Caturday in the Commonwealth, there are just few better places to be than at Kroger Stadium in Lexington.
(Note: Marjorie Appelman is an English, communications and journalism teacher at Mason County High School and co-founder of the travel blog, Tales from the Trip, which is also on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. She can be reached at [email protected].)