Kentucky coach Mark Stoops stood in the middle of a crowded visitors locker room on Sept. 8, 2018, and surveyed the postgame celebration. Coaches bear-hugged one another. Players grinned and bobbed their heads to the music thumping in the background. Everyone, it seemed, was screaming.
It had taken them too long to get the job done — 31 straight games, to be exact — and now the fourth-longest losing streak in NCAA history was over. Kentucky had gone into The Swamp and beaten Florida 27-16. Instead of popping champagne, they unscrewed plastic tops and sprayed one another with bottled water.
That is the epitome of a team victory! Stoops told his players. Every single person in this locker room contributed something, and that’s what it takes. We took a giant step forward tonight!
Stoops said there were 100 different people who could get a game ball that night. The offensive line and tight ends blocked their tails off. The defense was relentless.
But we’re gonna give two out, he said. And who are they for?
It was a rhetorical question. Terry Wilson and his three touchdowns didn’t stand a chance. Neither did Benny Snell and his 175 rushing yards. Everyone knew exactly whom those mementos belonged to: A player who couldn’t be there and a coach who by sheer force of will was.