From the Sidelines with Dick Gabriel - UK vs. Norfolk State

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It’s the rationalization that always gets me.

“We weren’t booing the player, we were booing the coach.”

“I paid my money – I have a right to yell whatever I want.”

“They’re not ‘kids,’ they’re young ‘men.’ They can take it.”

“I was drunk.”

Actually, the last excuse might be the best one. Liquid courage, as most 2 a.m. lotharios can tell us, far too often makes people say things they wouldn’t say in prime (sober) time.

The boos that rained down on Mike Hartline (and/or Rich Brooks) have been topic one on every radio show since the conclusion of UK’s win over Norfolk State. My friend John Clay scolded the offending malcontents in the Monday morning edition of the Lexington Herald-Leader in as strongly-worded a piece than I can remember.

John made reference to fans’ booing of former Wildcat QB Pookie Jones back in 1992, but grudgingly allowed some understanding, given the head coach at the time. What John forgets is that the ’92 season was only _ years into the Curry era; that Pookie Jones just ONE WEEK PRIOR had electrified Commonwealth Stadium with perhaps the finest individual performance ever by a Kentucky quarterback to that date; and that he was, perhaps, the only offensive starter who gave any effort on the afternoon he was showered with verbal venom.

Hartline’s sin? Pulling the trigger on an offense that kept misfiring. He was 4-of-5 passing, protected the football and relayed the signals from offensive coordinator Joker Phillips, via assistant coach Randy Sanders, flawlessly. But blockers weren’t blocking well enough and runners weren’t getting anywhere.

The redshirt sophomore did throw the ball in the second half with far more zip than he showed in the first, but a lack of energy on his passes was not what prompted the booing.

It was Randall Cobb – more specifically, the charge he put into the UK offense the first time he carried the ball (quarterback draw) and the first time he scored (a brilliant, broken-field 18-yard scamper).

Cobb is what Shane Boyd might have been, had Boyd played more than one season with a healthy shoulder and a strong supporting cast. And Cobb showed he already has as much touch (maybe more) passing, with the perfectly-thrown touchdown lob to Dicky Lyons, Jr.
Cobb also showed what kind of teammate he is by registering his disappointment in the booing of Hartline. It wasn’t lost on the true freshman that one of the first people to greet him on the sideline after scoring drives was the guy he replaced.

In fact, Hartline risked a penalty after Cobb’s 18-yard TD run by racing down the sideline to take part in the end zone celebration – not the act of a sullen, selfish player.

During the post-game radio show with Tom Leach, Brooks said virtually the same thing to his audience that he had just said to the media: “I want to get something off my chest.” And he did.

Brooks lit into the boo-birds with a sternness of tone that my grandfather might have used – had he spoken English (Grandpa was a tiny, Italian man; I think I heard him speak English only once – outside the chicken coop behind his home in Fairmont, West Virginia. My brothers and I had awakened early one morning and raced down to see the foul fowl. We thought we were along and were startled when we saw Grandpa, who said, “Chickens not awake.” FYI, a coop is so disgusting, one look at it might force you to swear off eating chicken. My appetite, thankfully, survived.)

Part of Brooks’ dismay was rooted in the fact that not too long ago, 101 percent of the discontent with UK football was directed equally at him, and at Mitch Barnhart, the man who hired Brooks. Now, both look pretty smart – unlike the louts who couldn’t resist reacting to public address announcer Carl Nathe’s announcement that there was a change at quarterback.

Were they actually booing the coach? Doesn’t matter.
Do they have the right to boo? Certainly. And you have the right to walk over to your co-worker’s cubicle and tell him how much you’ve hated him for the past 14 years. But there’s a time and a place (Sunday afternoons in an NFL stadium, for instance) for everything.

Are they not “kids,” but “young men?” If we’re measuring by lunar years, absolutely. Old enough to drive, marry, enlist, vote, etc. Ironically enough, most of them aren’t yet old enough to purchase the fuel that very likely motivates their critics.

But they’re playing a kids’ game, one we all wish we were still young, talented and healthy enough to play ourselves. Think about it: Nobody sat on the back porch, during some of your finest football moments, and booed YOU.