By LARRY VAUGHT
For as long as she can remember, Louisville attorney Dana Skaggs has been a University of Kentucky fan — which really should not be a surprise since her mother and father went to their first football at Stoll Field when they started dating.
“At our house, UK sports were a huge part of our family bonding time. I remember all of us in UK gear, gathered around the TV for basketball games and watching football games when they were on TV. If the games weren’t on TV, then the radio would be going strong,” said Skaggs.
Probably not what her mother ever expected after growing up on a farm with parents who cared little about sports. Even though her mother was a high school cheerleader, she knew next to nothing about football until Skaggs’ father taught her.
“My Mom recalls that they actually dressed up for games then (at Stoll Field) –- dresses, heels, and suits for the men. After they were married, she recalls walking up bleacher steps eight months pregnant,” Skaggs said.
Her parents got season football tickets at Commonwealth Stadium, so sometimes Skaggs, her brother, and her sister would get to go to games.
“We couldn’t really afford season basketball tickets, but the arrival of the football tickets was anticipated and celebrated every summer. We always parked and tailgated behind a church right off Nicholasville Road and would walk over before kickoff,” she said.
One of her fondest memories was from cheering for quarterback Pookie Jones, who got Kentucky to the 1993 Peach Bowl where the Cats lost 14-13 to Clemson (that was the game UK linebacker Marty Moore intercepted a last-minute pass, fumbled, and then Clemson scored with 20 seconds left to win).
“I was there with my Mom for the Tim Couch era win over Alabama. My husband and brother-in-law enjoyed the triple-overtime win against No. 1 LSU (in 2007). Of course, there was also ‘the agony of defeat,’ the most devastating one for which I was physically present being the 2002 LSU 33-30 win over UK with a Hail Mary pass and no time remaining. That one hurt,” she said.
Despite growing up in Louisville, Skaggs didn’t know there were other college teams in Kentucky.
“I don’t recall one splash of red in our house while I was growing up. Even our Christmas tree had blue and white lights every year,” Skaggs joked.
Her father died of cancer in 2004. Her brother died from an accidental drug overdose at age 39 in 2007. Her family’s struggles have taught her perseverance much like UK football fans have had to learn following the Cats for years –- and why she would never complain about a 7-2 start for UK.
“We have had a lot of ups and downs (in my family), but have persevered through it all. We’ve got grit. Don’t get me wrong. The losses of family members aren’t comparable to losses of football games by any means. However, true Kentucky football fans know a lot about perseverance,” she said.
“For years, we have suffered so many near-misses and heartbreaks. In the toughest conference in college football, we have been the butt of many jokes and endured teasing and ridicule. There have been years when the offense was there, but the defense just couldn’t compete. After persevering through adversity, our defense is stellar, we have a great running game, and we are winning this year.”
Despite the loss to Georgia, she is loving this football season. She still tries to attend one or two football games and the same number of basketball games each year after having to give up UK season tickets because “K-Fund fees became too burdensome” for her.
“This football season has been amazing, and very sentimental for me. My Dad refereed high school football for many years and was a huge fan of the sport. His mantra for decades was ‘defense wins championships.’ He was all about the defense,” Skaggs said. “He always preached that Kentucky would not be competitive in the SEC (even during the Hal Mumme Air Raid days) until they developed their defense. I can only hope that somewhere in Heaven he is smiling ear to ear at UK’s success now that their defense is on point.”
Skaggs says for every UK football game, she has a group text with her mother and sister no matter where they are. But there is one rule — no phone calls.
“The one game that we shared a phone call at halftime, we lost, so my mom banned all phone calls during games,” Skaggs said.
Skaggs says her husband and two sons love Kentucky athletics as much as she does. However, they do make one exception for family reasons.
“All of us own one UofL football shirt with the name (Chris Taylor-Yamanoha) and number (26) of my dear nephew who is part of the Cards squad. He is very good,” Skaggs said. “And yes, I tried via social media to get my beloved Cats to give him a look. He would look great in Kentucky blue.”
Still, it’s not a bad time at all to be a Big Blue fan living in Louisville.
“It’s even better now than when I wore my Kentucky gear to my classes at UofL law school,” Skaggs joked. “Once a Kentucky fan, always a Kentucky fan. For the sake of the rivalry, and especially my nephew, I hope UofL starts winning again.”
Just not when the Cardinals host Kentucky Nov. 24.