By LARRY VAUGHT
It was just another day entertaining special guests at the VBRO Citrus Bowl as part of her job job as VBRO director of U.S. public relations for Melanie Fish — or at least that is what she thought.
She was on the sideline during the game last week escorting two special guests — one a VBRO homeowner who housed hurricane victims and did the pregame coin toss and the other a nurse, Sarah Howard, from Kentucky who helped Marco Shemwell’s family after he was hit by a car leaving a UK football game and eventually died.
“I was at least 10 yards away from the sideline and behind a low barrier,” Fish said.
However, with Kentucky leading Penn State 17-7 midway through the third quarter, she got her SportsCenter moment — and actually saw it coming when UK’s Lynn Bowden caught an 18-yard pass, got shoved in the back by a Penn State defender after he was out of bounds, crashed over the barricade into Fish and knocked her down.
“I am a tough cookie even at 5-2,” Fish laughed and said. “I like to think I was standing firm when he hit me in my lower legs. I went backwards and then slammed into the ground. I really didn’t see much. Then I heard his voice, ‘Mam, mam, are you okay?’ I remember thinking he was nice but wished he would quit calling me mam because I am not that old. Things went black for a moment and then I told him I was okay so he could go back and play.”
What TV viewers didn’t know then, though, was whether Fish was hurt or not. She kept telling anyone who asked that she was fine, but her “legs let go” and she had to be moved to where she could receive more medical attention. Paramedics explained adrenaline was part of the reason she was not in more pain then but warned her that could change.
“I’ll admit now I was a little woozy. But the next day is when I realized what is was really like to get hit by a Division I player,” she said.
Later Bowden wiped out WKYT-TV videographer Steve Moss and Lexington Herald-Leader photographer Alex Slitz on the other sideline.
“I was still in a daze when that happened but I am pretty sure I got hit harder,” she said. “Just compare the bruises, and he did fumble the ball when he hit me. I had a lot of people tell me they thought I might be dead after he hit me. After seeing the video, I understand why. I guess I was just small enough and limp enough that it didn’t hurt more than it did. I have laughed long and hard at myself many times. Every time someone sends me another angle or version of the hit, there’s nothing I can do but laugh.”
After Kentucky won and the players were celebrating on the field, she saw Bowden. She introduced herself to let him know she was okay.
“He gave me a hug and wanted to know for sure I was okay,” she said. “We talked a bit and then I told him to get on with the celebration because that’s what it was all about for him.
“My job is to make magical memories and I wanted him to enjoy his. I usually do not go to the extremes that I did to get on TV. I got my SportsCenter moment, and I never want another one.”
She already had a ski trip planned after the bowl game. She had a couple of days to recover before taking a flight and train ride to get to the snow.
“I was nursing my wounds knowing the goal was to be able to get on the skis and head down the mountain,” Fish said. “Thank goodness for Advil.”
What she didn’t know was that she was going to take another big hit — and not even get a SportsCenter moment out of this one.
“Skiing did not go great. What are the chances I’d get blindsided by an out-of-control snowboarder who broke my collarbone?,” she said Sunday. “I’m now heading home to Austin (Texas) to shop for a suit made of bubble wrap.”
However, she might be back at a UK football game. She met a lot of UK fans, coaches, players and athletics staff with her role at the bowl and says she had a “good impression” of UK football before Bowden hit her — and the hit didn’t change that.
“I live in Texas Longhorn country, but now that I have played in a Kentucky game, I feel like a Wildcat,” Fish laughed and said. “I think I’ve been convinced that I need to come to a game at Kentucky next season, so hopefully that will happen.”