By LARRY VAUGHT
Danville attorney Matt Walter was 7 years old in 1984 when Kentucky’s football team went 9-3, won SEC road games at Mississippi State and Tennessee, and beat Wisconsin in the Hall of Fame Classic to end the season.
This year his son, Townsend, is 7 years old and became infatuated with Kentucky running back Benny Snell and UK football on its way to a spectacular 10-3 season that ended with a Citrus Bowl win over Penn State.
“The whole year was just fantastic. This is the first year he’s really understood enough about UK football to follow it,” Matt Walter said. “He really latched on to Benny Snell, too. We went to Fan Day (in August) but the line to see Benny was so long that we just got in line for the linebackers.”
That wasn’t all bad as Townsend Walter got Josh Allen to autograph a football for him. Allen went on to become the consensus national defensive player of the year.
Still, it was Snell that fascinated the young UK fan and that’s why Matt Walter was at KSBar & Grill in Lexington last Thursday morning to get a ticket to guarantee his family a spot in line on Friday night when Snell started his autograph tour there.
“It was a zoo. I was lucky I went early and we had the 11th spot in line. We were in and out fairly quickly,” Matt Walter said. “Servers were having to ask people to clear the aisle because they didn’t want the fire marshal to close them down. People outside waiting to get in were freezing.”
Walter and his wife not only took their son to Snell’s autograph session but also had their daughters — Lilla, 11, and Annie Capers, 8 (who did wear her UK cheerleading outfit).
“The girls are not as big of fans as Townsend but they picked up on our excitement this year when they would hear us hollering in the living room when we were watching Kentucky play,” Matt Walter said. “But they were happy to be there.”
Townsend has a Benny Snell jersey he wears often and the UK running back even posted a picture on Instagram during the season of the youngster in the jersey.
“He thought then they were pals,” Matt Walter said about his son.
However, Snell likely will remember Townsend for a long time now after Friday’s event when the 7-year-old fan showed up with a “SnellYeah” tattoo on his stomach.
“A friend of my wife’s found out we were going and said we ought to recreate Benny’s SnellYeah tattoo on his stomach,” Matt Walter said. “She sketched it out and did it and he loved it. He showed it to (Kentucky Sports Radio’s) Matt Jones and Ryan Lemond. Ryan loved it and tweeted it out. Matt got a picture.”
They weren’t the only ones who liked it. Snell, UK’s all-time leading rusher, pulled out his cell phone and took a picture, too.
Matt Walter said his wife was onboard with the fun even though she’s not a huge UK fan.
“She fell in love with this team, too. It’s a generational team talent-wise but also in the way it connected with the fans,” Matt Walter said. “It’s just been a magical year and that didn’t change with what Benny did. I have been to autograph signings where players just went through the motions and you could tell they were there to make money. Benny took time with every single person there. He was telling his handlers not to take pictures with their phones but to use the fans’ phones so they would have a keepsake.
“He was just soaking it all up and I heard from people there who had to wait a lot longer than we did to see them that he did not wear down or get frustrated. He’s just connected with fans and that’s a bit off for a football player in his state. But Benny is just special. It was chaotic in there but he spent at least a c couple of minutes with everybody and was happy to do it.”
Now Matt Walter has one more thing to do.
“I have got to find a case for the football that has autographs from both Benny Snell and Josh Allen,” he said. “I don’t want Townsend going outside and throwing the ball around. It’s too special for that.”