At one point it was an ordinary losing streak. A period of frustration. A run of bad luck.
Then it became an albatross.
But when the Kentucky Wildcats travel Saturday afternoon to face the Florida Gators at Steve Spurrier-Florida Field at Ben Hill Griffin Stadium, they will be dealing with an epic conundrum. A flood of Biblical proportions. An unexplainable, generational occurrence that makes practically everyone stop in their tracks and go, “Huh?’’
Saturday afternoon, the Gators go for their 30th consecutive football victory against the Wildcats. It would become the FBS’ fourth longest all-time winning streak against one opponent (in an uninterrupted series).
“I don’t care if you’re going up against a Division I-AA school — let alone an SEC team — that’s an unbelievable run,’’ former Gators wide receiver Chris Doering said. “You’d think the ball would bounce differently one of those years. Man, that’s a long time.’’
Kentucky last defeated Florida on Nov. 15, 1986.
Ronald Reagan occupied the White House. The Iran-Contra affair was in the news. “Top Gun’’ was still atop the box office. Cyndi Lauper’s “True Colors’’ led the music charts. Emmitt Smith was a high-school senior.
Gators coach Jim McElwain was a graduate assistant at Eastern Washington. Wildcats coach Mark Stoops was a freshman defensive back at Iowa. And in Lexington, Ky., it was Kentucky 10, Florida 3.
“I never want to have this kind of feeling again,’’ Gators quarterback Kerwin Bell said that day.
Thirty years later, no Gator player has since suffered a losing feeling against the Wildcats. But now there are annual reminders. The Wildcats desperately want to win and no Gator wants to lose.
Some history: The 1986 Gators, coming off two years of NCAA probation, were 5-4 and needed a victory to secure a bid to Tampa’s inaugural Hall of Fame Bowl (now the Outback Bowl). It was a perfect union of a program hungry for the postseason and a fledgling bowl game wanting to sell tickets.
The Gators simply needed to win at Kentucky — and it was done.
Gators athletic director Jeremy Foley, then serving in an interim basis after the resignation of Bill Carr, already handed out staff logistical assignments for the Tampa bowl trip. Because of that grim experience, Foley said he never again looked ahead to a bowl game or NCAA Tournament appearance until it became official.
Kentucky has come within a touchdown of Florida only six times in the 29 losses, including the last two years (a 36-30 triple-overtime defeat in 2014 and a 14-9 loss last season).
The most notable game was in 1993, when Gators quarterback Danny Wuerffel hit Doering on a 28-yard touchdown pass on third-and-10 with three seconds remaining, giving Florida a 24-20 victory. The Gators prevailed despite throwing seven interceptions.
Most of the margins have not been close, including lopsided scores of 73-7 (1994), 65-0 (1996) and 63-5 (2008).
Predictably, both McElwain and Stoops downplay the influence of the historic streak, choosing to focus on current events, where Florida-Kentucky actually has taken on a more competitive tone.
None of the current players — and some of the assistant coaches — were even born when the streak began.
“New players cycle in and they may not know the history,’’ said former Gators defensive lineman Brad Culpepper, now a Tampa attorney. “It’s not so much the streak. It’s just, they go down one score and it’s, ‘Here we go again.’ ‘’
Here we go again, indeed.
Either way — whether it’s Florida’s 30th consecutive win in the series or a breakthrough by Kentucky — it’s history.
Here are the Football Bowl Subdivision’s all-time winning streaks against one opponent in a series that is/was played annually.
43 — Notre Dame over Navy (1964-2006)
36 — Nebraska over Kansas (1969-2004)
32 — Oklahoma over Kansas State (1937-68)
29 — Florida over Kentucky (1987-present)
29 — Nebraska over Kansas State (1969-97)
28 — Texas over Rice (1966-93)