After an unprecedented five-year run where UK advanced to a bowl game in each season and sent numerous talents to the NFL, defeating multiple top-10 teams along the way, one thing remained the same; Kentucky could not beat Tennessee.
That streak was not supposed to - or expected to - end this year, with Kentucky holding just four wins heading into the game, and with its first- and second-string quarterbacks standing on the sidelines nursing significant injuries.
The streak was not supposed to end with senior wide receiver Matt Roark, who was benched earlier this season after dropping a touchdown pass against Central Michigan, guiding the Wildcats at quarterback.
"How many - if we lined up the last 26 years, how many quarterbacks have we had, probably 15?" UK head coach Joker Phillips said. "Who would pick out Matt Roark as the guy who broke the streak?"
For the last five years, Kentucky has come close to ending the much-talked about and much-maligned 26-year losing streak.
In 2007, fans everywhere said 'this was the year.' The Cats had beaten two top-10 teams, including No. 1 and eventual national champion LSU. The Wildcats and Volunteers ended up going into a quadruple-overtime thriller, before the Vols eventually pulled out a 52-50 win.
In 2009, Kentucky faced a Tennessee squad that seemed to be ripe for the picking. Again, fans clamored that 'this was the year.' The end result was the Wildcats' 25th straight loss to the Vols, 30-24 in overtime.
In 2010, Kentucky raced out to a fast start and everyone believed junior Mr. Everything, Randall Cobb, would lead the Cats to a victory in his home state. Alas, the Vols held on and pushed the streak to 26 with a 24-14 victory.
This was not supposed to be the year.
After completing his first pass of the game, a 15-yard completion to senior tight end Nick Melillo, Roark and the Kentucky offense went the remainder of the game going 3-5 for 0 yards. It didn't matter. The Wildcats rushed 56 times for 202 yards, often keeping the Volunteer defense on its heels with creative play calling.
Senior linebacker Danny Trevathan and senior safety Winston Guy, the top two tacklers in the Southeastern Conference, didn't care what the critics thought. Senior linebacker Ronnie Sneed, who said prior to the game that Kentucky would, in fact, beat Tennessee Saturday, couldn't have cared less. None of the Wildcat seniors, cared what anyone said or thought about their chances at ending the streak.
"I just had faith in my team," Sneed said. "I could see it in everybody's eyes. The seniors wanted to go out with a win and the younger guys wanted to help us leave with a win. It was something everybody wanted to do. We knew we needed to do it."
For Trevathan, an unheralded linebacker out of Leesburg, Fla., who garnered just two stars by the recruiting analysts of Rivals.com, Saturday's win was the culmination of four years of hard work and faith. The first linebacker in Kentucky history to earn first-team All-America honors, Trevathan has played his entire career for his teammates.
"I just want to say that this is a blessing," Trevathan said. "I love this team. I feel like we took care of business today. It's been 26 years. That's too long for anything. I think we played our hearts out today. I feel like we played one of our best games."
On Thanksgiving Day, when most people are spending time with family and friends, giving thanks for all of life's blessings, UK head coach Joker Phillips was answering questions from reporters about his job status. Little did they, or anyone, know Phillips would masterfully call the best game of his young coaching career with an injury-depleted roster against the Wildcats' chief SEC rival only two days later.
"Coach Phillips has never wavered with his plan, how we practice, what he does as a head coach - never wavered," UK wide receivers coach Tee Martin. "... It takes a special type of leader to do all that."
The Kentucky football team's season is now over, finishing at 5-7. It is the first time the Wildcats will not play a game in the month of December or January since the 2005 season when now UK student assistant coach Andre Woodson was just a sophomore quarterback waiting for his opportunity to shine.
But when the time comes to look back upon this season, what will we all say? No, it was not a successful season by Phillips' standards, and no, this victory does not right a season with seven wrongs.
But when people look back upon the 2011 season, one thing will surely - and quickly - come to mind: 2011 wasn't supposed to be the year, but it was. Kentucky beat Tennessee.