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From the Pressbox: Reflecting on 1977

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For whatever reasons, Kentucky usually plays Georgia tough in football. After last Saturday, five of the past seven matchups have been decided by 10 points or fewer. But this year marks the 35th anniversary season during which the Wildcats demolished the Bulldogs 33-0 in Athens. It was arguably the signature performance of a memorable 10-1 campaign that saw UK finish the year ranked in sixth in the final Associated Press media poll.

When you see the way Alabama's defense dominates SEC foes nowadays, it's fun for a Big Blue fan to reflect on a unit led by All-American Art Still that was just as dominant.

Only two teams during that 1977 season scored 20 points on Kentucky. One was the Baylor team that beat the Cats 21-6 on a sultry Saturday on the artificial turf in Waco, Texas. The other was Penn State. The Nittany Lions jumped out to a 10-0 lead but a Dallas Owens interception return for a touchdown sparked a UK rally that saw Kentucky storm back to win 24-20 in what turned out to be the only loss that year for Joe Paterno's squad.

For Kentucky, the ascent to the top of the Southeastern Conference had its genesis in a 2-8-1 season in 1975, according to quarterback Derrick Ramsey.

"I remember the year in 1975 when we were 2-8-1 and I knew we would be a great team the following year," recalled Ramsey, now the athletics director at Coppin State. "People say 'How did you know that?' and I think that if you go back to seven of the eight games that we lost and we lost them by a total of less than 20 points. I knew who was starting that next year and we were all sophomores and so we all matured."

It wasn't like the transformation was instantaneous though. A year before that 33-point rout of Georgia, the Cats lost 31-7 at home to the Bulldogs. Then, UK went to Maryland and dropped a regionally televised matchup 24-14 to fall to 4-4. Fourth-year coach Fran Curci's first two teams just missed bowl games by one win but after that two-win season in '75, the middling performance through the first eight games of '76 had UK fans grumbling. But Ramsey, Still and company answered the challenge.

Kentucky finished the season with three straight wins, as that defense that would become dominant in '77 started to grow up. In the '76 finale, UK shut out Tennessee 7-0 in Knoxville to earn Kentucky's first bowl bid in 25 years.

Coming off the Peach Bowl win over North Carolina, the Cats' prospects were bright but the '77 campaign began with a hard-fought 10-7 win over the UNC program that Kentucky had defeated just months prior.  Then came to the trip to Baylor, where UK lost not only the game but Peach Bowl MVP Rod Stewart to a knee injury.

History, however, shows that the Wildcats soon asserted themselves as a dominant gridiron force, with a suffocating defense and a power-oriented offense directed by Ramsey, who would transform to a tight end in the NFL.

Ramsey recalls his team as one with strong leaders who were determined to change the culture of football at Kentucky.

"When we first got to Kentucky, people all asked, 'Why did you come to Kentucky? It was a basketball school.' And I think that I knew I won three straight state championships in football and I wasn't concerned about being a basketball school. I was concerned about getting there and making things happen with some like-minded guys that won at their high school, that weren't aware that Kentucky was meant to be (only) a basketball school," said Ramsey. "We thought it was a winning school and when everyone comes in with that mindset, (good things happen).

"I think that for any team to be successful, someone has to be a leader and make decisions because there are times where everyone is looking around to see who is going to do what. On the offensive side, that was always my job and I made damn sure that I knew what we were going to do," Ramsey said. "And once they believed that you going to make things happen, even when the greatest odds are against you, you have a greater tendency to perform. On the other side (defense) was Art and Jerry (Blanton) and Dallas in the secondary.  We had a plethora of guys that could make things happen for our team."

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