Joker Phillips challenged UK football fans again Wednesday in Louisville.
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – I'm going to gamble that Joker Phillips shared this story for entertainment purposes only, but it's still a wonderful snapshot into Phillips' relaxed mood as the University of Kentucky football team prepares to visit Louisville Sept. 2.
Phillips said he was sitting in his office when a friend who had attended practice called with an intriguing observation.
"He said, 'Whewww, I really like 14,' "Phillips said. "I'm thinking, 'I like him, too.' I don't know."
If you check the Kentucky roster, you'll notice that Number 14 is Patrick Towles, the Wildcats' freshman quarterback from Fort Thomas Highlands High School with the thunderous right arm.
But that is not the 14 that Phillips' friend was talking about in this conversation.
"He said, 'I like 14.' " Phillips said, smiling. "I said, ‘Yeah, He did a good job today in the scrimmage.'
"He said, ‘No, I'm talking about … "
You don't have to be Jimmy the Greek or Danny Sheridan to know what the unnamed friend was talking about – the 14-point gap between favored Louisville and underdog Kentucky in the season opener. The two programs started this series in 1994. This is the third-largest spread in 19 games.
As I said, I'm not sure if the story is true or for entertainment purposes. I'm not certain if Kentucky is improved or not. But I do believe that Phillips has upgraded his joke writer.
Because you can probably fit everybody who believes Kentucky can defeat Louisville on the team bus. That's a large number for a season-opener but the spread has gotten larger, not smaller, from the days in early spring when people were saying the spread would be closer to 10.
Now Louisville has been picked to win the Big East. Kentucky has been picked to finish last in the East Division of the Southeastern Kentucky. Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater has been named the 25th best quarterback in the nation by Athlon Sports. Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith wasn't even named the best quarterback on his team until Monday.
Louisville has three running backs who are still fighting for the first team job. Some days it seems as if Kentucky doesn't have three running backs who can remain healthy.
Those are some of the reasons the consensus has grown that the Cardinals are going to handle the Wildcats easily Sept. 2. Even the Kentucky fan base seems reluctant to get excited. UK returned several thousand tickets for the game. About 500 people came to the Hyatt Regency Hotel in downtown Louisville Wednesday when Phillips spoke at a kickoff luncheon sponsored by the Greater Louisville UK Alumni Club.
"Big Blue Nation, I'm challenging you," Phillips said. "You're either with us or against us."
When was the last time you heard a coach start a season asking that question?
That's not the first mention that Phillips has made of the obvious discontent in the UK fan base, with sales of season tickets down by nearly 10,000 from last season and more than 14,000 from 2009, according to the Lexington Herald-Leader.
Beating Louisville would open ticket windows before the Wildcats return home to play Kent State and Western Kentucky. Beating Louisville is not a prediction you are likely to see or read, though, not with the 14-point gap between the programs.
Phillips knows that. Seems fine with it, in fact.
"We don't worry about that," Phillips said. "You can throw that out in games like this. This is two teams that are 80 miles apart. Two teams that when you strap it up anything can happen.
"You look at the history, (it is) the team that has run the ball and that has stopped the run and the team that has taken care of the ball that wins this game. It has nothing to do with who's favored and who's the underdog."
Phillips is correct. Three of the last five UK-U of L games have been won by the underdog. Four of the last five between the schools have been decided by seven points or less.
Joker Phillips knows what the number 14 means in this game – and it isn't Patrick Towles.
"When that whistle blows, nobody will be concerned about who's favored and who's the underdog," he said. "We're just looking forward to another opportunity to compete."