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Disguised this time as a football, opportunity presented itself again last week. This time to a kid who resembles a Mark Twain character riding a raft on Big Muddy, a scene to remind us anew why ... America, I (we) love this place!
A gangly red-haired kid born in Pittsburgh, grew up in Murray, Kentucky with smarts, perseverance and pluck enough to be ready, recognize and seize the moment. Tim Masthay.
This week, home boy hero to bright lights, Masthay is among the Cheese Head darlings parading through title town USA, Green Bay, Wisconsin.
He gets a bonus check for $83,000 (before taxes) and soon enough a fancy, diamond-crusted exaggerated rock coveted by every kid who ever played serious football.
World championship. Super Bowl 45.
Success story? Pittsburgh to Murray to Lexington to Green Bay, the gangly red head has traveled farther than that. In Dallas Sunday night Masthay boomed six punts, including a 51-yarder, and the Steelers returned four for a 1.5 yards average. Field position.
Masthay is the carrot-top who shocked UK fans in 2007 when, knowing his clock would be cleaned with much violence, had nerve and moxy enough to run from punt formation on a fourth-and-long for a first down in Kentucky’s Music City Bowl win over Clemson.
Last year, let go by Indianapolis, Masthay sandwiched personal work-outs around tutoring sessions with Randall Cobb at $10 an hour, before a call came from Green Bay.
Before Sunday’s big game Masthay dispensed credit with characteristic modesty. His rise to the pinnacle of football was because of Rich Brooks, Steve Ortmayer, Joker Phillips and more.
Good as it gets, right? Continue.
Next, a testimonial from home in western Kentucky.
“There’s so much pride. We’re so happy for him and we’re happy for our whole school system,” Masthay’s high school coach Rick Fisher told WPSD Sports in Paducah. “Very seldom in a school this size do you get an NFL player, let alone one that’s playing in the biggest game of all in the Super Bowl.”
Then Fisher got to substance. “As good of a football player as he is, he’s that much better of a person too. He’s just fantastic. When he was at Murray High School he never looked down at the other kids. He always tried to encourage all of the kids.”
Next for the kid from Murray?
A visit to Washington D.C., the White House, and a handshake with President of the United States.
America, I love this place!
CAL & THE WILDCATS
On his radio show last week John Calipari urged blame-game comments about Kentucky losses at Ole Miss, then Florida, be directed at him “not these kids.”
Aftermath of the Ole Miss game, an almost imperceptible slide over. A Darius Miller apology. A what?
First, the media herd opted not to examine the final two possessions in Oxford.
With 43 seconds left , Kentucky had the basketball, a 69-68 lead and two time-outs. Options? A time-out first, to organize, right? Wrong.
Instead, the 10th ranked (and confused), Wildcats frittered away a 35-second shot clock.
Next, Ole Miss took a time-out, got organized, set a play. When the huddles broke, apparently only two people on Planet Basketball did not know who would take the last shot. Calipari and Terrence Jones.
Smallest player on the floor at 5-10, Chris Warren came off a simple screen and had daylight because 6-9 Jones was tardy doing the slide over.
When the blame game began no finger was leveled at Calipari, who took an un-used time-out home with him, and not Jones, whose anemic effort to pressure Warren allowed the little man’s prayer to be answered.
Instead, the blame went to Darius Miller for passing up a shot.
• Florida’s win in Gainesville was no surprise. In part because ... a raucous crowd, Billy Donovan preparation and Gator execution, and no UK answer for Chandler Parsons.
However, Donovan’s game management and a subtle defensive stratagem made the difference. Florida allowed, no, invited Terrence Jones to fire up any 3-point shot he wanted. Jones did. While Doron Lamb was forgotten and drifted off, Miller disappeared (again), and Brandon Knight’s one-on-everybody brilliance was not enough.
Calipari said later he instructed Jones to take the 3-point shots.
KY. MR. FOOTBALL
Kentucky Mr. Football Lamar Dawson going to Southern Cal stunned Bluegrass State football fans. It should not have.
The Boyle County native simply chose what we could call the Paul Hornung career path to the heavens.
Arguably, the finest high school football player ever in Kentucky, Hornung said ‘no’ to Bear Bryant at Kentucky in 1953, went to Notre Dame, won a Heisman on a bad team (2-8), became Green Bay’s Golden Boy and never looked back.
If Dawson proves to be up for the task, history says Mr. Football winners past with big-time credentials who left the state, fared well.
• Kurt Barker, Paducah Tilghman, Mr. Football 1987, is the only other linebacker prospect to leave the state. He became an All Pac-10 player at Southern Cal and went on to play for four NFL teams.
Today, Barber is an assistant coach at UNLV.
• Shaun Alexander, Boone County, Mr. Football 1994 was an All-American at Alabama, Heisman Trophy candidate in 1999, then five years later with the Seattle Seahawks, was the NFL’s most valuable player.
Today, Alexander and wife Valerie are raising four children – Heaven, Trinity, Eden and Joseph.
Spinning off a Sports Illustrated feature, A Sign of the Apocalypse, comes an observation from an ardent and long-time UK basketball fan.
“I fear it’s going to be a long season for us Cat Fans. We’re so spoiled by decades of UK excellence that being patient has long ceased to be one of our virtues. Yet those of us with even a modicum of patience must surely know that the hard driving Calipari, who has an overwhelming hate for losing and an unmatched knack for recruiting, will have a superior big man in next season’s lineup.”
And so it goes.
Sports In Kentucky appears in community newspapers across Kentucky. You can reach bob Watkins at Sprtsinky@aol.com