It was 1999. These were halcyon days of University of Kentucky football. We had endured 8 years of the Bill Curry Era which resulted in one non-losing season. Even that season ended in disappointment with a disheartening Peach Bowl loss to Clemson. Curry was eventually fired. In 1997, UK hired an unknown and incredibly ill-prepared coach from a Division III school–Hal Mumme. Mumme brought one thing to the table: An insanely pass-happy offense. We loved it. Our Kentucky-bred hero Tim Couch played quarterback and broke every school passing record. At the end of the 1998 season, we actually went to New Years Day bowl game, losing a close game to Penn State in the Outback Bowl.
The 1999 season was also a success, albeit not quite what we had under Couch. Dusty Bonner was our quarterback, and UK had another winning season! For the first time in 15 years, we were going to bowl games in consecutive years. This time, it was the Homepoint.Com Music City Bowl in Nashville, Tennessee.
At the time, I worked at a law firm which had an office in Nashville. The Firm secured a luxury suite at Adelphia Stadium for the Music City Bowl. Normally, I would have been excluded from benefitting from this without a second thought; however, I had stumbled upon some good fortune which made it possible for me to at least request a couple of tickets for the BOX.
Like most large law firms, the Firm embraced a concept known as “origination credit.” Essentially, this was a system (I use that word loosely) which gave attorneys credit for bringing clients into the Firm. Once you got origination credit, all the money generated by that client went into a column called “Origination.” You wanted that column to swell. If it did, you not only could make more money, but you could also gain access to some of the perks reserved for the Firm’s high rollers. The Box was definitely one of those perks.
I had (and still have) a very close friend. I shall call him “Nick” for purposes of this tale. That is not exactly his real name. Nick, too, had worked at the Firm where we became fast and lifelong friends. Unfortunately, he parted ways with the Firm on bad terms. As fortune would have it, he became quite successful, much more so than I. Eventually, he became an officer in a large, publicly traded corporation. He, understanding origination, sent me some work. Not much, but some work. I had the origination. Nick’s company had myriad legal battles and eventually sent substantial business to the Firm for which I got all the origination. I was now a “rainmaker,” the most envied title in any law firm.
At this point, you may ask: How does this origination thing work? If there were rules, I never saw them. There weren’t in writing. Origination was a Byzantine morass of standards and exceptions to those standards. As its most basic, it worked like this: Imagine that you are a salesman. You sell a pencil to new Client X. You are now the “originator” of Client X. Next week, another salesman sells Client X a nuclear submarine. You’re still the originator. You get credit for both sales. Makes sense, huh? Just accept it. Don’t question the logic.
In any event, I saw my opportunity to get into the Box. I requested two tickets–one for me and one for Nick. The Firm may have been aware of the possibility of offending Nick because of its troubled past with him. Our Managing Partner quickly agreed and gave me two tickets to the Box. We were in!
Now, Nick and I had a long, storied past of attending UK sporting events. For example, the previous season, we took a road trip to Knoxville, Tennessee to witness a thorough thrashing of our beloved Wildcats. That weekend was a booze-soaked orgy of football and revelry. We were also well-known for our unique tailgating at home games where we carried beer in a plastic bag and roamed the parking lot looking for friends–old and new–who would provide us with more to drink. You get the picture. We weren’t exactly accustomed to life among the hoi polloi. When we drank we became loud, obnoxious and wholly unmanageable. Nick would frequently yell: ZOOM! ZOOM! ZOOM! for no reason. I would laugh uproariously. Good times.
We were indeed Bacchanals, but our drinking habits were vastly different. Nick was–and is to this day–a “party” drinker. He would go long stretches without drinking only to blow it out on occasion, at the risk drinking himself into a stupor. I, on the other, drank more as though I were taking an ill-conceived medicine of some kind. Imagine you are given a prescription for a drug. This drug is harmless in small quantities but deadly poison when consumed to excess. The instructions with the drug read: TAKE DAILY UNTIL THE DESIRED EFFECT IS ACHIEVED. THEN TAKE MORE. Despite our varying approaches, we could match each other drink for drink.
I drove to Nashville and arrived on game day at around 1:00 p.m. On the way, I purchased a 6 pack of beer to ensure I had something to start the party with while awaiting Nick’s arrival. Nick, experiencing largesse of which I had no understanding, flew to Nashville on his company’s jet. While waiting at the hotel, I received a call from a client of mine. His office was in Nashville. He thought I might be down there and wanted to know if I could attend a meeting at his office at 10:00 the next morning. After I explained that I would be adorned in UK clothing from head to toe, he assured me that it wouldn’t be a problem. One of his business partners was a UK grad and would be glad to see my school spirit. I began thinking that I should take it easy so I would be in tip-top shape for my meeting. So, I drank the six-pack and took a nap. Nick arrived soon after I awoke (or “came to” as some would say).
We immediately headed downtown. Neither of us were very familiar with Nashville, so we had the taxi drop us off when we saw a lot of people. We began our bar crawl which lasted a couple of hours. Time to head to the stadium.
Nick and I are both small town people. As a result, we are, to some extent, socially inept, but we both have an “every man” quality which allows us to move at will among all social strata. The problem–and it was a bad one–was that drinking often left us confused as to which stratum we were in at any given moment. I, in particular, had a disquieting habit of becoming verbally abusive to people who would be considered my superiors–both professionally and socially. It was a volatile cocktail that night, but I was ready to roll.
I must admit that I was impressed with the Box. Very nice. It was full of people sipping drinks and eating finger food, awaiting kick-off of UK and Syracuse. Nick and I were already in our cups, but I felt we were both in fine form for some serious schmoozing. We quickly made friends with the bartender and began to give him outrageous tips to bring us drinks. Nick kept yelling ZOOM! ZOOM! ZOOM! I kept saying: “You’re gettin’ a night in the box, boy!” (in my best Strother Martin from Cool Hand Luke). For no reason, we would periodically high-five each other. Our language was punctuated with all manner of obscenities spoken too loudly for polite company. It was like the caddy swimming party in Caddyshack, and we were the caddies.
After some time, I felt the tell tale signs of nausea and needed a rest, so I leaned up against the wall. The Box had theater seating to which you could walk down for a better view of the game. Nick was sitting on the steps down to the seats beside the Firm’s Managing Partner engaged in animated conversation. I observed him wildly gesticulating–it was unclear whether he was actually speaking or just flailing about while listening. Then, he began to make some point and leaned over toward the Managing Partner, tilting his nearly full beer sideways. A small ribbon of beer began to pour from the bottle–directly into the Managing Partner’s shoe. I began to watch as if detached from my body. It was oddly mesmerizing. It resembled nothing so much as a man with a grotesquely enlarged prostate slowly and deliberately relieving himself into someone’s shoe.
When the beer had drained nearly to the bottom, Nick turned the bottom up and downed the last swig with a satisfied gulp. The Managing Partner never reacted. Perhaps advancing age had dulled his senses. Perhaps Nick had brought so much money to the Firm that the Managing Partner was willing to remain passive while he was publicly degraded. Either possibility is equally plausible.
Oh, yeah. They played a football game. To the best of my recollection, here’s what happened:
- Sometime in the first half, UK’s best player, James Whalen, dislocated his elbow doing something.
- At some point, I leaned out the window of the Box (likely to yell obscenities). I spotted a guy from my hometown directly below the Box. I high-fived him and gloated about being in the Box.
- At the end of the game, UK let Syracuse score so UK could get the ball back and try to tie the game. Apparently, the strategy failed, as I later learned that Syracuse won 20-13.
The rest of the game is forever lost to a black out. A black out just means that my memory was erased or never recorded. It’s not the same as “passing” out, but the effect is pretty much the same.
The game ended, but it was still early. We over-tipped our bartender one last time and headed out. Our post game bar crawl lasted several hours, most of which are obscured by a dense brain fog, but I do remember two things:
- We happened into a small sports bar at some point. Nick somehow struck up a conversation with two women. (Understand that we were NOT philandering husbands. Nick just became extremely talkative as he consumed more alcohol). After chit-chatting for a moment, Nick announced: “I have to go to the bathroom.” I responded: “It’s over there. Go on.” Nick then said: “I REALLY have to go. I have diarrhea!” Needless to say, had we been philanderers, that would have ended our adventure. The ladies looked horrified. I, of course, burst out laughing. After he returned and assured us all that he did NOT, in fact, have any gastrointestinal distress, he and I went on our way.
- I wanted to go to the famous Wild Horse Saloon. We stood in line for 20-30 minutes. We were both a little unsteady, but I had learned to simply be quiet in such situations. Nick, on the other hand, was ZOOM, ZOOM, ZOOMING and occasionally offering me an awkward high-five. This caused me to burst into inappropriate laughter. I cautioned him to be quiet when we got the door. Finally, we got there. I paid my $6 cover charge and stepped inside. Nick then loudly announced: “I AM SOOOOO F**KED UP!” Boom! He was denied entry. I stood staring at him and the long line, thinking about my $6. Through the door, I told him to get back in line and be quiet. 20 minutes later, all was well and he gained entry. Things happened after that, I’m sure, but I don’t remember.
That’s pretty much all I remember. You may ask: How did your meeting go? Surprisingly well. I was hung over and reeking of beer sweat, but I managed to be engaged. I was also fully decked out in my UK attire. I returned home after the meeting, while Nick jetted off to parts unknown.
A few weeks later, the Managing Partner told me that he didn’t like the “atmosphere” in the Box. I took this personally, of course, seeing as how Nick and I were the atmosphere that evening. Perhaps having a beer poured in one’s shoe is more uncomfortable than it looks. I’m sure I also berated him at some point.
Year have passed since then. I’ve been a teetotaler for several years now. Nick and I still attend UK sporting events. He has risen to such lofty heights that he now has seats in his own luxury suite, and I cling to him like a stubborn barnacle during football season. We still have a good time, and I remember all of it, which is not necessarily a positive given the fortunes of UK football. Occasionally, Nick gives me a ZOOM! ZOOM! ZOOM! or a high-five and I vaguely remember our rough and rowdy days. Things are much better now–and more fun–but I do think about our adventures. I’m just glad it’s all in the past tense.