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July 26, 2012
Rivalry surrounds Strong and Phillips
SIMPSONVILLE, Ky. -- Joker Phillips played nice. The Kentucky head coach said all the right things at the Governor's Cup Luncheon at the Cardinal Club on Thursday.
So did Charlie Strong. Neither head man felt the need to issue a bold proclamation
Of course, most of the talking had already been done for them.
"I am looking forward to that game," former Louisville cornerback Dwayne Woodruff said playfully. "There are some people that aren't quite sure who is going to win, but we all know it's going to be the University of Louisville."
After a summer full of players on both sides exchanging insults and issuing predictions on Twitter, there was even more of it Thursday afternoon. But it didn't come when the head coaches were at the podium.
Not the current head coaches, anyway.
"We would have beaten them," former UK head coach Fran Curci said of his days coaching the Wildcats. "They didn't want to play us. I'll tell you the truth, we were loaded back then."
Curci, 74, wanted to play the Cardinals when he coached Kentucky from 1973-81. He proposed to Cliff Hagan an idea to play against UofL in Lexington every year, but the athletic director wasn't keen on the idea. He thought playing the Cardinals in football would lead to them wanting to play in basketball.
Strong and Phillips, though, found more to agree on than would be expected from opposing coaches in the state's fiercest rivalry. UK and UofL play on Sunday, Sept. 2 at 3:30 p.m. in Louisville.
Both coaches are entering their third year leading their respective programs. The Cardinals have just 12 seniors on their roster including walk-ons. Kentucky is looking to rebuild around a young core after going 5-7 a year ago and losing to the Cardinals for the first time since 2006.
"You look at it, you're looking at two very young football teams," Strong said. "It's going to come down to preparation and experience and see who can get their leaders ready early.
Comparisons between the two teams are natural. It's often been that way for the last three years for Strong and Phillips, who have been friends since coaching together at South Carolina earlier in their careers.
Expectations are different this year, though. The Cardinals are a popular pick to contend for the Big East championship, while the Wildcats have been widely pegged as the worst team in the Southeastern Conference in the preseason. There's scrutiny on both teams entering the season, but for very different reasons.
"You never should have pressure when you prepare a football team," Strong said. "But when you're hearing so much from the media, they start believing it. Then they get on the Twitter and guys start talking. Joker made a good point. For some guys, their play does all the talking they need."
There has still been some talk, though. Strong, who said social media "is going to be the downfall of society," and Phillips have similar feelings about that.
"I'm a Kentuckian and I'm just so happy that we play, Phillips said. "For years, we didn't play. Dwayne mentioned last night that he didn't get a chance to play this game. I didn't either. We're not going to disrespect the rivalry. That's what's important to me."
The Cardinals won last year's game 24-17 in Lexington as freshman quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw a pair of touchdown passes to snap the Wildcats' four-game winning streak in the rivalry.
The balance of the rivalry has shifted with the fortunes of each program over the years. Before Kentucky beat Louisville every year from 2007-10, the Cardinals won four straight from 2003-06.
"Kentucky has won four out of the last five," Strong said. "They still have the advantage over us."
The game has always maintained its importance, though. Amid all the sound and fury surrounding the rivalry, Phillips and Strong could always find another thing to agree on.
"The team that win this game usually leaves with momentum," Phillips said. "We both go our separate ways and the team that has won has carried the momentum to the next game. Everybody talks about how important it is to us. It's important to these (Louisville) guys, too."