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By ASHLEY SCOBY
Hope springs eternal.
That’s Marie Spragens’ viewpoint on Kentucky football, anyways.
Spragens’ family has had season football tickets since 1944, and not one season less. That hope for her team has never wavered, even while facing the trying times generally associated with being a Kentucky football fan.
Her parents first got their season tickets when Spragens began college (at UK, nonetheless) in 1944. After Spragens graduated, she spent some time in Syracuse, N.Y. for a job. The tickets stayed in her family’s name, and Spragens came back as much as she possibly could for games.
“While I was in Syracuse, I helped pay for them so I could use them when I came home,” she said. “I didn’t want Daddy giving them up, and really, he didn’t either. So we held on to them.”
In 1976, Spragens moved back to Kentucky, got married and took over the tickets full time. Since then, she hasn’t missed a game unless family duty called.
“I only miss when there’s a wedding or something really important,” she said. “I’m very upset with my great nephew because he is getting married on the day of the first opening game (in Commonwealth Stadium). It’s killing me not to go to the game. I don’t know what he was thinking but that’s when they set up their wedding date.”
That kind of dedication to Kentucky football is something that comes natural to Spragens. Even though she is “not as agile” as she used to be, she takes a cane to Commonwealth Stadium and “holds on” to whichever friend she has brought with her. She sits through the heartbreaking losses and the nail-biting wins with no prejudice, except against the cold.
“It’s my school,” she said. “I sit there until the last. I think the only time I’ve ever left early is when I was so cold I couldn’t bear it any longer. I feel like they (the team) need support.”
At one point, in the late 1970s and early 1980s, the situation with the football team got so bad that Spragens and her husband changed one of their long-time gameday routines.
“When we first got married (1976), every time they’d make a touchdown, I’d get a kiss from my husband,” she said. “Then it got so bad that he changed it to every first down I’d get a kiss. It did get that bad.”
That kind of support Spragens has always showed was on the lighter side in the stands last season: Kentucky saw some of its lowest attendance figures in history. Many fans dropped their season tickets (“It serves them right if they can’t get back their good seats,” Spragens said).
But not Spragens. Hope continued to spring for the eternally optimistic UK football fan, coupled with her need to show the team her undying love.
“Last year was one of the worst seasons,” she said. “I felt like I couldn’t leave because everyone else already had. There were several times it seemed like that there wasn’t anybody near me except the person who came with me. There we sat with empty space all around.”
That empty space, to Spragens symbolized a new low point for UK football.
“You could tell last year, a lot of the old faithfuls had given up coming. You hate to see that because you miss them … You miss seeing people you’ve seen for years at the game. You look over and strange people are sitting there instead, if there’s anybody sitting there at all.”
Spragens hopes that this year will be more of that “family atmosphere” that she has come to know and love at Commonwealth Stadium. The Stoops era – as new as it may be – has brought the most excitement to the program since the Bear Bryant days, she says.
“I think what he (Stoops) has done is that right now, we’re all hopeful,” she said. “It’s not just a few of us … I don’t think he’s going to have trouble improving. It’s a case of how much and how fast. That really remains to be seen.”
Hope for Kentucky football does spring eternal, after all.