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By LARRY VAUGHT
For almost three years, Tim Bates and three friends worked to get over 200 hours of footage from interviews to fan celebrations to crowd reaction about the University of Kentucky basketball program. The narrowed that down to a 90-minute documentary, “The Sixth Man: A Krazy Love Story.”
“We knew we wanted to do something around UK basketball because we are all UK fans, but we did not want to do what we had seen done 1,000 times,” said Bates. “My younger sister suggested we do one on the UK fan base. She was right. The Big Blue Nation is so vast that you can tell the story a 1,000 ways by turning the camera on Big Blue fans, so that’s what we did.”
What they got certainly resonated with the audience at The Grand Theater in Lancaster last week during a special showing of the movie before it is available in retail outlets and online starting Nov. 19. The movie not only had fans cheering and laughing, but it also had moments where fans were moved to tears by the stories.
The movie featured stars like Laura Bell Bundy, Eddie Montgomery, Josh Hopkins, The Backstreet Boys and Josh Hutcherson, numerous former UK players and coaches, and media members. Duke’s Christian Laettner was even a big part of the movie.
“If I were to grade the movie, based on its genre as a sports flick focusing on fans, I’d give it an A,” said Danville’s Herb Brock, a former Advocate columnist who watched the movie in Lancaster. “Whether they are UK fans, fans of other schools or only the most casual observers of college sports, I believe anyone watching the movie gets a really comprehensive look at UK fans, from their zealotry to their zaniness to their loyalty to UK and their love of the program and most of the players who have worn the blue and white.
“These traits were well illustrated through such scenes as the ones showing the two elderly people who have UK houses, inside and out; the nutty people who paint their faces and do crazy dances; the mob of people camping out for Big Blue Madness; the thousands of UK fans who will travel all over the country to root for their team even though most of them aren’t wealthy and are hard pressed to find the money for these road trips; the “live and die” emotions of UK fans with every minute of every game, who not only identify with the team but feel like they are on the team, as they nervously watch games in Rupp Arena or in sports bars or in their dens at home.”
Brock admits the movies “touching” moments inspired him.
“Stories involving two UK fans suffering both serious illness and, in one case, grieving the loss of a brother, underscored the mutual love and loyalty of these very special fans toward UK and UK towards these fans,” Brock said.
Brock, a UK season ticket holder, enjoyed the “overall” humor and wit of the movie.
“Fans of most other schools, including hated rivals U of L, Duke, Indiana and North Carolina, and most of the mainstream media, have always bashed UK fans for taking the game too seriously while they, on the other hand, allegedly keep it in perspective. Hogwash. I would agree UK fans probably do take the game more seriously than most other fans but only by degrees,” Brock said. “The movie shows that UK fans, as well as the players they love and the coaches they respect, can poke fun at themselves and aren’t all a bunch mind-numbed, UK-loving robots.
“There are lots of examples of humor, but a few that come to mind are the story of the two dialysis patients who get into a fight, the confessional scenes, Dr. Granacher trying to get inside the brain — believe it or, most UK fans have one — and into the psychology of UK fans, and the many comments from Jay Bilas, Joe Hall and John Calipari and other speakers on the lunacy as well as love UK fans demonstrate.”
Brock liked that the movie made it clear it was not about “the strengths and weaknesses or Xs and Os of each coach” at Kentucky.
“It is about the fans who root for the Cats, through thick and thin, and it does an excellent job of portraying a people from a poor state who found something positive in their hardscrabble lives, something that was a winner from one decade to the next, and embraced it as a legacy that must be continued, a torch that must be passed on, from one generation to the next,” Brock said.
“Every UK fan believes he or she is the UK’s biggest fan. I think I am. I always tell people that I have been a UK fan from the time I was knee high to my Dad’s old radio. My fandom dates back to the early 1950s when my dad, a UK grad, started to turn on the radio in Atlanta when I was a little kid and tuned in WHAS so we could listen to his alma mater play. No matter where we lived, and we lived in cities in the South and the Midwest, we followed UK as closely as possible, and would drive around at night trying to get the WHAS signal no matter what the weather.
“But as special as I think my UK fandom is, it is not at all unique and pretty mundane compared to the compelling, funny, touching stories of other UK fans, many of which were told in the movie.”
Bates said that “overwhelming” type response to the work he did along with his brother, Steve Bates, Lee Cruse and Jason Epperson has been the norm.
“It’s so satisfying and gratifying for us,” Bates said. “We were looking to be lean and not drag the movie out. We watched the film so many times together that we lost our sense of objectivity. So the audience reaction has been overwhelming to us. But it’s so crazy how consistent this fan base is that the whole year is dictated by the UK basketball schedule. Not just one or two people are like that. All the fans are.”
Brock even found pleasure in having Duke’s Christian Laettner — he hit the game-winning shot in the historic win over UK in 1992 and also was the one who stomped on Aminu Timberlake — in the movie.
“This may seem counterintuitive fro a UK fan to say this, but it was a great move to have Christian Laettner in the movie,” Brock said. “As much as UK fans despise him, he actually has been pretty effective in his charm offensive aimed at BBN that included that visit a year or so ago and kind of was on display in the movie. The directors/producers handled it in a great way, kind of forcing UK fans to have to relive ‘The Shot’ but softening the blow with great humor.
“The movie had to show what was, at least to me, one of the most significant moments in UK basketball history, that 1992 regional championship in Philly. It was the very definition of bittersweet as UK fans were able to see their beloved program once again reach national prominence under (Rick) Pitino’s tremendous rebuilding program but had to suffer a last second defeat that hurt but only temporarily derailed the rebuilding effort which ended in 1996 win a title and was punctuated big time when UK beat Duke in the 1998 regional championship game.
“The bittersweet moment also was made even more bitter and sweeter because it was the last game broadcast by the legendary Cawood Ledford. It was a sad farewell but one softened by Coach K.’s stopping by Cawood’s table to pay honor to UK’s effort and tribute to the great voice in college basketball. As an out of state UK fan, he was UK to me, even more than Rupp or his players.”
Vaught’s note: Okay, we all knew the Louisville-Duke game today was going to be full of 1992 storylines and UK fans are going to see that Christian Laettner game-winning shot all afternoon today as Duke and Louisville battle for a Final Fourth berth. But who do you want to win? Are you pulling for the Cards? Are you pulling for Duke? Will you be for either team?
INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Mike Krzyzewski and Rick Pitino are finally doing an encore. For the first time since their teams played perhaps the greatest game in the history of the NCAA tournament, Krzyzewski and Pitino will meet in the NCAA tournament Sunday when top-seeded Louisville faces Duke. In the regional finals, no less.
Never mind that few of their current players were even born in 1992. Or that Pitino is no longer at Kentucky, having switched sides in the state’s civil war after his brief trip to Boston and the NBA ended badly. Krzyzewski and Pitino are forever linked by that one game in Philadelphia, immortalized by Christian Laettner’s improbable shot.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Paintsville’s John Pelphrey was one of “The Unforgettables” at Kentucky that lost that memorable 1992 NCAA Tournament game to Duke on Christian Laettner’s buzzer-beating shot in overtime in 1992 that propelled the Blue Devils to the national title and denied coach Rick Pitino and his Cats a chance to win a championship. Now Pelphrey is back at Florida as an assistant coach to Billy Donovan after a stint as a head coach. The Gators won the Southeastern Conference regular-season title and beat LSU here Friday to advance to the SEC tourney semifinals.
Pelphrey shared a few UK memories based on questions UK fans submitted for him on Twitter.
Question: Do you dread or enjoy coming back to Rupp Arena as a coach of an opposing team?
Pelphrey: “I would say it is a different feeling. Obviously, it is a very difficult place to play, but a lot of memories come flooding back to me when we get to the parking lot and are walking into the arena. It is probably for me just a real unique experience. Most of the time when you walk into an arena, you are very focused on what is going on but I do have some stuff that goes on with me. I did play there for five years.”
Question: Have you been around a better Rupp Arena crowd than the one to end the season when UK upset Florida?
Pelphrey: “It was awesome. It really was. I think a lot of times it is a different perspective when you are sitting over there and playing on the other side. I probably am not the best guy to judge on that because you miss a lot as somebody in the battle. But it was a great crowd. Nod doubt about that.”
Question: Do you want to be a head coach again?
Pelphrey: “I am enjoying what I am doing, but I have aspirations certainly of being a head coach again. There is a lot I like. I am still passionate about the game and having relationships with young people and enjoying the challenges.”
Question: Will you ever be back living or coaching in Kentucky?
Pelphrey: “I don’t know. I don’t have a crystal ball.”
Question: Do you still consider yourself a Wildcat?
Pelphrey: “Absolutely. That will never change.”
Question: Do you still think about that NCAA game with Duke, especially each March?
Pelphrey: “It shows up enough (on TV) to where I see enough to where you get reminded about it. And I have a lot of responsibilities to take care. I have a family and job, so it doesn’t bother me to the point that it used to.”
Question: Do you miss Paintsville?
Pelphrey: “It is always going to be home. Will always miss is.”
Question: How is your golf game?
Pelphrey: “Not bad. I haven’t played a whole lot. I did get a chance to go Pebble Beach last August and I fired a little 79. So that’s not bad.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Sean Woods was one of The Unforgettables at Kentucky and had 21 points — and many thought the game-winning goal — in that infamous 1992 NCAA Tournament loss to Duke when Christian Laettner hit a last-second goal to beat UK.
But during a teleconference Monday leading into Morehead’s game at Kentucky Wednesday night, the first-year Morehead made some comments that he might wish were a bit more forgettable. He was asked about UK freshman Willie Cauley-Stein of Kansas saying before the UK-Duke game that he did not know Laettner.
“You know what, that doesn’t surprise me because kids nowadays are different. When I was growing up I never once saw Wilt Chamberlin play, but I could tell you everything about him. Earl Monroe was way before my time, but I could tell you a lot about him,” said Woods, an Indiana native. “Kids nowadays play too many video games. I’m just being honest with you. They don’t get it. They play basketball, but they don’t know what basketball is.
“They are very fortunate. We live in a microwave society now, and it’s a shame that kids don’t know the history. I walked into a deal the other day, with that telethon at WKYT (to raise money for Hurricane Sandy victims) — I didn’t like the vibe. I’m just going to be honest with you. With those guys — it’s just totally different now. And it’s not anyone’s fault, it just the way society is now.
“I bet you any type of money, beside the kids that are from the Kentucky that are on UK’s team, couldn’t tell you anything about one player in the history of Kentucky basketball. When I walked through that door, I knew about every player, almost everything history-wise about Kentucky basketball, but these kids don’t. It’s a shame, but that’s just how society is.”
Bad vibe from the UK players helping answer telephones to take calls to donate to charity from an event that ended up raising about $1 million? What did he not like to get such a bad vibe?
“They didn’t seem like Kentucky basketball players to me … and I’ll leave it at that,” Woods said.
Then he didn’t leave it at that.
“I’m a Kentucky basketball player through and through, and there is just a certain aura about you. Like I told you before, these kids these days are just so different. When I was coming up, we were humble. I think because of the success Cal has created, which is not a bad thing — it is a great thing. It just let’s you know where Kentucky basketball is right now,” Woods, who led Mississippi Valley State to last year’s NCAA Tournament, said.
“I am just one of those kids that is a blue-blooded Kentucky guy at heart. There’s just a certain way and a certain look that Kentucky basketball players have, and not have such a sense of entitlement. I think today it is still an honor to wear that uniform. Even though they are coming in one-and-done, what Cal’s created — it’s the only university that it’s happened on a consistent basis. North Carolina’s not doing that all the time, Kansas isn’t doing that all the time and Kentucky is. That’s what sets Kentucky apart from everyone else in the United States.
“I think these kids should be more appreciative coming through here wearing that uniform, knowing that six months that you are going to be an instant millionaire. But still, you went through there and it helped you become who you are during those six, seven or eight months.”
About two hours after the teleconference, Woods posted several messages on Twitter about his comments saying he did not mean to “offend or insult” players or coach John Calipari.
“Simply an observation of today’s youth everywhere. I greatly admire Coach Cal and what he has done for the University of Kentucky and college basketball,” Woods said in his tweets. “I will always be proud to have worn a Kentucky Wildcat uniform and to be the head coach at Morehead State University.”
Photos by Victoria Graff, and property of Schurz Communications, Inc., and vaughtsviews.com. All rights reserved; images may not be reprinted in print or online with permission of the owners. Reprinted images must be attributed to vaughtsviews.com and linked to the original site.
By LARRY VAUGHT
ATLANTA — Former Kentucky star Jeff Sheppard and Duke standout Christian Laettner combined forces at a fundraiser here Tuesday before the UK-Duke game in the Georgia Dome to help raise $10,000 in honor of Dick Vitale for the V Foundation to use for pediatric cancer research.
Laettner even agreed to let the five high bidders take a picture with him laying on the floor and each person stomping on him similar to what he did UK’s Aminu Timberlake in that historic 1992 NCAA Tournament overtime game won by Duke. “It’s for charity, so why not have fun,” said Laettner.
Here are some other insights on Kentucky coach John Calipari, Vitale and UK fans that Laettner shared.
Question: What is your opinion of John Calipari?
Laettner: “He used to work the Five-Star Basketball Camp back in the mid-1980’s when I was in high school. It was at Robert Morris College in Pittsburgh. He was one of the big coaches there. He was assistant at Pitt at that time, so we all loved him. We all thought he was very charismatic, very good coach. I had Pitt on my list of 11 schools to go to solely because of him. That’s how much I liked him. I ended up going to Duke and he went his way. I am not surprised at all with the level of successs he has anywhere he goes. He gets very good players. He is a very good recruiter. He gets high level players and he is able to get them to play a certain way in a short period of time because a lot of his kids leave early (for the NBA). He regroups and has another good team the next year, so I just think he is a great coach.”
Question: So even nearly 30 years ago he could connect with recruits in ways a lot of coaches couldn’t?
Laettner: “He definitely was able to do it back then. I know he can do it now. It looks from a distance it looks like he does it now with a little more yelling. I think he maybe has to do that with the freshmen maybe. He yells a lot more than I remember, but you can tell by the way his team plays that he does it the right way.”
Question: Has the charity work Calipari has done since coming to Kentucky surprised you?
Laettner: “No, not at all. Think of Dick Vitale and how much of his own personal time he gives to charities and events. A lot of things that you wouldn’t consider him working, he does even though it is his free time. He chooses to dedicate his time and it does not surprise me that Calipari does. He is just a wonderful person. That’s the way he was at Five-Star a long time ago and why he is doing great right now.”
Question: Do you ever talk to Calipari and does he still remember recruiting you?
Laettner: “He definitely remembers recruiting me. He knows that I considered Pitt just because of him. We wave when we see each other, but he’s a very busy person. I leave him to himself or whatever he has going. I think I shook hands with him at the last Dicky V. event in Sarasota (Fla.). He is a great coach.”
Question: How do you like Vitale and has he changed over the years?
Laettner: “When I first knew him and was a fan of his, I just thought he was this ultra energy guy who commentated the basketball games. After I saw him speak a few times, I realized he is a deeper person and concerned about other things than sports. That’s when I really started admiring him. I went to Duke and he was there every step of the way because every Duke game is on ESPN practically. Once I graduated we started doing charity events like the Jimmy V. fundraiser together and the first few were right there in Raleigh (N.C.). I did that with him for five or six years and then I started doing his event in Sarasota because that is where he lives and I live in Jacksonville, Fla., now.”
Question: Do you worry you are going to suddenly endear yourself to UK fans with things you are doing in conjunction with Sheppard?
Laettner: “It is fun. It all started last year when he had that Villians versus the Heroes all-star game and that was just a blast. We thought we could do something again revolving around this game and the fact Dick was here and we wanted to honor him. It all came together like the perfect storm. It is good to let fans see this side of me, but it is also good that you are relevant once in a while when they look back on it. You may not be as relevant now, but if they think about 20 years ago or it gets brought up with social media and they can see the internet video, it is easy for them to go back and reminisce. So that side is good, too.”
Question: Were the “I Still Hate Laettner” t-shirts every UK fan got your idea or Sheppard’s idea?
Laettner: “All that stuff is always Jeff’s idea. He has his printing press ready to go with that Hate Laettner.”
By LARRY VAUGHT
Kentucky fans who have never forgiven Duke’s Christian Laettner for his “stomp” of Aminu Timberlake during the historic 1992 UK-Duke NCAA Tournament game have a special opportunity Tuesday to stomp Laettner.
Kentucky’s Jeff Sheppard, Laettner and ESPN college basketball analyst Dick Vitale are hosting a fund-raising event for the V Foundation to help fight cancer in conjuction with the Kentucky-Duke game in Atlanta that is part of the State Farm Champions Classic (Michigan State and Kansas play in the first game).
“It is a reception/fundraiser honoring Dick Vitale for the work he has done for cancer research and the V Foundation,” said Sheppard, a starter on UK’s 1998 NCAA championship team that beat Duke in the South Region final. “We are having it at a historic place (Ventanas) in a ballroom that has glass from the floor to the ceiling in the ballroom. It’s in downtown Atlanta, close to the Georgia Dome, and will be a lot of fun.
“We are going to have some silent auction items. We’ll have autographed basketball along with some personal items that from Christian and myself from both schools.”
Thanks to Big Blue Nation Cares, a group that provides tickets to UK basketball and football games for special recipients, one auction item will be a special ESPN Game-Day experience when the Cats host Missouri in February.
“There will be two front row tickets and two other lower arena seats along with lunch with me leading up to the game,” Sheppard said. “We are talking to (UK coach John) Calipari about maybe getting in UK’s walk-through (practice) before the game or maybe just going to the ESPN College Game Day for an insider’s experience with Dick.”
For Kentucky fans at the reception, they will also be able to have their picture taken with Laettner in a memorable way.
“Kentucky fans can put their foot on Christian’s chest. We’ll take the photo and both of us will sign it on the spot and all proceeds will go the V Foundation,” Sheppard said.
Sheppard said the idea to do something special was Laettner’s. Sheppard then came up with the idea to involve Vitale and his charity work. Vitale quickly agreed and even promoted the event on ESPN during the UK-Maryland game Friday in Brooklyn.
“One thing just let to another and the Greater Atlanta UK Alumni Club agreed to sponsor the event,” Sheppard said. “We originally wanted Dick to speak, but he only speaks when he is not calling a game. But he quickly agreed to be part of this. Everyone has been impacted directly or indirectly by cancer. It is an honor to be a part of a special event that pays tribute to a one of a kind legend, Dick Vitale, but more importantly raises money for the V Foundation for cancer research.”
Cost is $30 person and includes admission to the event and a T-shirt. Duke fans get a T-shirt saying “I Still Love Laettner” and UK fans get a shirt saying “I Hate Laettner.” To register for the event go to www.ukalumni.net/bluesalute.
* * *
The reception runs from 4-6 p.m. at Ventanas at 275 Baker Street.
By LARRY VAUGHT
It has been 20 years since Duke’s historic overtime win over Kentucky in the NCAA Tournament East Region final, yet Tom Clark says there is always one question that won’t go away once anyone finds out he refereed that game.
“No matter where I go … I have been to Florida over Easter and once my brother says, ‘Guess what game he once officiated?’ that’s all anybody wants to talk about. Some will talk about the shot, but the first thing almost always is the other Christian Laettner thing,” said Clark.
The “other thing” came with about nine minutes left in regulation in that game in Philadelphia after Laettner, the national player of the year, stomped/stepped on the chest of Kentucky’s Aminu Timberlake while he was laying on the court. Laettner had felt Timberlake had taken a cheap shot against him on the other end of the court — even though later he realized it might not have been Timberlake — and wanted to send a message.
Clark came to the Ohio UK Convention in Middletown, Ohio — he lives in the Cincinnati area — and told 150 UK fans immediately that they likely “were not going to accept a lot of what I am telling you” and then explained it was official Tim Higgins, not him, who made the call not to eject Laettner.
“I had absolutely nothing to do with it. I didn’t even know it happened or what happened when I saw the highlights that night. I thought Laettner had said, ‘F— you or something’ like that to get the T (technical foul),” Clark said.
Clark said there was little doubt it was an intentional foul. He would not quite agree it was the “stomp” that many Kentucky fans remembers. He said it became a question of did Laettner intend physical harm to Timberlake and Higgins determined he did not.
“I was not conferred with. I didn’t know if he stepped on him intentionally or what until after the game,” Clark said. “Was it physical harm? I don’t know.”
He knew what a key call it was. It was Laettner’s third foul, but the Duke star was 10-for-10 from the field and 10-for-10 at the foul line in the game and eventually hit the game winning shot with 0.2 seconds left in overtime.
He said to be a flagrant foul and merit ejection, it had to be “malicious, combative, fighting, elbowing, kicking.” That didn’t happen.
“I have seen it a 100 times. Mr. Timberlake is on the floor and points a finger at him (Laettner) and starts laughing. He was laughing at him. He gets up and claps his hands,” Clark said. “Laettner had stepped and pulled his leg back. Not like he used him for a stepping stone
“I will tell you if Timberlake gets up, starts a fight, then they are both pitched. Laettner did not have to throw a punch. He would have been pitched for initiating the situation. If he (Timberlake) starts any type confrontation, they both are pitched. But there was no interruption in the game. The whole thing took about five seconds. Nothing was done by either team. It just happened and was not a game interruptor.”
But did he agree with the call?
“What do I think it was? I am going to protect myself. I am not going to answer it,” he laughed and said.
By LARRY VAUGHT
During the recent National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association awards ceremony in Salisbury, N.C., I got to meet and spend time with Bob Harris, the radio voice of Duke football and basketball since 1976. He’s broadcast over 400 Duke football games and more than 1,200 basketball games, including four NCAA championships.
What I like about him is that he describes himself “as a fan with a microphone”and readily admits how much he enjoys his job. He’s also good friends with Lexington’s Doug Flynn and annually comes to Lexington in June to play in Flynn’s charity golf tournament.
He’s maybe best known for his call of Christian Laettner’s buzzer-beating shot over Kentucky in the 1992 NCAA East Region final in what many still consider the greatest college basketball game ever played. His call of the shot was so good that it normally is used with TV promos of the shot at NCAA Tournament time.
“They throw it the length of the floor … Laettner catches, comes down, dribbles, shoots … Scores!! … Christian Laettner has hit the bucket at the buzzer! The Blue Devils win it 104 to 103. Look out Minneapolis. Here comes the Blue Devils!” His autobiography, “How Sweet It Is! From the Cotton Mill to the Crow’s Nest,” even includes a chapter on “The Shot” that still eats at UK fans.
During our conversation, he talks about the upcoming UK-Duke matchup in November, his feelings on an annual UK-Duke series and more.
By LARRY VAUGHT
Reader Glen Story of Lincoln County does not agree with a reference I made in a column about Duke’s Christian Laettner “stomping” on Kentucky’s Aminu Timberlake during the memorable 1992 NCAA Tournament game that Duke won in overtime on Laettner’s buzzer-beating shot.
Here’s what Story sent me: “I still believe that Laettner should have been tossed for stepping on Timberlake, but he wasn’t. I do believe that if he had literally stomped on Timberlake that the referees would have done no less than remove him from the game. That episode still gets our (UK fans) dandruff up. Duke isn’t very popular with UK fans. Someone once said, ‘The human race must find the equivalent of war if we are to survive.’ Sports is a great outlet for that. We don’t even have to sensationalize when talking about Kentucky basketball. Just bring up the subject and an audience is quickly gathered.”
Story certainly is right about UK basketball quickly igniting passion in fans as it does even 20 years later when mentioning the Laettner stomp. Was it a stomp? Was it merely stepping on Timberlake without any malice? Should he have been ejected from the game?
Since I was sitting courtside for the game, it still seems to me that if it had been any player other than Laettner he would have been ejected. But since Laettner was the face of Duke basketball and the Blue Devils were the nation’s No. 1 team, I’ll always believe he got a break that someone like UK’s Deron Feldhaus would not have got if he had done the same thing to Laettner in that Philadelphia game.
That’s one thing I am hoping to ask Tom Clark next month. He’s a former college basketball official who worked that 1992 UK-Duke game and he will be one of the speakers at the annual Ohio UK Convention July 21 in Franklin, Ohio. It’s one of my favorite days of the year and having a chance to hear him talk about this historic game from an official’s perspective is going to be interesting to say the least. Maybe he’ll have a different take on what the officials saw than I did. Maybe he’ll have a logical reason for why Laettner wasn’t ejected. Maybe he’ll admit now that Laettner should have been tossed.
But I also want to get his take on the game’s intensity and if he ever expected anything close to the type of game he was part of and how much he thinks back to that particular game.
But what about you? Was it a stomp or step? Many of you also saw the game. Let me know if you remember it as a stomp like I did or a merely a step as Story remembers.