‘It was thrilling.’ Kentucky, Iowa fans ring in New Year, Citrus Bowl style


Fans cheer during the UK vs. Iowa Vrbo Citrus Bowl football game on Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022, at Camping World Stadium in Orlando, Florida. UK won 20-17. Photo by Corrie McCroskey | Staff

Rayleigh Deaton

A hush fell over the crowd. 

It seemed nobody in the packed stadium dared to breathe, for fear that doing so would cause them to miss something in the precious few remaining minutes. The air was electric in the stands, as Iowa fans hoped they could hold onto their four-point lead, and Big Blue Nation prayed for a miracle. 

The Kentucky side of Orlando’s Camping World Stadium had been uncharacteristically quiet for the majority of the second half, as a Wildcat victory seemed less and less feasible. Some blue-and-white-clad fans had already made their way to the exit, hoping to beat the crowd and fairly confident they would not miss anything but the sight of defeat.

With mere minutes left in the Citrus Bowl, few spectators remained seated. Iowa and Kentucky fans alike were on their feet, watching the field in rapt attention.

Suddenly, Kentucky reclaimed the lead, evoking an eruption of cheers from the blue and white half of the stadium. In what seemed like seconds, it was over. The Cats had snatched a narrow victory from the jaws (or beak) of defeat.

Even before kickoff at the New Year’s Day game, Iowa and Kentucky fans alike seemed to know that they were about to watch a special match. The atmosphere in both camps was like a party, as befitted the New Year’s Day game. 

The UK turnout showed up several hours early for Cat Walk, forming a sea of blue in the Orange State. Following a rollercoaster ride of a football season, Kentucky fans seemed ecstatic and somewhat relieved to have made it to the Citrus Bowl. 

John and Bonnie Mims traveled to Orlando from Memphis, Tennessee, excited to watch the Cats. John Mims, born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, said walking in and seeing the crowd gave him goosebumps, and Bonnie Mims agreed. 

“We love this team; we love [Mark] Stoops … It’s good to see that [Kentucky] can play basketball and football,” she said.

Sisters-in-law Jennifer and Dena Howard drove the 12 hours from Lexington to cheer on Kentucky. During Cat Walk, Jennifer Howard said she was “feeling excited” about the game. 

“BBN showed up,” she said. “It’s gonna be a good game day.”

Kentucky fans Jim McNutt and Dave Patterson had been roommates when they went to UK, graduating in 1984. The two friends also went to the Citrus Bowl when Kentucky played in 2019 and were looking forward to seeing what the Wildcats would do in 2022. McNutt said he thought Kentucky’s offense had been better than Iowa’s throughout the season and hoped the same would ring true in the upcoming game. 

Iowa fans also congregated before kickoff, as tailgaters pitched yellow and black tents in the 80-degree January sun. Deborah Hardy said the 2022 Citrus Bowl was her first Hawkeye game; she had traveled from Wisconsin to visit family in Florida and was looking forward to cheering on the Hawks. 

Barry and Vicki Borchers flew in from Iowa and were hoping for a victory for the Hawkeyes. Barry Borchers said he expected a “low-scoring game,” which he said would be “good for Iowa,” and predicted a final score of 21-10. Although rooting for the opposing team, he said he loved UK coach Mark Stoops, who had played for the Hawkeyes during college.

Following the game, UK fans congregated near the confetti-covered Kentucky end zone to celebrate the victory. Few Iowa supporters remained in the stands as the Wildcats reveled in the victory. 

Although the bowl ended with only one winning team, fans on both sides of the stadium agreed that the game was a memorable one.

Originally from Iowa, Hawkeye fans Paul and Cindy Flickinger now live in Florida. Although their team lost, the Flickingers said they enjoyed watching the match.

“It was a close game; it was a good game,” Cindy Flickinger said.

Other Iowa supporters echoed this. Linda Young, Kelly Reams and Kathy Thiem traveled from Des Moines, Iowa, to cheer on their team. Reams, father of Hawkeye defensive lineman Chris Reams, said he thought it was a “good, clean game.”

Mary Jo Green and Teresa Hayden said the close game was “worth the drive” from Kentucky.

“It was exciting. A little too exciting,” Green said of the victory.

UK grads Harrison Lane and Autumn Hunes flew to Orlando from Lexington to cheer on their alma mater. Lane called the match a “nailbiter,” adding that he was surprised to see so many UK fans leaving before the end of the game, expecting defeat. He and Hunes stayed to the end and were glad they did.

“[Kentucky] never gave up, they just kept at it,” he said. “It was thrilling.”