By Dr. John Huang
For long-time University of Kentucky Sports fans, an hour with Oscar Combs is like a little taste of heaven.
That’s what we got on the radio show this morning. With Shannon the Dude on a well-deserved two-day sabbatical, Oscar got up early to share some of his thoughts with Michael at the 8 o’clock hour.
I’ve said before that Oscar saved my life. His Cats Pause magazine was a literal lifeline for me during the time I was stationed overseas. I can’t tell you how much I looked forward to the feature stories, opinion columns, and box scores—albeit two weeks later—regarding my beloved Wildcats. Remember, this was before the internet. The coming of the Cats Pause was like the arrival of the Holy Grail.
I first met Oscar in person during Kentucky’s 2015 NCAA run. I didn’t know it at the time, but my Asian heritage and ponytail had already peaked his interest. He thought I was some sort of international correspondent for the Beijing News. When he discovered I was just a down-home Kentucky boy at heart, he was intrigued by my story, and we’ve since struck up a wonderful friendship.
Many times you finally meet your heroes in person, and they’re not at all like you thought they would be. That was true with Oscar. He wasn’t what I thought—he ended up being so much more. His knowledge, wisdom, and experience, combined with the grace and humility learned from life’s tough lessons, make him a true UK treasure trove of stories we all need to hear.
He’s the E.F. Hutton of UK Sports. When Oscar speaks, people listen. Here are the top ten things he had to say in his time on the air.
1. In regard to the Covid-19 pandemic, things need to be opened up. But people need to be responsible and follow the social distancing rules. “Once you open up, then do what they tell you to do. Don’t start congregating in groups of 50 like nothing’s there.”
2. As far as the UK Football season starting on time, Oscar let on that the university has had some recent Zoom meetings with the big donors. One of many possibilities is to only have six to seven thousand at the football games. “That presents even bigger problems. You tick everyone off if you play before no fans. But it’s almost worse when you say you’re only going to play before a few thousand. Who gets selected and (who) gets left out if they were to go that direction?”
3. Here are Oscar’s criteria for a successful football season. “I want to see them have a year with a winning record with two of three games providing victories. Georgia, Florida, and Tennessee. I want to beat two of those three in the same year I’ve got a winning record—then I feel like we’re making progress. Until we beat two out of three in a winning year, I don’t think we’re there yet.”
4. He hates politics because he thinks all politicians are crooks. But in regard to the sticky situation with the dirty birds down I-64, Oscar gives credit where he thinks credit is due. “When people talk about how Louisville has cleaned house and done the right things—and they have—but this may go down in history. Was it the University of Louisville that really did it, or will this go down as the most significant decision the former Governor Bevin made in his four years? Without him abolishing that original board, you would still have everybody in place that you had back then.” Regardless of what happens, Oscar’s content to leave it up to the NCAA to decide. “When you point a finger at someone, you point three at yourself.”
5. On Kentucky’s assistant basketball coaches possibly leaving for head coaching jobs, the fan in Oscar leaked out. “I don’t worry about that. They’re going to be at Kentucky for a long time. They can make their big money later on. I WANT ANOTHER TITLE.”
6. On Olivier Sarr obtaining eligibility next year, Oscar pleaded ignorance. “It would be pure speculation, and I don’t have any basis for it. Sometimes we get in small tunnels in the sports world. We generally don’t know what’s going on outside the state of Kentucky. What’s fair for one (school), may not be fair for another. We just have to wait and see.”
7. Mark Stoops recently referred to Kroger Field as “The Kroge.” Any chance Oscar could go that route? “You talking about Commonwealth Stadium?” Enough said.
8. If you haven’t checked out the Conversations with Oscar Combs podcasts, you’re doing yourself a big disservice. “The most wonderful thing I’ve done in my career was doing those 101 podcasts. I’ve done a lot of wonderful things. I’ve enjoyed everything, but I’ve enjoyed nothing more than that.” He wouldn’t pick his favorites…but here’s my favorite one hands down.
9. What’s his favorite memorabilia item he has that he loves the most? “That is easy. Another softball (question by Michael Bennett). It is the first ever road jersey worn by Ralph Beard. I got it covering a charity breakfast the first year Rick Pitino was at Kentucky. I offered up an opening bid far greater than normal.”
10. Oscar had a really unique relationship with Coach Adolph Rupp that not many know about. “I got to know him real well the last couple years he was living before he passed away. He lived down the street from me, and I would spend three days a week—a couple of hours each day—sitting there and talking to him. He was like the perfect grandfather I never got to know because my grandfather died before I was born. To hear him tell stories in his “Kansas twang” are memories that will be with me forever.”
To hear Oscar tell us stories in his “Eastern Kentucky twang” are memories that should definitely be with all of us forever.
God bless you Oscar Combs.