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Kentucky’s Sad Week Ends With Game

November 20, 1998

LEXINGTON, Ky. (AP) _ Kentucky’s week began with a truck crash that killed one player, severely injured another and also killed the best friend of star quarterback, Tim Couch. It ends with a game at No. 1 Tennessee, the Wildcats’ traditional rival.

Instead of the buildup to the contest between the bowl-bound Wildcats and the undefeated Volunteers, Kentucky’s players and coaches became the focus of an extraordinary drama that unfolded daily.

There was Couch choking up, then breaking down in tears as he talked about the death of his friend Scott Brock.

There was the team’s first meeting after Sunday’s crash, when players sat in silence, then joined hands, prayed and wept.

``I’ve never been in there with 100 other guys, especially football players, and had it be that quiet,″ safety Jeff Zurcher said.

``It was a precious time for the team,″ said punter Jimmy Carter.

And there was the funeral for Arthur Steinmetz, the transfer player killed in the crash. Steinmetz’s parents asked the parents of Jason Watts to sit with them, even though Watts _ the driver and only survivor of the crash _ is being charged with drunken driving and manslaughter.

Kentucky coach Hal Mumme called the gesture ``one of the great acts of forgiveness ... one of the most touching things I’ve ever seen.″

Watts remained hospitalized in good condition Friday at Lexington’s University of Kentucky Medical Center. He underwent three operations during the week on a 12-inch gash in his right forearm that he sustained during the crash.

Watts is due in court Dec. 17 to answer the charges of manslaughter and drunken driving. According to a prosecutor, Watts’ blood-alcohol content was 1 1/2 times the legal limit when he crashed.

After taking Monday off, the team practiced Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. Mumme tried to keep the sessions as normal as possible.

``There’s no way you can keep the rest of the week normal,″ he said. ``The guys have spent all week at funerals and in the hospital.″

Mumme said he had no idea how the players would respond to the chance to ruin Tennessee’s perfect season and improve their own bowl standing.

``I’m kind of in the dark,″ he said. ``I don’t know if we’ll be emotionally charged over this, or emotionally drained. I won’t be able to tell until Saturday.″

Couch said he expects to be up for the game.

``To be honest with you, I always circle this game on the calendar. I love playing against Tennessee,″ he said. ``It’s a big rivalry and I know, growing up in this state, how much it means to the state of Kentucky, so I’m looking forward to it.″

The Kentucky-Tennessee game is played for possession of the ``Beer Barrel,″ and officials from both schools agreed Friday to cancel this year’s postgame display of the blue, white and orange-painted trophy.

``Out of respect for the families involved in the tragedy last Sunday in Kentucky, we have decided not to make the Beer Barrel part of the scene Saturday at Neyland Stadium,″ Tennessee associate athletic director Gary Wyant said.

The crash occurred just hours after Kentucky finished off a 55-17 win over Vanderbilt on Senior Day at Commonwealth Stadium. Watts’ parents joined the three-year starter on the field in a ceremony before the game.

The next morning came news of the wreck, which happened as Watts, Steinmetz and Brock headed to a farm near Somerset to go deer hunting. Watts’ truck went out of control and flipped over on a rural, two-lane highway north of Somerset. All three were thrown from the vehicle; Brock and Steinmetz died at the scene.

By the time the Wildcats returned to practice Tuesday, a Pulaski County prosecutor was announcing Watts would be charged in the case.

On Wednesday, Couch was a pallbearer at Brock’s funeral near Hyden, the eastern Kentucky mountain town where both grew up. That was also the day coroners said Brock and Steinmetz were legally drunk when they died.

Thursday, Mumme and most of the team attended Steinmetz’s funeral and held their final practice of the week.

``It has been a really long week,″ Mumme said. ``It seems like a month since we played Vanderbilt.″