LEXINGTON, Kent. — A photo of a coal miner covered in soot with his son at the University of Kentucky Blue-White Game went viral Monday, eventually earning the pair a shout-out from Coach John Calipari.
Like so many kids across Kentucky, Micheal Joe McGuire and his dad had a Big Blue Tradition.
"I was a little boy, growing up watching with my dad," he said. "Never did miss a game, watching on TV,"
Micheal McGuire lives in Pikeville with his wife, Mollie McGuire, and their two kids. When UK announced they would hold this year's Blue-White game in Eastern Kentucky, Mollie McGuire saw an opportunity to surprise her family.
"They had posted the presale link and I hopped on and grabbed some tickets because I knew it was important to him and his dad. I thought it would be a great experience for him to share with our son," she said.
Micheal McGuire works as a roof bolter in a coal mine.
"I started about a year ago and it kind of blew my mind. I was like, 'Wow, I didn't think people really could go through stuff like this,'" he said. "It's literally just like a big, giant cave."
Michael McGuire ended up working late Saturday and had to run straight from the mine, covered in soot, to the arena to meet his wife and their three-year-old son, Easton.
Their son was mesmerized.
"Pretty much anybody that dunked the ball was his favorite! Anybody that would jump up and dunk, he was like, 'Ooooh! Look at him!!'" Mollie said.
Easton McGuire made a big impression on his section with his dance moves.
"I made the joke to my husband that somebody's going to record him dancing, and it's going to go viral," Mollie said.
Turns out, the father-son duo attracted more attention than they ever could have imagined.
Someone snapped a picture of the pair, remarking their respect for Micheal McGuire, clearly running straight from work to bring his son to the game.
The Facebook post took off.
"My phone started going absolutely crazy," Mollie McGuire said.
It didn't take long for that photo to reach Wildcats head coach John Calipari himself.
He shared the photo and talked about his own family's background in the mines. "My family's American dream started in a Clarksburg, W. Va., coal mine, so this picture hits home," he said.
Micheal McGuire was working underground all day Monday, he had no idea the photo of him and his son had captured the hearts of so many Wildcat fans. When he came back above ground Monday afternoon, he was amazed at the attention.
"When I made it out and got service, my phone just started blowing up. I called my wife to figure out what was going on and she said, 'Glad to see you're figuring it out now!'"
Mollie McGuire had been dealing with the same thing. She said so many people were tagging her on Facebook that the app stopped loading. Then, there was a phone call from a number she didn't recognize.
"The phone rang and I had no clue who it was. I answered and he was like, 'Hey, it's Coach Cal!' and I just sat there, like, uh…it was a complete shock!" Mollie said.
Calipari invited the McGuires to any game at Rupp Arena this year to be treated like VIPs. For them, it was a chance to feel the love of the Big Blue Nation.
"We tell him all the time, as his immediate family, we appreciate you and everything you do, but just to see everyone else sharing their appreciation, their stories, it's been wonderful for him to see it’s not just us, everyone appreciates it. It's hard work. It's a blessing," Mollie McGuire said.
Most of all, an opportunity to pass on old traditions.
"Family means everything to me and I just wanted to make sure that they would have that memory, just like Micheal and his dad share," Mollie McGuire said.
The family isn't sure yet which game they will attend, but they're looking forward to making more Big Blue memories.