Since an early age we've all been made aware of the fact that hate "is a strong word," but we'll use it liberally here, if only because we can. Besides, the fortress of taboo surrounding the word has been severely crumbling in recent years. This guy I used to hang out with in college told me Napoleon's troops had been using it for target practice. It's one theory.
Friday night will mark the first meeting between Louisville and Memphis (State) on either the hardwood or gridiron since the 2004-05 athletic season. The long-time rivals have met a total of 135 times in the two sports, but not once since U of L bolted for the greener pastures of the Big East three years ago.
In spite of the separation, I think it's safe to say that the heat between the basketball programs - or at least the fans of the basketball programs - has yet to fizzle. Part of that is because both have been so successful since the split, but most of it is due to the deep-seeded feelings of ill-will produced over a span of decades.
There isn't a Louisville fan out there who felt the smallest bit of sympathy for Darius Washington when he choked, who wouldn't still pay good money to punch Larry Finch in the face, or who still resents Elliot Perry for trying to ruin both goggles and high socks for all of us. That type of disdain doesn't just disappear because of a brief (at the moment) hiatus in the series.
But what about football? The prospect of a pair of .500 teams scratching and clawing to play their way into a pre-Christmas or post-New Year's ESPN2 bowl game isn't exactly going to fire up the nation for Friday night football, but is there enough abhorrence present to at least fuel the respective fan bases?
Let's break down the yes and no.
Yes - The all-time series is a tight 21-19 in Louisville's favor
The Cards and Tigers first met in The Bluff City in 1948, and then dueled in every year from 1968-1983 and 1986-2004. Of the 40 games the two have played, nearly half (18) have been decided by a touchdown or less.
No - The Cardinals have won 10 of the last 12 meetings
Even though the all-time series is tight, U of L has been the vastly superior program for the past two decades, and while the games have often been close, Memphis has won just three times since 1987.
Let's face it, when the program was emerging in the mid-to-late '90s, Louisville's conference rivalries with Southern Mississippi, Cincinnati and TCU were burning far brighter than the one with the Tigers. U of M beat up on U of L pretty badly before 1980, and the Cards have been returning the favor for the last 20 years. The fact that the programs have never seemed to be on an equal plane hasn't helped with the animosity.
Yes - The pair's last meeting was a classic
The Louisville/Memphis game freshest in the minds of fans just may have been the best in the history of the series. The Cards and Tigers combined for 105 points and 1,202 total yards of offense as a last-minute Eric Shelton touchdown propelled U of L to a 56-49 road victory. Stefan LeFors threw for 321 yards and three touchdowns while U of M tailback DeAngelo Williams torched the Cardinals for 200 yards and a score of his own.
No - The difference between BCS conference and non-BCS conference is too great
Conference USA lost the crux of its top-tier when Louisville, Cincinnati, South Florida and TCU took off after 2004, and the league hasn't produced a champion with fewer than four losses since. Getting Memphis fans fired up for a tilt with a respectable name from the Big East isn't too tall of task, but asking the Cardinal faithful to bring the passion for a game with a mid-level team from a below-average conference is a tougher sell.
Yes - The 2003 loss
Before Syracuse officially terminated the Steve Kragthorpe honeymoon by snapping the nation's second longest home winning streak, the last team to have defeated the Cards inside Papa John's Cardinal Stadium was Memphis. The Tigers didn't just win, they romped to a 37-7 embarrassment, handing Louisville what would prove to be the worst loss of the Bobby Petrino era.
No - Memphis hasn't been good at football since ever
The Tigers haven't won a conference championship since 1971, and have only managed to pull off postseason wins in the '03 New Orleans Bowl (over North Texas) and '05 Motor City Bowl (over Akron) in the years since. Rivalries which owe their roots to proximity can withstand years of futility, but it's harder for secondary rivalries like Louisville's with Memphis to rage when one side is or both sides are consistently average at best.
Yes - The basketball rivalry is that intense
When two high-profile programs have a uniquely rich history in a single sport, the rivalry automatically carries over to all other sports. It's why the North Carolina/Duke football game or Michigan/Ohio State baseball game is always going to attract more fans than an average contest involving the teams.
Yes - Louisville fans have grown to hate the Liberty Bowl
When your reward for winning a conference championship is freezing your ass off on or the day before New Year's Eve, it's impossible not to inherit an extra bit of hostility towards the event's host city and university...especially when you're forced to do it approximately 37 times between 1993 and 2004.
Obviously, these games had nothing to do with the Tiger football program, but act like they didn't make you dislike Memphis even more.
To be honest, I'm having a hard time getting on the Memphis football bandwagon of hate, partially because I'm not sure I've ever harbored any particularly intense feelings of detestation toward the gridiron Tigers. Would I like to beat Memphis more than a comparable program like Central Florida or UTEP strictly because of the heightened level of history between the Cards and Tigers? Sure, but that still places U of M markedly behind Kentucky, West Virginia, South Florida, Connecticut, Cincinnati and Rutgers in terms of both my general disdain for and desire to topple opponents on the 2008 schedule.
Still, chair fights, Calipari, batteries and switchblades being thrown onto the court. Kind of makes you hope extra hard that Earl Heyman lays out the Tiger quarterback...even if you don't know what his name is.