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Freedom Hall and "The Horse"

My fondest memories of Freedom Hall, like so many who have written here, are filled with names like Morton, Wheat, Beau Zach Smith! and BJ Flynn! (who both may have been the first to have the “!” after their names, at least among my circle of friends), Maybin, Wine, Kiser, Rogers, Walker, Minor, D. Smith, LaBradford Smith, Spencer, Osborne, Garcia, Gaines—the list goes on. . Writing now, I feel like I’m talking to family members around the dinner table.

My earliest memories of Freedom Hall are inaccessible to me. I’ve had to rely on my parents and family to pass them along. I was two when we won in ’86, and although I have stuffed Cardinal dressed in a t-shirt celebrating the win, I don’t remember it.

I grew up in the Junior Cardinal Club. I remember Mom cooking an early breakfast and cold walks in the snow in November to watch Red-White scrimmages and to have Coach Crum and the guys sign a piece of red construction paper.

I don’t remember my first moments sitting on the laps of my parents as a toddler in Freedom Hall.

I do remember “The Horse.”

When Cliff Nobles cut that instrumental A-side in 1968, I’m sure he did not think about a 6-year-old kid in the early 90s jamming to the pep band at a break in Louisville basketball action. For whatever reason, when I think of Louisville basketball (even now), I think of that song.

I have no idea why.

Perhaps it is because of our 29 December 1996, 89-85 overtime win over Boston College. (Note that 89 point score, it cost the whole crowd free goods at a local eatery). I think I might have heard that song more than dozen times in the course of the game. From that point on, while imagining John Tong announce my name in the backyard shooting free throws, I also hummed “The Horse” while warming up in my youth league games.

Since moving out to California, my chances to attend games have been slim. Often, I listen to games on the radio while staring at a huge picture of Freedom Hall with the Cards in action against Athletes in Action. My last game in attendance at Freedom Hall was this year against Louisiana-Lafayette.  The Hall itself seemed smaller in person now, perhaps a bit worn out after a season like the one we’re having now. Yet, the people were just as warm, just as passionate and supportive of their squad.

Sure those fans up the road love their team, but they play in a cave where you watch basketball—usually from the upper deck—sitting on the side of a cliff.

Freedom Hall is not a cave. For all of its faults—blue seating (BLUE!?) at our own stadium—the Hall is our cathedral. It houses our past pains and joys and the collective memory of what each of us know to be the best team in the world.

My dad once told me he didn’t know when I decided to become a Cardinals fan, but he was glad I decided to join. How could I not? Louisville athletics is the one thing I can always call home about, the bond that always underlies every family conversation.

Though we’ll be in the new arena, in the coming years when I listen to games on the (online) radio, I’ll still envision Freedom Hall. I’ll imagine the caramel-corn smell, and that row of red banners on either side of the arena.

And, like I do after every win, you can be sure that “The Horse,” will be making a loud-showing in my apartment.

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