What Freedom Hall means to me

I was destined to be a Louisville fan, a destiny that I've embraced since I was able to recognize a Louisville uniform. My first memory (literally) has to do with Louisville basketball - sitting at the foot of my parent's bed, watching a game, I asked my dad, "Why does Louisville always win when they wear white and lose when they wear red?" I was three, and didn't understand the difference between a road and a home game. But I know that was a road game, because my dad was watching it on TV.

My family's had the same season tickets in Freedom Hall since 1956, when the building opened. My great-grandfather, whom I never met, bought two tickets in Section 334, right on the aisle. My dad tells me he can remember going to a few games with his him to see Wes Unseld dominate for the Cards. Eventually, my family bought two more seats right behind the first two. All four tickets passed to my grandfather, and eventually to my dad.

I started going to games very young; the first one I can remember today was one where my favorite player - Felton Spencer - was out with a knee(?) injury. I don't have many game specific-memories between in the next decade; like most of you, my memories are thematic: the Cardinal bird jumping out of the ceiling; the smell of the caramel popcorn; the (very) old man who sat in front of us and whispered "blow it baby, blow it" whenever the other team would shoot free throws (I think he bought his tickets at the same time as my great-grandfather, and I'm almost certain he's since passed away).

A few games stand out from that period: the infamous triple overtime game against Marquette for one, and beating Memphis when they were in the top 5 in 96(?). The second one I didn't even attend - my parents went, and left me in charge of my younger brother, telling us we could only watch the first half since it was 9p tip on a school night. As you might imagine, that didn't happen, and I got grounded for a week (totally worth it). 

After the turn of the decade, games start to stand out in more vivid detail. I know I witnessed the miracle against Tennessee in '01, though I've watched the Youtube clip so many times that the memory gets confused with it. I remember winning the CUSA tourney in Freedom Hall with Reece and Luke, and I remember how weird it felt to not be in our usual seats. I remember the Ellis-ACL game all too vividly. 

Things changed when I went away to college. It was weird watching Freedom Hall on TV, from the "right" side of the court. I'd always try catch glimpses of my dad in his seats. Some of the best (and worst) memories I have in the Hall are from the precious games I'd squeeze in over breaks: the first UK game I ever went to, where Patrick "Happy Feet" Sparks drew a bogus foul to win the game; the Marquette game in '06 that went to OT and finished with the first (but not last) T-Will windmill dunk in a Louisville uni (to my eternal  happiness, the C-J snapped a picture of T-Will in mid-air, ball behind his head, and me clearly visible in the background); the Villanova game that same year when we came oh-so-close to upsetting them in the top 5.

The past three seasons have been different. I've been to almost every home game since I moved home full time in December 08, and I've loved every one. Games from this era, like the white-out victories against Pitt and Georgetown, Sosa's three against UK, and the overtime clashes with Notre Dame, are incredibly fresh in my mind. I'm unbelievably lucky to have experienced so many incredible games in that building.

As we all know, Saturday will likely be the last time any of us files into the Hall wearing red to cheer on the Cards (side note: how awesome would it be to have retro night once a year? Change the center-court logo to the old-school dunking cardinal, paint the half circle at the top of the key white again, and break out those throwbacks! Yeah, it'd be confusing for some, but it'd also be crazy fun). I hope we go out with a win. I hope the new place will have new banners in it someday soon. But more than anything, I hope I never forget how much fun it is to watch basketball in Freedom Hall. 

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