'Win-win situation" is a term that can never apply to a rivalry like Louisville/Kentucky. Sure, there are times when one side has more to play for than the other, but neither is ever going to shrug off a loss.
That said, the set of emotions that Louisville fans are carrying into this year's Battle for the Governor's Cup is undoubtedly a foreign one. For the first time since the series was renewed in 1994, football-related excitement is sky-high in the Derby City, even though expectations for the home team are not.
Though Kentucky fans can often be heard telling one another how much their Wildcats "don't need" the Louisville game, it's been the Cardinals who have had a lot to lose and little to gain from the state championship for the better part of the last 15 years.
Louisville was favored to win each battle with their arch-rival between 1999-2008, and when an upset was sprung ('02, '07) the preseason hype and the national rankings went out the proverbial window, and it was a massive punch to the gut that the team was left trying to recover from for the next several weeks.
The Cards were favored by 3.5 in 2008, but no one had any idea what to expect from either team (although most expected each to be mediocre), so the 27-2 "upset" that ensued didn't exactly shock the Commonwealth. And then a year ago Kentucky was a clear favorite and survived some inexcusable turnovers to win its third straight in the series. While pulling the upset would have been sweet, U of L fans also knew in the back of their minds that it would have greatly increased the odds of having to deal with one, Steven Kragthorpe for another season. Not that there was a Cardinal fan rooting for the enemy last Sept., but let's be honest, we all would have tasted something, however minute, bittersweet had Louisville walked out of Commonwealth with the Governor's Cup last fall.
Conflicting emotions will not be an issue this Saturday.
The combination of Charlie Strong's work over the past nine months and a still persistently vicious Krag1N1 hangover has the Cardinal fan base again in a football frenzy. But the excitement is starkly different than the wave that swept over the city during the last decade.
Strong has inherited a group that only Lee Corso could envy. No one is expecting him to win big right away. The excitement, rather, is the product of both the promise of future victories and the immediate privilege to watch a team that appears competent and enthusiastic.
If the Cards come up short this weekend, for once, it's not the end of the world. If Strong beats Kentucky, he's God...or at least Zack Morris.
To snap the Wildcats' three-year winning streak, in the debut of the expanded Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, in the first game after arguably the most frustrating (not unsuccessful) era of Louisville football, against a UK team that clearly appears superior on paper, well, it would be big. I don't think it's a stretch to say that a victory on the 4th would provide a jolt to the program equivalent to that of two or three big Big East wins.
My advice to you is to enjoy everything about Saturday, because it will be a long time before it's ever like this again. A loss to Kentucky in 2011 won't be doused with promises of years to come and warnings about what's waiting for the rivals in 12 months, and the effort-level displayed by the guys wearing red and white won't be as refreshing.
Get to the stadium or your viewing fortress of choice as early as you can on Saturday. Surround yourself with as many of your favorite Cardinal fans as possible. Soak up every second of this fresh start.
And if the Fighting Cardinals emerge victorious, then please, for the love of the effort it took to trudge through everything that took place over the past three years, remove an article of clothing.
Go Louisville, beat Kentucky.