The annual Louisville vs. Rutgers game completely changed in 2006. Louisville entered the game undefeated and with a win in Piscataway, probably would have made the National Championship game that year. Instead, Rutgers overcame 25-7 deficit and wound up winning 28-25. It was the biggest win in their program’s history and the fan’s stormed the field while I sunk into deep depression on my couch.
After the miserable collapse, I had a glimmer of hope of overtime when Jeremy Ito missed a 33-yard field goal with 18 seconds left, only to realize that William Gay (now playing for the Steelers) was off sides. Ito was able to re-kick and nailed the second attempt.
This game forever changed my anticipation level that came with playing Rutgers. This game took it from just another Big East game to a game that had to be won each and every season to never allow that feeling from 2006 to return.
Following that game, I never thought I would own a Ray Rice jersey either. He absolutely tortured Louisville in each of the meetings he played in. He was the biggest key to their 2006 comeback rushing for 131 yards and two touchdowns. It drove me insane how good he was. I dreaded playing against him and since he was playing for a rival of Louisville and had caused me serious mental anguish, I didn’t like him. Low and behold, though, in April of 2008, the Ravens snatched him up in the second round, I own a Ray Rice jersey now, and he is one of the most loveable members of this Baltimore team. He plays with such fire and passion it’s hard not to love him. Needless to say, I’m happy I am able to root for him now, even if once every 365 days he still roots for Rutgers when I pull for the Cardinals.
Louisville football hasn’t had much to get excited for since the 2006 season. We got Kragthorped, but the future is bright and hopefully sooner than later we can again aspire to be more than the Beef O’Brady bowl invite from the Big East. This season has been quite a rollercoaster for the Cards with so many freshmen starting on both sides of the ball. The defense has looked strong, but the offense can’t seem to get it together consistently. I guess that’s what happens when your offensive coordinator and the team “mutually part ways” in the middle of the season.
All of the seasons struggles aside, Louisville was finally able to hold a lead on Friday night and defeat Rutgers. Winning at home for some reason or another hasn’t happened much in the Charlie Strong era, so it’s always nice to give the home fans something to smile about.
The win was great. It satisfied my urges to beat the crap out of Rutgers and see Greg Schiano suffer for another year, but there are some things that make you step back and realize that no matter how much you care and how emotionally invested you let yourself become in any team, it is just a game.
On the first play of the second quarter, Louisville senior cornerback, Anthony Conner dove to tackle Rutgers wide receiver Mohamed Sanu (who is an absolute stud and will be a great pro). While Sanu popped up, Conner didn’t. The scariest sight in football is when a player lies motionless on the turf after a big collision. After the medical staff rushed to his side, we saw some movement in his hands and legs, which was a fantastic sign. Conner was carted off and no real updates were given the rest of the game other than that he was conscious and was not believed to be paralyzed.
Towards the end of the game, word began to circulate on Twitter, and coach Strong noted in his press conference that he was informed with about a minute to go in the contest that Conner had broken his neck. It was a crushing blow to the Louisville football family. It’s hard to celebrate any victory, especially one as important as this was to the team and the fans, when a tragic event such as what happened to Conner occurs.
You have to feel horrible for the kid. After playing two years of community college, Conner was used sparingly in 2009, and then missed all of last season after tearing his ACL in spring practice. After battling back from that injury, he really stepped up in his senior year and had been playing fairly well at a position the Cards desperately needed help. It’s probably the youngest and least experienced position on the team, and Conner had been doing well.
With his playing career now, in all likelihood, over, Louisville has to play for this young man the rest of the season. The team owes it to Conner to fight and scrap and win for him. He would want that, and he deserves it.
I must also give credit where credit is due to coach Schiano and his Rutgers team for their ultra classy display while Conner was down on the field. Rutgers knows first hand how tragic injuries such as this can be, with Eric LeGrand. Last season, LeGrand suffered a severe spinal injury and doctors determined he was paralyzed from the neck down. Today, LeGrand has regained sensations throughout his body and has even been able to move his arms and stand upright. Hopefully Conner follows LeGrand’s example and fights like hell to get himself healthy again to live a fulfilling life.
Injuries are never good, but when they threaten how the rest of your life will play out, it really does remind you that it’s just a game. Rest easy AC. Cardinal Nation is behind you and wishes you a speedy recovery.<!--EndFragment-->