For me, the Billy Minardi Classic ranks right up with there with decorating the tree, putting up lights and watching "A Claymation Christmas Celebration."
It's only fitting that the 11th installment of the event - which started as a four-team tournament to honor the memory of Joanne Pitino's brother, who died in the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001 - will serve as the first meeting between Rick Pitino and his son Richard. The elder Pitino stated that the vast majority of his family will be in town for the game, that they'll all go to a party together afterward, and that most will remain in town for Christmas.
This is the type of spirit that "The Bill" (a nickname my friends and I have used since high school) fosters. A lot of people hate the "cupcake" games in the days leading up to Christmas, but I've always enjoyed them. It's generally a relatively relaxed environment that allows you to fully enjoy the experience of watching a Louisville basketball game with others. These games also tend to produce a lot of the little, funny moments that we end of referencing consistently over the succeeding months.
While the BMC hasn't always been a cause for celebration (the Cards lost to UMass in 2006), there's no question that it's become somewhat of a de facto Derby City holiday.
Anyway, here are a few of my favorite "The Bill" memories from over the years:
--I used to beg every year for someone to make a "(Insert Year) Billy Minardi Classic Champions" shirt with a cheezy phrase that referenced U of L's BMC superiority on it. It's never come to fruition, but I was once sent a picture of Preston Knowles wearing a Billy Minardi Classic shirt (I can't find it). Now we know the capability exists.
--One of my closest friends ("Dan" or just Dan) once had a streak of bringing five different dates to The Bill. He's now about to experience his first BMC as a married man. I imagine it will be depressing.
--In 2008, Louisville dunked approximately 9,000 times on Donnie Arrow's South Alabama team. After the game, Arrow had this to say:
"The first thing I'd like to say is that, for you people that are from here, you may be looking at the national champions. Coach Pitino has assembled a group of guys that can go at least 10 or 11 deep and not miss a beat.
"I was reading his book last week and he said you've got to be positive, and with a team like that, it's easy to be positive. He's got a heck of a group and they come at you. You can prepare for it, but you can't prepare the heat you're going to get for 40 minutes. Those guys have bought into it and they're going to keep coming at you for 40 minutes. I thought our guys did a decent job, but they want you to crack and in most cases, that's what happens. Things will go good and all of sudden, they'll cause four turnovers and force the other team to take a bad shot - which is like a turnover - and boom, they're up 22 points. That's what happened to us."
It's also worth noting that Arrow unexpectedly announced his retirement this afternoon.
--The only time Louisville has faced a ranked foe in The Bill came in 2010 when the then-unranked Cards upset No. 20 and previously unbeaten UNLV. Preston Knowles went ballistic in the second half as Teddy Bridgewater watched from the student section during his official visit.
The game also produced perhaps my favorite Villen video of all-time, as the man references PK with his CC trademark (!) and captures Teddy on camera at U of L for the first time.
Bridgewater committed to Louisville nine days later.
The Bill is magical.