The Cincinnati Bearcat came to the Big East in 2005 after a decade-long stretch in CUSA. That's Conference USA to you. League officials caught him sneaking the Keg of Nails out the back door of Nippert Stadium. Young punk. Mr. Rock and Roll. Cocky as hell.
The first years are the toughest, no doubt about it. They march you in naked as the day you were born in the Missouri Valley, skin burning and half blind from that sanction shit the NCAA throws on you, and when they put you in that league... and that schedule is set... that's when you know it's for real. A whole athletic program blown away in the blink of an eye. Nothing left but all the time in the world to think about it.
I wish I could tell you that Bearcat fought the good fight, and the rest of the teams let him be. I wish I could tell you that - but the Big East is no fairy-tale world. He never said who did it, but we all knew. Things went on like that for awhile - Big East life consists of routine, and then more routine. Every so often, Bearcat would show up with fresh losses. The rest of the league kept at him - sometimes he was able to fight 'em off, sometimes not. And that's how it went for Bearcat - that was his routine. I do believe those first three years were the worst for him, and I also believe that if things had gone on that way, this league would have got the best of him.
In 2008-09, Cincinnati Bearcat escaped from Big East prison. All they found of him was a muddy set of black feet, red double zero UC jersey, and a mascot head damn near wore down to the whiskers. I remember thinking it would take a team six hundred years to tunnel out of that hole into the BCS. Old Bearcat did it in less than five.
With just seven hours left until the most important Louisville/Cincinnati game perhaps ever, I find I'm so excited I can barely sit still or hold a thought in my head. I think it's the excitement only a Sugar Bowl champion can feel, a Sugar Bowl champion in the middle of a long journey whose conclusion is uncertain.
I hope I can make it through the next seven hours. I hope to see my rival and kick his ass. I hope the Keg of Nails tastes as delicious as it has in my dreams.