Well, the page has been turned. Charlie Strong, who many of us believed would be the man we’d celebrate Louisville’s first national championship with, has left us.
It took the better part of a weekend, but after some healthy catharsis -- I drank too much beer, obsessively checked CC for updates, listened to ‘Black’ by Pearl Jam on endless repeat, and gave my cat several dirty looks (I think she’s a UK fan, but that’s a story for another time) -- it’s time to put aside the hurt and bitterness and look forward to the future.
Ever since a glorious July morning two-and-a-half years ago, I have thought of Louisville’s football program probably as many of you have thought of it: as a ridiculously overextended metaphor involving one of the best television shows ever to grace Saturday morning television. I speak, of course, of Mike Rutherford’s epic magnum opus, When Life Imitates Art: Louisville Football and Saved by the Bell. [If you haven’t read it, read it. Immediately. It’s witty, insightful, poignant, fitting, and it’s uncanny how on the money Rutherford is in some of his prognostications].
Over this weekend, going through the stages of grief, as disbelief gave way to anger gave way alcohol gave way to… well I forget the order, but anyway once I was at acceptance, it dawned on me. I realized that ever since that July 2011 morning, I’ve always thought of Charlie Strong as the man who would walk every Cardinals’ fan dream bride, our Kelly Kapowski, our national championship, down the aisle for us. Our national championship, a dream since forever, proudly given away by the Father of the Bride, Papa Strong.
That’s at least part of the reason this hurts so bad -- I had our whole future together planned out, we Cardinals and our Charlie. We were gonna have a national championship / wedding together, but now what!? Now what, Charlie!? Well we’re still gonna have one, damn it, and you won’t be invited!
Sorry, still some anger to work through. Let’s get back on track, shall we?
I think my problem with Charlie leaving stems in large part from that metaphor I’ve lived with for so long.
And I think the problem with that metaphor is that Saved By The Bell didn't end, at least for me, with the SBTB: Wedding In Las Vegas movie. Saved By The Bell was over when they graduated. That was the last time the gang -- the whole gang -- was real to me. All of the subsequent reincarnations -- SBTB: The College Years, Wedding In Las Vegas, SBTB: The New Class -- were NOT Saved By The Bell. They were a photocopy of a picture of a facsimile; they were Attack of the Clones to a jaded twenty-something, in no way, shape or form a substitute for Empire Strikes Back in the imagination of an enthralled child.
Looking back, I wonder how I ever thought the SBTB metaphor would work. The whole thing was ludicrous from the get-go.
Think how absurd that wedding in Las Vegas actually was.
Let’s put aside all of the farcical plot lines in SBTB: Wedding In Las Vegas. Put aside for a moment the inanity of the fact that Zach’s father (well, one of his fathers -- not the one who dated Miss Bliss) is so disapproving of his marriage to the girl he’s been chasing since FOREVER that he refuses to pay for the wedding or even attend it (spoiler al… actually no, no spoiler alert for a movie that has been out almost 20 years -- he ends up attending the wedding). Hey Pops, maybe give your son a heads up that you dislike her before things get serious? Too busy doing business deals on your cell phone to notice that your son has been chasing the same girl since before that camping trip?
Put aside all the cheese. The stereotypical rural sheriff that waylays the fellas on the way to the chapel. The Three Stooges-esque bad guy gangsters. The roles that were presumably written into the script to give paychecks to the producer’s friends (Yes, you Diana. And you Carla. And you, forgettable male model who enchants Lisa.)
Put aside the fact that Jessie Spano is barely a cameo.
Put aside all of that; and all of the implausibility; and all of the schlock.
One fact alone, I now realize, should have alerted me from the start that this metaphor, this fantasy, was insane.
Who gives this bride away?
In SBTB: Wedding In Las Vegas, at the wedding, the big finale, Frank Kapowski shows up to walk Kelly down the aisle. You remember Frank Kawpowski, right? From all of his previous work in the series?
Pictured: the many appearances of Frank Kapowski in Saved By The Bell.
Oh, of course you don’t. That’s right. Frank Kapowski appeared in exactly one episode of Saved By The Bell prior to giving his daughter away. That one appearance? Informing his daughter that he’d lost his job and couldn’t afford to let her go to the prom. Total screen time: less than two minutes. What a memorable character! What a fitting ending!
Pictured: Actual Frank Kapowski, who is hopefully properly ashamed of his inexplicably prominent role.
Saved By The Bell is such an icon that we tend to forgive its flaws. It lingered on for years after it’s prime. But the fact is, that series was done the moment those kids walked across the graduation stage. Everything that followed was a shell of what that show once was.
To come back around to the Cardinals, I see now how wrongheaded I was to think that the Cardinals would meet their national championship bride in the same way Zach married Kelly. To borrow a phrase, the wedding between Zach and Kelly is not canon.
That wedding did not happen in the universe that is Saved By The Bell. It happened in a universe that shared many of the same characters, some of the same emotions, but was fundamentally and essentially not the same as the universe I have loved ever since A.C. Slater transferred to Bayside.
Which is not to say that Louisville football and national championship wedding will never happen.
Quite the opposite. A Louisville football national championship will, emphatically WILL, happen. The only variable is time; so sayeth The Pipe. Louisville football and a national championship are SOULMATES. It is meant to be, and it will be!
The only difference, now, is the show that contextualizes that moment for me.
I think we (well, at least I) need another show to serve as metaphor for what will eventually be. We (I) need a show to take the place of Saved By The Bell in this metaphor.
We need to change the channel.
Oh sure, we could try to play it safe and imitate what’s been done before. We could stay on the same channel and pick up on California Dreams. Ha! No thanks, NBC. No one liked that one.
My name is former California Dream Actor, and I'll be helping you today. Can I tell you about the specials?
Or we could flip the script and go all cable, like a small-time conference.
MTV’s My So-Called Life is, in the midst of this glumness, somewhat appealing. But no. No thank you. There is still hope in my heart.
A small conference, er, network, like Nickelodeon presents a bevy of choices. The Adventures of Pete and Pete. Clarissa Explains It All. The Secret World Of Alex Mack. All good shows. All unfulfilling, from a metaphor perspective.
No, I think another show serves our purpose better.
The show I think we need is a show that began right as SBTB ended [ SBTB ran 1989-1993; this show ran 1994-2000]. It’s a show that was on network TV -- in the big leagues, baby. It’s a show that gave a us a hero, albeit a hero unlike Zach Morris. No swaggering Adonis he, to whom everything is handed. He is rather a hero who is slightly neurotic, and unsure of himself at times. But he is certain of his love, who knows what he wants, and who makes it there with the help of his family, his mentor and his best friend.
That show is Boy Meets World, my fellow friends and fanatics.
Like Zach and Kelly, and like Louisville football and a national championship, Cory and Topanga are destined be together. They are soulmates.
But as in any relationship, love takes effort. Cory and Topanga must carefully navigate their families, their friends, their mentors, and their enemies, and must occasionally confront one another.
And when they are finally married, it is the appearance of the best friend, Shawn, that signals that all is right in the world, and it is only then that their marriage occurs. Only when they have a best friend to be there, to give his blessing, can it happen.
Crappy recording warning.
Louisville’s destiny with a national championship is much more like the story and marriage of Cory and Topanga than it is the whimsical SBTB: Wedding In Las Vegas. It’s full of hurt feelings, fighting, sadness, happiness, and, I am certain, triumph. We will meet our national championship at the altar one day. Our best friends, our families, and our mentors will be there. And our best friend will give us his blessing.
The way Topanga felt about Cory is the way I sometimes feel about a national championship happening for Louisville football:
I wasn’t sure this day would ever come.
But you were.
I wasn’t sure that love could survive everything that we’ve put it through.
But you were.
You were always strong and always sure. And now I know that I want you to stand beside me for the rest of my life. That’s what I’m sure of.
Maybe like some of you, I was stuck on SBTB. Now let’s change the channel. We shouldn’t be wistful and nostalgic and think of what may have been. Let’s think instead of what can be. What will be.
The only thing I don’t know is what channel we should turn to. But I do know who knows best. Our own wise mentor. The man who has been there through just about every phase of our development. Our own Mr. Feeny.
Mr. Jurich to you or I.
Given everything that man has done for Louisville Cardinals sports since he got here, the very least we owe him is trust in his next decision.
Believe in yourselves. Dream. Try. Do good.
L1C4! Go Cards forever!