For those of us fortunate enough to walk this earth for a decade or two, perhaps even 12, we share something in common: a bond between hundreds, thousands, millions, and even billions of individuals. Everyone throughout the world has a moment, a day, or an event that they can point to and proudly proclaim "I was there" ... "I saw it" ... "I remember exactly where I was."
Generation defining events are often known the second they occur, but each of us can lay claim to a happening that is more personal, less worldly in scope, but equally as cherished, revered, or life changing. For the blessed and special group of people that have chosen to support the University of Louisville, make a career out of Cardinal Pride, or simply enroll in this great University as a student or scholarship athlete, we all now have an experience that we can share in together. Each and every member of the Cardinal Nation can smile and proclaim that "I was there from the beginning, the era of established, the age of elite, the Cardinal conquest of the ACC."
As a 26 year old newly minted attorney and lifelong Cardinal diehard, I certainly assert ownership over a fair share of "Cardinal Moments." I scantily recall The Pipe obliterating Texas in Old Cardinal Stadium, and then later jogging off that indescribable field for the last time. I have vivid recollections of Kentucky torching us worse than the sun in 1997 in the first ever game at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. It could've been yesterday when DeJuan Wheat poured his heart and smile into Denny Crum's final tournament run, believing childishly that if I kept moving closer to the television, the Cardinals would somehow complete the comeback. At the same time, it seems like a hundred years ago I sat in Freedom Hall with my mom as Coach Crum took his final bow after a brutal loss in the Conference USA tournament, and months later, our arch nemesis Rick Pitino was introduced as the next legendary stroller of our sidelines.
The memories and Cardinal Moments have continued to pour in over the last 10 years. Gus Johnson's "somehow!, someway!" proclaiming Louisville's first final four since 1986. The awesome transition into the Big East followed by referee mistreatment preventing a BCS appearance, and an NIT selection on the heels of our 2005 final four. Bobby Petrino dominating in football over the course of four seasons, refusing to sit in muggy Miami as the Cardinals captured their first BCS victory, and then staring slack jawed watching him be introduced as the leading man for the Falcons.
Of course there was Rick Pitino and Terrence Williams leading us to the top of the Big East, back to back elite eight appearances, and a brighter horizon than we had hoped for since the 80's. Kyle Kuric single handedly closing Freedom Hall in an explosion of threes, dunks, and exhilaration. Sitting with my dad as Mike Marra made the initial basket at the KFC Yum! Center against national runner up Butler, igniting an extra special and heart breaking "bridge year."
Lastly, but most important and certainly most memorable, has been the 2012 to present day run of Louisville First, Cardinals Forever, coupled with the most successful era of UofL Athletics. It wasn't only the wins that have defined this recent run, but the characters filling out the roles and rosters have been equally as cherished. The Sugar Bowl was the ultimate sporting event of my life, until April of that year, and Teddy may never be surpassed on the gridiron, but an unbelievable group of guys named Gorgui, Peyton, Russ, Luke, Wayne, Chane, Kevin, Montrezl, Tim, and SVT delivered a championship to this city, and Atlanta will forever be the pinnacle of memories for me. I will never rid my closet, walls, or pantry of all the memorabilia, and one day my children and grandchildren will sit on my lap as we re-watch Luke's assault and Harrell's alley oop for the 1,013th time.
As the 2014 seasons draw to a close, the official entrance into the Atlantic Coast Conference looms over the heads of Cardinal Nation like Christmas morning. Adidas certainly believes in the Louisville brand and our fan base has never been stronger or more prideful. The Cardinals possess a top five coach nationally in their four premier sports, and one of them has returned home to finish what he started. Success is a choice, greatness is achieved not given, leadership is invaluable, and complacency can demolish hard work and perseverance in a blink of an eye. Louisville is primed to accomplish wonders, the era of the ACC is upon us, the Cardinal Conquest begins September 1st at 8 pm, and ladies and gentlemen, we were all here for the beginning.
All Hail UofL!!