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The Night The Dream Died

It's been one day. We've drunk, we've talked, and we've listened to every sad song on our Itunes. We're still not fully ready to talk about what happened Thursday night, but here goes.

First of all there's no way we're going to be able to get through this without saying it, so we're just going to go ahead and get it out of the way: it sucks. There's no way around it. It's awful and it sucks.

You guys had us. You had all of us. We bought in. Damnit I bought in, and I'm not purchased that easily.

Four wins. Four wins over seemingly inferior opponents. That's it. Do you know how many programs would kill for that opportunity? Actually, do you know how many programs (looking down) likely have killed for that opportunity? The top college football programs in these United States of America spend millions of dollars each year with the dream of a situation like this in mind. Even the biggest and best sometimes have to wait decades to see their team have a shot at a title in November.

You've left all of us, even the ones who will never admit it, with the same thought: "Is this as close as we're ever going to get?"

This was the season we all dreamt of when we were watching Brian Brohm and Michael Bush dominate the world of Kentucky high school football five years ago. A Louisville football team led by home grown talent challenging for the national championship was sure to bring in all sorts of new fans who usually reserved their car flags for the month of March.

And that's another thing that's so unfortunate about this. A city already suspicious of football is sure to deem a well-publicized loss to Rutgers unconscionable. Never mind that the crowd in Piscataway was amazing, that the opposition had an extra week to prepare, or the other tiny fact that Rutgers is a pretty damn good football team, it doesn't matter. A large contingency of Louisvillians saw his game, chuckled, said "typical," and spent the night dreaming of Rick Pitino.

I suppose this is the time when the "if we'd only had Michael Bush" talk starts; it shouldn't. We didn't need him Thursday night, the game was won, all we had to do was finish.

"Finish." Wasn't that supposed to be the deal this year? Miami, West Virginia, Rutgers; three years, three road collapses. In addition to a defense as unwilling to tackle anyone as its offense is to move the ball, there has been another consistency in these three games. The vacant stare of Bobby Petrino.

Watch Petrino in big games at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. See him run up and down the sidelines, get in the ear of a deserving player or official, even yell at the guys in the replay booth when their decision disappoints him.

And then watch him freeze up in the same situations on the road.

I love Bobby Petrino and hope that he stays here for as long as possible, but I also hope that he comes to the realization that when you adopt the deer in the headlights look for an entire half, it speaks volumes to your players. This is not behavior becoming of a head coach looking to make a name for himself as one of the best in the game. If you think your players feed off of your energy and enthusiasm when things are going well, then what do you think they do when you stand there and look terrified as the opposition makes a charge? When you adopt a team motto like "finish," you'd better make sure you understand that it applies to yourself and the rest of your staff just as much as it does to your players.

Of course Petrino isn't the only coach whose performance warranted criticism Thursday night. What about Mike Cassidy's defensive scheme which completely flopped for the second straight week? What about Mike Summers, who failed to make any adjustments as his offensive line was humiliated for 60 minutes? Or what about Jeff Brohm? His berating of his younger brother for three quarters was unnecessary and at times (after the interception) completely unwarranted.

Of course it's not like the younger Brohm gave a praise-worthy performance. The 2003 high school player of the year proved to the world that he may not be quite as poised as everyone says he is. Brohm got hit a few times, then started to step up as he felt the pressure, then simply started looking for the pressure. When they elude the initial rush, the best quarterbacks in the game will immediately turn their heads downfield to look for a receiver who has broken off his route and found an open area. When Brohm eludes the initial rush, he immediately puts his head down and looks to pick up two yards. Brian started 3-for-3, and finished 10-of-24, he was pressured early and often, but even when he wasn't he couldn't hit the open man. Brohm is a level headed, ultra-competitive kid who will take this experience and learn from it, but if he really wants to guide this program to a national championship then he's going to have to stick around another year.

Indeed the dream of a national championship is now officially off the table, and sadly even an appearance in a BCS bowl seems highly unlikely at this point. With the Big East bowl tie-ins being the way they are (shitty), even an 11-1 Louisville team could very realistically end up playing in the Texas Bowl.

So who do we cheer for now? Well, Louisville. If there is any silver lining in all of this, it's that the bandwagon fans have been weeded out.

An appearance in a BCS bowl would be a landmark accomplishment for this program, and though things may not be looking all that great right now, there is still a possibility and that possibility is contingent on Louisville winning its remaining three games. It's an awful feeling right now, but this team, in particular the seniors, deserve our full support next weekend when they take the field against South Florida in a revenge game. This season can still be salvaged, but not without three victories and steady support from us fans.

Rico Clark was right on when he said in his diary: "I'll eat crow, I'll be down for a few days and I'll dump my metaphorical red kool-aid down the metaphorical sink. But I'll never regret believing. Because believing, even if only for a week, is the greatest feeling a sports fan can have."

For the last few weeks I've been telling anyone willing to listen that they should relish the feeling of knowing your team is in the national title hunt because you never know when it's going to be gone or when it will return. Even though I tried to heed my own advice as much as possible, it's only been a day and I already miss the feeling more than I could have ever imagined.

I suppose this is the risk you take when your program becomes a contender for the sports biggest prize. The feeling of massive disappointment should serve as a reminder that our team was right there, right on the precipice of doing something great, right on the verge of accomplishing something so few teams ever do. I should know all this, but right now all it does is hurt.

Peace, love, Cards.