Rarely in college athletics has a rivalry evolved as rapidly as the one between Louisville and West Virginia has over the past three and-a-half years.
The two teams have played so many highly competitive, high profile games in such a short period of time that the intensity of the rivalry will likely be relatively unaffected by the fact that the Mountaineers roll into this year's game in Morgantown at 7-1 with an outside shot at the national title game, while Louisville limps in at 5-4 with an outside shot at a bowl game.
This evening's game will lack the hype and national title ramifications of last November's showdown in Louisville, but the intensity on the field and in the stands should be every bit as electric. The Mountaineers haven't forgotten what happened 12 months ago, and the Cards haven't forgotten what happened the last time they came to Morgantown. If West Virginia loses, its shot at a conference title takes a significant hit. If U of L loses, its shot at any postseason takes an equally lethal blow.
But above all the postseason ramifications and revenge factors, these teams simply don't seem to like each other. Maybe it's because of what has transpired on the field, or maybe it's because they were thrust upon one another in the wake of the conference shakeup, but whatever the cause, there is some serious aversion here.
West Virginia could very easily win tonight's contest going away and I think the rivalry has garnered enough resistance - despite its still burgeoning status - that it will remain heated for at least another year.
So exactly how have we gotten to this point? Well I'm glad you asked. Let's take a look at the top five moments in Louisville/West Virginia rivalry history.
5. 3/9/07: Louisville 82, West Virginia 71 (2OT)
After inexplicably not being paired against one another in the regular season, the Cards and 'Eers met in the quarterfinals of the Big East Tournament, presumably with West Virginia's NCAA Tournament fate on the line. Like so many others in this rivalry, the game was chock-full of controversy.
WVU used an 18-0 run in the second half to erase a 17-point deficit, and Darris Nichols' runner with 4.3 seconds left to make the score 58-56 looked for a moment like it might be the decisive basket. But then freshman point guard Edgar Sosa got the ball in his hands and went the length of the court to beat the buzzer with an overtime-inducing lay-up. Some Mountaineer fans said Sosa walked, others said that the clock didn't start when he touched the ball, but the play stood and the Cards ultimately prevailed two overtimes later.
Louisville would go onto earn a six seed in the NCAA Tournament while West Virginia was relegated to the NIT.
4. 10/9/93: West Virginia 36, Louisville 34
For any rivalry to be truly heated, there has to be at least a little bit of ancient history. This game, a 9-7 U of L win a year earlier, and a quartet of Mountaineer blowouts in the '80s is about as ancient as this feud gets.
The Jeff Brohm-led Cardinals brought a perfect 5-0 record into Morgantown to take on an equally unblemished Mountaineer squad. Tailback Robert Walker rushed for 161 yards and three scores as WVU used two late Cardinal turnovers to turn a 21-10 deficit into a 36-34 victory. U of L would go on to beat Michigan State in the Liberty Bowl, while West Virginia ran the table in the regular season before being blown out by Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
In a box somewhere there's a tape of a very young - but very serious and professional - me giving my depressed thoughts on the game as part of a low-budget/high-content news show I used to run. If I remember correctly, that commentary segued into a groundbreaking exposé that revealed what our Bulldog Spike was doing to make me mad.
The ratings were never great, but it was a tremendous achievement for (my living room's) television. The Wire of the early '90s you might say.
3. 10/15/05: West Virginia 46, Louisville 44 (3OT)
With Louisville having already suffered a stunning blowout loss at the hands of South Florida, and West Virginia coming into the game unranked, the first gridiron meeting between these two as members of the Big East didn't have nearly the hype of the other games on this list, which is a shame since it very well may have been the most exciting.
Brian Brohm and Michael Bush helped Louisville to a 24-7 third quarter lead, causing some of the blue and gold faithful to head for the exits, a move they would eventually lament. Freshman quarterback Pat White took over for the injured Adam Bednarik in the fourth quarter, and he and fellow freshman running back Steve Slaton proved to be a duo the Cardinal defense had no answer for.
Slaton would finish the game with 188 yards rushing and a school-record six touchdowns, the last of which helped to put the Mountaineers up eight in the third overtime. After a Bush touchdown, safety Eric Wicks tackled a scrambling Brohm on the two-point conversion try to secure the victory.
Controversy, yet again, marred the aftermath of the game as Louisville backers claimed West Virginia had utilized an illegal onside kick following a touchdown in the fourth quarter. The Big East acknowledged that an error had been made and issued a formal apology two days later.
The Mountaineers would not lose the rest of the season, and capped the year off with an upset win over SEC champion Georgia in the Sugar Bowl. The Cardinals would win their five remaining regular season games, but fall to Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl.
2. 3/6/05: Louisville 93, West Virginia 85 (OT)
The rivalry became official seven months later, but if these two programs continue to do high-stakes battle for years to come then people will forever point to the 2005 Albuquerque Regional Final as the feud's jumping point.
Led by Kevin Pittsnoggle (God that sign) and Mike Gansey, the Mountaineers put on insane exhibition from beyond the arc and jumped out to a 20-point first-half lead. The Cardinals used a furious second-half rally to get back in the game, but leading scorer Francisco Garcia fouled out with four minutes remaining, and second leading scorer Taquan Dean was forced to leave the game multiple times with cramps. The game was put on the shoulders of home-grown senior Larry O'Bannon, who scored two of his 24 points on a driving lay-up to tie the game and ultimately send it to overtime.
Dean, O'Bannon and senior captain Ellis Myles completed the stunning comeback by outscoring the exhausted Mountaineers 16-8 in the extra frame. Rick Pitino became the first coach in history to guide three different schools to the Final Four as the Cards advanced to the national semifinals for the first time since 1986.
1. 11/2/06: Louisville 44, West Virginia 34
Designated as the Big East's "End Game" since early that summer, West Virginia and Louisville entered this Thursday night clash with equal records, top five rankings, and national title aspirations. With No. 1 Ohio State and No. 2 Michigan set to play each other in three weeks, the popular opinion became that whoever prevailed inside Papa John's Cardinal Stadium would be four wins away from a birth in the national championship game.
The build-up during game week was like none other the Derby City had ever seen. Fans dressed in black and arrived at the stadium to tailgate/mentally prepare in the wee hours of the afternoon. They would not be disappointed.
In the game he'd been playing in his mind since he was a child, Brian Brohm was sensational, connecting on 19-of-26 passes for 354 yards and a touchdown. The Cardinals also used a Malik Jackson fumble return for a touchdown and a Trent Guy punt return for a score to capture arguably the biggest victory in program history.
Louisville's national title hopes were crushed one week later when they lost a 28-25 contest at Rutgers. Still, the memory of a sea of black swarming midfield with fireworks exploding in the background will live forever in the hearts of Cardinal fans and the minds of Mountaineer fans.
Here's to another chapter tonight...and hopefully not like a really depressing, completely one-sided chapter.