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Carmody's Corner: The 2004 Liberty Bowl

The following was written by former Louisville kicker and 2006 Lou Groza Award winner Art Carmody

-First off, congrats to Charlie Strong for being named Big East Co-Coach of the Year.  It was a well deserved distinction for the man who has raised expectations at U of L back to where they belong.  Also congrats to all the players who were named to the All-Big East teams.

The 2004 Liberty Bowl capped off an incredible season and gave us the opportunity to beat a quality Boise State team and finish the year ranked in the top ten.  The team accepted the bowl invitation after the Cincinnati win, but we were unsure just how big of a match up this would be.  The Liberty Bowl ordinarily featured the C-USA and Mountain West champions, but Utah earning a Fiesta Bowl berth left us without an opponent momentarily.  When Boise State was announced as our opponent we were excited as a team for the opportunity, as I think was ESPN for the chance for offensive fireworks.

-This bowl really spearheaded the indoor practice facility.  The indoor practice facility had been in the works for a while, but I firmly believe our practices leading up to the game had an impact in it going up.  We had to cancel one our bowl practices because of inclement weather, and we had to move another one to one of the wings at the convention center and turn it into a walk-thru.

There was a flier that went out a few weeks later with a picture of PJCS covered in snow.  The flier asked a question along the lines of: "what if we couldn’t practice with a national championship on the line?"  I think that really helped in getting it put up.  The Trager Center has been a huge benefit to all of the Cardinal sports, and has really helped in recruiting.  It is a top-notch facility.

Stefan Lefors told me of the time in 2000 when the weather was so bad that Coach Smith called the University of Kentucky to ask if the team could use their indoor facility to prepare for Colorado State.  The team bussed down the road in order to practice, and I would also like to add that Kentucky was not in a bowl game that year. 

-After the graduate assistants picked us up at the airport, we drove to the Peabody hotel where out front Eric Wood was just standing around by himself, waving at the van as it was driving by.  It was like a scene out of the movie Bad Santa with that kid.

-On the first night we went to Gillian’s for a team welcome party with Boise State.  There was a horse game that captivated almost the entire team.  The point of this game was you got a new horse and had to train it, feed it, nurture it, and get it ready for the races.  The more money you put in, the more points you got, and the better your horse would get.  It got to the point where there were lines waiting to play and everyone was watching these races.  Gary Barnidge’s horse was like Secretariat in this game.  Gary was already a big video game guy, and he continued to dominate everyone with his horse.  Each afternoon and night when we had free time there would be a number of guys that would race over to Gillian’s to play this game. 

-Speaking of games, we were invited to go to a Memphis Grizzles game against the Boston Celtics.  It was the first NBA game I had ever been to and both teams were terrible.  At halftime Michael Bush and J.R. Russell competed in a three-point contest, which was very entertaining to us because you would have never known that both of these guys were great basketball players.  They were missing shot after shot after shot.  Ironically though, they were shooting better than some of the NBA guys on the court. 

-The Liberty Bowl took care of its players and gave out some pretty good gifts.  They are one of the few bowl games that actually puts the names of the teams on the bowl watch that is given to the players. They also gave out some good Nike gear. 

-I've heard Bobby Petrino's name being tossed around in the past couple of days as a potential replacement for Urban Meyer at Florida.  With my blog this week focusing on the 2004 Liberty Bowl, it reminded me of the month of December that year in which Coach Petrino’s name was under speculation for the Florida and LSU head coaching jobs.  Coach Petrino was up front with us and we had a team meeting in which he told us that he did in fact interview with LSU.  The practice after that meeting had a different vibe to it.  I think the majority of us thought that he was going to get the LSU job and leave.  It just made sense.  He was a successful coach with the best offense in the country. I had some friends on the LSU team at the time and they started calling me during the bowl week asking questions about Petrino.  They were just as convinced as we were that he would be leaving for Baton Rouge.  

I think it showed just how focused that team was to go out and perform amidst all of the distractions.  This was also the first time I had heard of Steve Kragthorpe.  The day after the game Coach Petrino withdrew his name from consideration, which was a relief to the football program.  And now I am sure Coach Petrino loves going head to head against LSU every year, especially since he's beaten them two out of the three times they've met.  

-There was a mall next to the hotel where we spent a lot of our free time.  One afternoon I was walking over with Brian when he asked what I was doing.  I told him I was going to play neon miniature golf with my twin brothers and he asked if he could join.  Brian absolutely dominated and then took the scorecard so that he could keep it on his refrigerator at the Bettie Johnson solely so I could be reminded of my defeat every time I visited.  Remember this for my next week’s blog because this story comes up again.

-Due to the ice and snow that had blanketed Memphis, the first three practices we had were held in the Memphis indoor facility.  Their indoor facility was basically only half a field, and the ceiling was only about twenty feet high or so.  There was no way you could do any special teams work or throw any long passes downfield.  It limited our practices, but I loved it because I didn’t do anything for three days except kick into a practice net on the sidelines with the rest of our specialists. 

Finally on our last day of practice our special teams coach Tony Levine had had enough and made us go outside.  We didn’t have a practice field to go to so we had to improvise outside.  It was the equivalent of us having a practice session out in front of the Louisville law school in snow and grass that hadn’t been cut in about three weeks.  Since we had to practice, Brent punted and would try to hit branches on trees and I would kick field goals out into the open.  Finally, Dane Mattingly and Justin Hargens (backup longsnappers) made an H by putting their arms together for me to practice.  It was the best we could do. 

-After nothing but cold and ice all week, it couldn’t have been better weather for a bowl game in Memphis.   After Boise returned an interception for a touchdown, we quickly responded with a reverse.  The reverse was there for the taking, but that is not the significance of the play.  The significance was what Coach Petrino said after the interception.  One of our graduate assistants who was listening on the headset told me that after the touchdown Coach Petrino said, "that’s fine, let's see how they like this one," and made the call for the reverse.  Harry Douglas went untouched eighty yards to the house and Coach Petrino took back the momentum from Boise State. 

-Even though we were down at halftime there was no panic in the locker room whatsoever, and in fact, according to Stefan, the team felt that we were in complete control.  This game was a classic and one of my favorite memories as a Cardinal.  When Kerry Rhodes came down with the ball on the final play of the game we went absolutely nuts on the field.  The celebration lasted from the field, to the locker room, and onto Beale St.  I will always remember Adam McCauley walking around the field with the trophy over his head.  It was a great time in Memphis and a great win for the Cardinal football program, especially for the seniors.  Sending out those guys with a win was a great feeling.