The past two and-a-half years have marked a wonderful stretch for Louisville basketball fans. They've seen a pair of teams with tremendous attitudes and terrific work ethics overachieve dramatically, the second of those doing so to the tune of a Big East tournament title and a trip to the Final Four. And for the past seven weeks, Cardinal fans have been privy to a squad that may very well represent U of L's best shot at a national championship since 1986.
And yet, Cardinal fans have still been followed by a sometimes faint, sometimes giant, always loud shadow all this time.
Whenever Louisville fans have bragged about a recruit, there's been a Kentucky fan there to boast about their four McDonald's All-Americans from the same class. Whenever a Cardinal fan has expressed pride in their team's run to the Final Four, there's been a Cat fan waiting to ask, "how'd that run end again?" And whenever a U of L supporter has tried to quietly eat breakfast alone in their house, there's been a member of Big Blue Nation ready to call them a homosexual or racial slur on Twitter or Facebook.
The shadow isn't gone, but as of today it's lost it's most lethal punch.
The weight off the shoulders of the collective back of the fans doesn't need explanation, but I do think that this is a big deal for the team as well. It wouldn't have crushed the Cards if they'd lost this game, but you know they would have heard about it, and you know that would bothered them to some extent. As it is, any distraction is gone and the focus is squarely where it should be: Big East play and then a run at a national title.
Kentucky fans can talk about last year's national championship or next year's recruiting class all they want (and they will), but all that truly matters is right now, and right now the Louisville Cardinals are the best team in this state.