In 2002, I had my heartbroken. Marquette defeated Louisville in the quarterfinals of the Conference USA Tournament, all but ending my dream (and theirs too, I'm sure) of seeing the Cards make the NCAA Tournament in Rick Pitino's first season on the job.
My mature response to this adversity was to fake sick and spend a day listening to Elliott Smith and playing the current NHL video game on Playstation 2. I fell behind in both school and a battle for a starting spot on the baseball team, and my parents were less convinced when I actually did get sick a couple of weeks later. This was my first lesson in the wrong way to handle unrequited love.
The Louisville football team doesn't have the luxury of being able to learn the same lesson the hard way. The Cards are reeling a bit after blowing a 21-point lead against Florida State in a game they invested a lot of time and emotion in, and Bobby Petrino himself has already expressed concern this week about his players' ability to bounce back in appropriate form.
"I think this is the week that we find out what we're made of," Petrino said. "You're always concerned as a coach after a game that you put so much into. You were re in it, you were competing hard, you were playing well, and you didn't come out on the right end. So I think this is the week that we find out who the real leaders are and it reveals our character as a team."
While the way that Louisville has gotten to 6-3 has been frustrating for fans and players alike, the team has to understand that this is far from a lost season. In fact, this is precisely where pretty much every college football expert in the country predicted UofL would be during the summer months. There were fewer members of the media who didn't predict that Louisville would go 8-4 this season than did, so the opportunity to exceed expectations in year one of the second Petrino era is still very much alive.
On the surface, that statement is difficult to digest. This is a group, after all, that was a single play away from beating both Virginia and Clemson on the road, and which seemed poised to not just end Florida State's 23-game winning streak, but to blow the Seminoles out in the process. Instead, the Cavaliers and Tigers squeaked out single score victories, and FSU pulled off the biggest comeback in program history.
The last of those losses is likely the most painful, but allowing it to be responsible for yet another defeat when the Cards travel to Boston College this Saturday will certainly do nothing to alleviate the pain.
"That hurt a lot," Petrino said after the FSU loss. "The challenge is to be able to come back from it. We have to go on the road and play a tough game on the road. Our players will get a couple days off because we played on a Thursday, bring them back Sunday and try to have a normal week. But they did put a lot into this. Practices were really good. Focus was really good. Now we have to rely on our leadership to help us get ready and go win our next game."
The best thing about life in a Big 5 conference is that the sting of a single loss isn't nearly as severe as it's been in the past. While the Florida State game certainly feels like an enormous missed opportunity, it did not eliminate the possibility of Louisville playing in an upper echelon bowl game and finishing the season nationally ranked. A hangover loss to Boston College, however, might achieve both of those feats.
The game in Chestnut Hill has widely been the most overlooked of the second half of Louisville's season by Cardinal fans, but recent events may have wound up making this the most important week of UofL's 2014 campaign. This feels like the proverbial "fight or flight" moment for the Derby City's squad, the moment they show everyone how determined they are to be remembered, or the moment it officially becomes basketball season in Louisville.
Few teams have more to gain and more to lose in the season's final three weeks than Louisville. Between now and the star of December, Petrino's team has an opportunity to secure a winning record in its first ACC season, tie a record by winning its fourth straight game over arch-rival Kentucky, and notch the signature victory of the season by knocking off a top 10 Notre Dame team in South Bend on the Fighting Irish's senior day. Do that, and suddenly the pain of those three losses is a distant memory.
The first step to that goal is figuring out how to fight through a broken heart.
The previous column appears in this week's issue of The Voice-Tribune