Hey folks. For what it is worth, here is one of my favorite quotes from my favorite book:
"Which is nonsense, for whatever you live is Life. That is something to remember when you meet the old classmate who says, "Well now, on our last expedition up the Congo-" or the one who says, "Gee, I got the sweetest little wife and three of the swellest kids ever-" You must remember it when you sit in hotel lobbies or lean over bars to talk to the bartender or walk down a dark street at night, in early March, and stare into a lighted window. And remember little Susie has adenoids and the bread is probably burned, and turn up the street, for the time has come to hand me down that walking cane, for I got to catch that midnight train, for all my sin is taken away. For whatever you live is life"
With that out of the way, let's talk sports.
With the release of the basketball schedule Wednesday, the Louisville sports calendar officially exists, and it is awesome. Despite some weird basketball tip-offs and television choices (disrespect!) it's safe to say that the football and men's basketball teams (not to mention all the other sports playing against another level of competition week in and week out) are set for the best - by any measure - regular season in Louisville sports history. The past few years has been a struggle between "enjoying the journey" and "the destination matters" - that is, perfect season (football) or championship (basketball) or Horsel (Pitino horse naming) or it's all been for nothing. Our regular season schedule this year tips that balance well onto the journey side of things, and that's a good thing. Precious present, and all that.
Here's my personal ranking of the best 10 games on the schedule. Your mileage may vary, and the criteria is a mix of quality of opponent, identity of opponent and fan experience. For instance, the game at Clemson is higher than it likely will be in 2 years because it's the first time we've played there. And as a testament to how awesome our schedule is, here are the games that AREN'T in the top 10: Indiana at Madison Square Garden, Minnesota (basketball), Syracuse at the Dome, bitter hated rival Virginia anywhere, Notre Dame basketball, UK basketball (JK) (LOL), Wake Forest football or basketball (The Wellman Revenge Fantasy games), DePaul.
10. Ohio State Basketball - Yum! Center - December 2, 2014
Here's another sign of how awesome our regular season schedules are: this is a top 10 (maybe top 5?) team that represents a regional rival, recruiting rival, and generally everything Louisville fans hate about old money, Big 10, ESPN-dominated overhyped teams rival. The later the start time at Yum! the better the games usually are - Friday night Vandy/UConn games, for example. This will be a fun one, an early test against a quality opponent featured on ESPN.
I loathe The Ohio State University, and the entire realignment and TV contract bubble was started in large part by them and the Big 10. There are a lot of problems in this country, but the failure of elite institutions and the great transfer of wealth is one of main ones, and what has happened in college sports (and what will happen when this bubble bursts) is a good example of that. And it's not just college sports. The people in charge in most places don't have any idea what they are doing. For example: the Browns hired a consultant for $100,000 to tell them what QB to draft. The consultant told them they should draft Teddy Bridgewater. Then they drafted Johnny Manziel instead. The owner went on TV and said he decided to do so after fans everywhere he went - including a homeless person - said to take Johnny Football. A homeless person! This may or may not be related: that same owner just agreed to pay a $92 million fine for "cheating customers out of promised rebates and discounts, authorities announced Monday." The new gilded age, everyone! Good times.
9. UNC Basketball - Yum! Center - January 31, 2015
This is lower on the list than I would have guessed, but I'm more excited about every game that follows below. We owe UNC for a couple tough losses in the past few years, and seeing them play in the Yum! will be really cool. However, it's the last game of a stretch that includes UK and Duke at home and we will have already played them on the road. They will be talented and maybe Roy Williams style is just a tough match-up for us, but we've played them at home before (one of the best games at Freedom Hall I've ever been to) so it gets dinged a bit for that. Overall, will be great.
8. UK Football - PJCS - November 29, 2014
It's hard to predict the "season importance" and "game quality" metrics for this game this far out. Moving this game to the end of the season means whatever team takes the field Monday night for us and Saturday afternoon for them will bear little resemblance to the teams playing in November. If we knew UK was playing for a bowl spot and we are playing for a Playoff spot, then this would be a lot higher. If neither of those things are true, then this spot is about right. I'm looking forward to Petrino destroying them, regardless. But we have a bit to go.
7. UNC Basketball - Chapel Hill, NC - January 10, 2015
Getting to play in one of the best road venues in the country, getting our first experience of 8-on-5 that ACC fans have warned us about, first big conference game after the UK game, talented team, 2008 revenge on our minds. This will be an exciting game.
6. Clemson Football - Death Valley - October 11, 2014
Another game that might move up or down the list depending on each team's record at the time. Clemson has to get by both Georgia and FSU to be 6-0, while our path is slightly easier. Even if Clemson is 4-2, this is a big time college football atmosphere and one of the Bucket List places for college football fans. This will be a fun experience that in a couple years might become routine, so it's higher on the list this year than it might be in the future.
5. Miami Football - PJCS - September 1, 2014
In the precious present, this game is #1 by a mile - it's soooooooo close to now the minutes are dragging by, and we have been looking forward to it for so long. The first game in the ACC, feature game on ESPN, Bobby's Back, Miami. There are so many unknowns about our team, it's going to be hard to resist the temptation to extrapolate from the opening drive whether to buy tickets for wherever the hell the ACC championship and playoff games are being played this year and/or write off the season and/or freak out about the hiring of Bobby Petrino.
For what it's worth, I'm totally on board with bringing Petrino back. It goes back to the Louisville post I wrote before last season, and him coming home feels right. People are who they are in the present, and sometimes it takes awhile to figure out who you are going to be and where That You belongs. I believe that 2014 Bobby Petrino is here to stay, but if he's not, well, that's okay too. Even if Petrino bolts for Florida next season, he was the right hire for this season. Strong leaving and us coming into a new conference means that recruiting going forward is critical, and this season has to go a certain way for us to recruit well. Also, if generals always fight the last war, Petrino's style (which includes an exciting, attacking defense that will get burned but hey we get the ball back so it's cool, which he doesn't get a lot of credit for) is a welcomed sight. I have mixed feelings about Charlie Strong. I love him for what he did for the program, and I hope he succeeds in life and at Texas. I don't know how much we'll miss him, but I'm curious to see how his defense-first mentality and offensive philosophy translates in the offense-heavy Big 12. Don't see a lot of those games being at 21-13 late in the 3rd quarter and 109K people being extremely loud for clock-killing drives. Maybe I'm wrong. I've been wrong a lot.
Anyway, I'm glad Petrino is back. I wonder how last season would have gone with Petrino, Teddy, and the AAC schedule. I wonder how this season would have gone with Strong back? I can't wait for this game.
4. Kentucky Basketball - Yum! Center - Dec. 27, 2014
I hate these games. They are never fun, they are way too intense, the games don't resemble anything like any of our other games and how they play out. The rivalry has spun so far out of control that it's way beyond fun, and I would say that even if we had held on in March. That said, that loss wasn't as crushing for me as it was for other folks. There was so much pressure on that team to repeat, which was such an unrealistic expectation for any team, much less one that lost 3 (or 4 if you count Kevin Ware) of the most important players from the championship team. Last year's team wasn't the same as the championship team, and regardless of whether it was UK, Wichita, Michigan or Wisconsin, we were going to have to win close games, and that team was just not able to win close games.
The "end of an era" talk hurt, because it did feel like that at the time. But I don't think it was - we are still firmly planted on the Other Side of the Bridge. We will miss Russ and Luke and SVT and Hendo, but to the extent that whatever pressure was on those guys and the rest of the team to do something so insanely hard so as to be virtually impossible, and this season represents a new, fresh start with a new league, a lot of new faces, new challenges and reasonable expectations about how many losses we will have this season (single digit loss seasons are going to be hard to come by going forward), well, losing to UK like that was about the worst way possible for everything to end, and that's life. But unlike the darkness awaiting us all, it's just sports! In about 6 weeks, everything starts fresh and anew, and in 4 months we play UK again and get a chance to avenge this loss, and then we will play them again either a couple months or a year later. Regardless of the outcome of those games, the most annoying UK fan(s) in your life won't stop talking about it and the UK fan(s) in your life you like and care about will not stop talking about it and eventually in a couple billion years the Earth will careen into the Sun and then maybe there will be something in the universe more intense than this rivalry and we can all breathe a sigh of relief. Also Mangok was fouled and UK shot like 4 standard deviations higher than their expected 3 point percentage and the refs were terrible and we absolutely were the better team and the NCAA tournament is one giant crap shoo so whatever.
So that's the game I'm looking forward to 4th most on the schedule this season.
3. Duke Basketball - Yum! Center - January 17, 2015
Duke will be really good at basketball this season, will have a lot of future NBA players and is playing at the Yum! Center for the first time ever. After 2013, I really can't dislike Coach K and Duke as a program. They are what they are, and Coach K's reaction to that loss is a model to coaches, players and fans about how seriously to take all of this stuff and how to be gracious in defeat.
This game checks just about every box: quality, talented opponent, novelty situation, game experience (despite the noon tip-off WTF ESPN), meaningfulness on the season and the meta-meaning. Just about everything you'd want.
2. Notre Dame Football - South Bend, Indiana - November 22, 2014
For a Catholic boy growing up in Louisville (or an adult Catholic-Atheist-ButHowAboutThatNewPopeHeSeemsReallyGreatRight?) or a college football fan, this is a Haley's Comet game: it may happen again, but probably not in my lifetime. Notre Dame may or may not be good, our bowl hopes or playoff spot may or may not be impacted by this game, neither team may be in the Top 25, but all of the ways this game falls short on the field is outweighed for me by the experience of it all. Seeing a Louisville team run out onto that field and playing in the weird shadows and dodging band members (seriously why are they allowed to have all of those people on the field during the game that seems dangerous?) and everything that goes along with it will be pretty amazing.
Here's another quote from another book, called The Ask, where the main character, who is deeply depressed and who has apparently repressed a lot about himself during his life, tries to impart a lesson to his 7 year old son:
"Squander it. Always squander it. Give it all away...Don't save a little part of you inside yourself. Not even a scrap. It gets tainted in there. It rots."
1. FSU Football - PJCS - October 30, 2014
While FSU will come here every other year, and has been here before, there is a lot about this specific FSU team and the specific in-season factors that, combined with the Meta, make this game the most exciting one we will play this season. FSU is defending national champions, the favorite to win it all this year, the team standing in our way of winning our division and the most talented team ever to step foot onto the field at PJCS.
And it's a Thursday night game. There's something magical about Thursday night games at PJCS. There is something magical about home games in Louisville in general. My friend Quinn1979 used to talk about this, like before the WVU game. Weird stuff just happens in these games. Louisville teams given the spotlight at PJCS have always taken advantage, with a notable UCF game exception proving the rule. This is not a game anyone is expecting to win, but despite that, this is the game that we are looking forward to the most.
It's hard enough to understand the present, much less predict the future. If life hasn't taught us that, Louisville sports has surely has. We are all just bouncing around out here, and to the extent sports anchors us to a community or provides a distraction or a hobby or an obsession or a connection between and among generations, it does matter a great deal. It's not life or death, and the ups and downs of the season are a lot easier to endure depending on how good - or bad - real life is at any particular moment.
I am looking forward to this season for a lot of reasons, and regardless of how the football and basketball teams end their seasons, we know statistically speaking and realistically speaking they will likely end short of a championship. But this season, more than any we've had, is all about the journey.
Here we go.