With Mike's great article about the 2007 Orange Bowl and Wake Forest, I decided to come back and add onto it. Mike is supposed to run a previous post I had written regarding that game so I hope he does. As the time has passed, I have had the chance to reflect on that game and what it meant to myself, our coaches, and the football program, and to echo what Mike had said in his post, "I couldn't wait until next year."
The thing I enjoyed the most out of that 2006 season was that we were good, we knew we were good, yet we played with a chip on our shoulders because of what had happened in 2005 (blowing games late, not finishing, etc.). We had player only meetings each week to discuss what needed to be done to win, and we were so close to our ultimate goal of winning a national championship.
The funny part about the final game of the season against UCONN was that we knew that we needed to win, and then scoreboard watch later that night. However, after the game the Orange Bowl reps treated us like we were coming to Miami and that WVU was easily going to take care of Rutgers. They were handing us Orange Bowl stickers and patches like they were candy.
I remember like it was yesterday sitting in our house watching the WVU/Rutgers game with teammates and family, and being so close to going to Houston for the Texas Bowl. We all jumped with joy when the game finally ended and we were officially going to the Orange Bowl. It would have been a huge disappointment to go 11-1 and end up with anything else. To be honest though, a lot of us felt that we should have been playing for the national title, more on that later.
The next day I flew to Palm Beach, FL to take part in the Lou Groza festivities, and that night they announced the BCS match ups. We pretty much knew by that point that we would be taking on Wake Forest (we kind of already knew that from the day before, but that was when they made it official).
The Lou Groza Award is given out by the Palm Beach County Sports Commission and a lot of those representatives also serve on the Orange Bowl committee. They were truly excited to have us in the game, knowing that we would bring fans along with our great team. I couldn't help but think that we were going to beat Wake Forest by 40 points, even though all week I was touting them as a quality opponent.
The week of the Orange Bowl was fantastic, everything was first class, and it was something I will never forget. It also turned out that Wake Forest was a much better team than I had given them credit for; they were well coached, and had some great football players. Wake gave us all we could handle, but Coach Petrino dialed it up in the 4th quarter and we were able to come away with a huge victory for the program.
For a player like myself that walked on to a Conference USA team in 2003, to be standing on the field as Orange Bowl Champions a few years later still blows my mind. Think about how hard that would be to do in today's college football environment. That win was huge on so many levels because that year it was hard to get to a BCS bowl game from a tough Big East conference. Not many people remember that the Big East went undefeated in bowl games that year, and even though I don't wear any of my championship rings from college, I do like that one side of our ring from that year it has the word FINISHED on it, because it wasn't just finishing a season, or a game, but the word represented a program in the making. That night we felt like we could finally call the Louisville football program one of the elite programs in the country.
After the game, all I can remember is hugging everyone in sight and sharing a special moment with Dane Mattingly and Tom McMahon (our special teams coach at the time). There is a picture of all three of us somewhere and I really wish I had a copy of it. Looking back on it though I wish I would have enjoyed it more because here is the part that I agree with Mike about....I thought we would be back the next year, and the year after that, etc. I also think that Wake Forest was thinking the same thing, and we have seen which program is back on track. College football is a funny sport at times, and I never in my mind thought that we would go 6-6 in 2007 and come crashing back down even farther in 2008 and 2009.
We had a watch party for the national championship game that year between Florida and Ohio State. Watching that game with Brian Brohm and some of the other guys, we felt that if we had been on that field with the Buckeyes we would have came home with the crystal football. I would have liked our chances.
It has taken some time to get the program back to where Coach Petrino was taking it during those years, and now that I am a Louisville fan only, I have learned to enjoy the moments more, enjoy the great players that take the field each week, and enjoy the process of following a program I love try to get to the College Football Playoff and championship. A great man once said that the only variable is time, and I truly believe that.
A couple of random thoughts I have:
-I Love the new uniform combinations that the Cardinals and Adidas are offering now. As a player that has to be very exciting and it will do wonders in recruiting. I still remember how excited we were when we heard rumors in 2005 that we were getting black uniforms. I hope I can get my hands on some of those new helmets in the future.
-I hated to see Will Gardner get hurt last week and hope that he has a speedy recovery. If there is one coach in the country I want getting a QB ready to play in a game it's Bobby Petrino. I live in LSU country and I constantly remind people that Bobby Petrino beat LSU with Casey Dick as his starting QB. Coach P will have Reggie ready to play and play well, no doubt about it.
-Kickers are a fraternity, everyone knows that ... or should know that. I have really enjoyed getting to know John Wallace over the last few years. He is a quiet guy that has done his job extremely well so far at U of L, and I feel his importance is somewhat overlooked at times. I also want everyone to know how hard he works in the classroom. He is a finance major who is on track to graduate in December. I visited with him during a spring practice this past April, and the majority of our conversation centered around business classes and real world stuff. He then went out and was perfect on all of his field goals during the practice I attended. A well-rounded young man. Another guy who does his job extremely well is long-snapper Grant Donovan. Appreciate these two, because they're extremely good at what they do.
- I have said this before, but I used to have to be scout team cornerback during walk-throughs, etc. and when I started out I was the worst scout team corner in the history of college football. I would constantly ask questions about Cover 2 and Cover 3 and if I was supposed to blitz or not. I got better as the years went on, and pretty much became the Richard Sherman of scout team cornerbacks. But I would hate having to be the scout team corner against all of these great receivers the Cards have now. They are fun to watch.
- I really enjoy seeing former Cardinals Kolby Smith, L.D. Scott, Will Stein, and Pete Nochta on the coaching staff. Not only were they great football players, but all four are great guys, and I know will be great recruiters. If I had a son, I would feel good about him playing under each of them.
-A very late congratulations to Mr. and Mrs. CC on their wedding this past August. I was invited but unfortunately was not able to attend. I have very few regrets in my life, but this was is right up near the top of the list. I heard it was a great event and I am disappointed I wasn't able to make it. Next time I am in Louisville I will make sure to make it up to both of you.
--Last week there was an article that ran in The Shreveport Times that discussed my time playing Arena Football, which was a fun and special time in my life. I thought it was well written.
In the story, I was quoted repeating some things that Coach Petrino had said to me on the sidelines during a game. I want to clarify those quotes. In no way was Coach Petrino yelling at me or in my face, he was saying it in a joking way, which I realized after talking with Brian and Harry on the sidelines.
The Louisville Courier-Journal, which I had nothing but respect for when the sports page was run by Rick Bozich, Eric Crawford, and C.L. Brown (all great writers and great guys), decided to take only the first two paragraphs of the article, throw it on the front page of their sports section with a tacky headline, and make it seem like I had a terrible relationship with Bobby Petrino. Nothing could be further from the truth. Coach Petrino gave me an opportunity to play Division-I football, gave me a scholarship as an unproven redshirt freshman, and has been nothing but supportive of me in my post-Louisville career. I wouldn't be where I am today if it wasn't for Bobby Petrino and his assistant coaches Tony Levine and Tom McMahon (my special teams coaches from 2003-2006).
Anyone who knows me well knows how much I love the Louisville football program and the respect that I have for Bobby Petrino and what he has done for me. I would never say anything to paint the program in a negative way, and I was one of the many former players who wanted him back as coach this past January. I should have known better and chosen my words more carefully. I just wanted to make that clear. Also, I have some great arena football stories that I would love to share at some point in the future, especially playing against Jared Lorenzen and Justin Rascatti (a former Card QB) when they played for the Lexington Horsemen.
--I was extremely sad to hear the news last Sunday morning of the passing of Louisville and Trinity High native Rob Bironas. I had the privilege of kicking with him and David Akers during a few summers while I was at Louisville, and he couldn't have been nicer and more supportive. There is a lot of uncertainty and unanswered questions regarding his death, and I hope they figure it all out. Thanks for all of your advice Rob and my condolences go out to his family and friends.
I will try and do a better job of getting back on here every so often but I also wanted to take this time to thank everyone who has read my stuff over the years and has sent me kind words on Facebook, twitter, etc. It means a lot and you guys are the best. I hope everyone enjoys the game this weekend.
- Will Gardner Will Not Play Against Wake Forest, Reggie Bonnafon To Start At Quarterback
- TWEETCAP: 2014-15 Louisville Basketball Uniform Reveal
- P.J. Dozier To Visit Louisville On Oct. 30
- Louisville Football, The 2007 Orange Bowl And The Complicated Importance Of Wake Forest
- Opponent Breakdown: Wake Forest Demon Deacons