The aftermath was understandable and expected, yet still disappointing. Chris Jones and his disheartening saga ended in a manner no one could have predicted and like sharks to blood in the water, journalists, opposing fans, and social media jezebels took dead aim at the University of Louisville.
If your ears have functioned correctly these last two weeks you've listened as anyone and everyone outside of the Cardinal Family discussed, declared, or debated the demise of the Louisville First, Cards Forever brand. This slogan first uttered by Coach Pitino emerged a few years back when everything about Louisville Basketball, including Pitino, needed to be reborn. The basketball program bought in, the athletic department adopted it, and after an unprecedented four years of accomplishments an entire city embraced it. The words may be new, but the foundation was laid and has been built upon for over four decades. The 2014/2015 Cardinals may not capture title number four, but they can seize an opportunity to define and remind what it means to be Louisville First, Cards Forever.
Talking heads from the wide world of sports were quick to ink their thoughts and opinions on Chris Jones and his negative impact on Cardinal Athletics. I understand the business of sports journalism; clicks, tweets, mentions, and face time are pursued tirelessly, often at the expense of veracity and integrity, but occasionally these actions are hard to swallow. People in this business missed a golden opportunity to offer readers an alternative train of thought. Chris Jones' dismissal, while sad and upsetting, was an example of Louisville's brand working, not crumbling.
Coach Pitino offered Jones a chance to buy into Louisville's brand and Louisville Basketball, an option to leave his turbulent past behind by making his world a better place by achieving a college degree and having a city to call home for the rest of his life. Louisville handled every aspect of Chris Jones' time at Louisville with diligence and intelligence, and in the end it was Jones who failed, not Louisville. This University consistently sends a strong message by offering almost any individual the ability to become a part of the Cardinal Family. The Louisville First, Cards Forever brand is built and supported by those individuals that embrace it; the brand cannot be tarnished by the outliers who choose to abandon it.
These Cardinals have an opportunity to stand tall alongside countless athletes that have exemplified what it means to be a Louisville Cardinal.
Louisville First, Cards Forever is defined by Junior Bridgeman who to this day places blame of that 1975 loss to UCLA on every roster member for lack of communication, not Terry Howard's missed free throws. The motto was adopted by Darrell Griffith who chose to stay home for college and delivered his city its first ever championship. Denny Crum bought in when he turned down the head coaching position at his alma mater UCLA. The 1980 team showcased Louisville First when they regrouped and rebounded after Scooter McCray suffered a season ending injury just three games into that championship quest. Howard Schnellenberger embodied this mantra when he uttered one of the most famous quotes in Cardinal history, the only variable was undoubtedly time. DeJaun Wheat taught us what it means to be a Cardinal by battling through every injury to place an entire team and legacy on his back all the way to the elite eight.
Tom Jurich has always been Louisville First and leads by example each and every time he turns down an offer to depart this city. Brian Brohm elevated the phrase by returning for his senior year to chase a championship and to give back to the school and city that had given his family everything. Louisville First, Cards Forever had one of its proudest moments when Marques Maybin was involved in a tragic motorcycle accident and the Cardinal Family raised thousands of dollars to support Marques through his treatments and recovery. The list goes on and will continue to unfold with images like Luke Hancock bending over and consoling Kevin Ware, Peyton Siva's unrivaled leadership, Gorgui Dieng's desire to support others, Russ Smith's positivity, Terry Rozier's struggle to save his family, and Wayne Blackshear's endeavor to persevere.
Optimistically, just over one month remains for these Cardinals. Since the departure of Jones and the relentless debate of Louisville's brand, the Cardinals are 2-0 and turned in their best performance of the season against Florida State. 23-6 is the 12th best start in Louisville Basketball history, but this season will not be defined by banners, it will be defined by brotherhood.
Coach Pitino has challenged this team and these players to step up. The fans only ask for passion, happiness, and effort. If Saturday carries over until that one final horn sounds, Coach Pitino and all true supporters will look back on this season fondly. Louisville First, Cards Forever is a slogan and an ingenious marketing tool. For supporters, this brand is a way of life. The 2014/2015 Cardinals have a chance to bond together, play as one, lift each other up if one among them falls, and define and remind what it means to be Louisville First, Cards Forever.
All Hail UofL !!