AN OPEN LETTER TO THE UNIVERSITY OF LOUISVILLE FOOTBALL PROGRAM
Dear Louisville Football,
First and foremost, allow me to begin this letter by saying "thank you." Later today, you will undoubtedly provide me and thousands of other UofL Football diehards with an atmosphere that we as fans have prayed for since the day Papa John's Cardinal Stadium opened its turnstiles. Long gone are the days of getting hyped for a season ending game against the likes of Army that would potentially set the Cards up with a bowl qualifying winning record. Instead, you are now providing entertainment at the highest level and it's intoxicating.
The journey in getting to today's showdown with Florida State has been a long and arduous one. One thing's for certain, you've always kept things interesting from year to year. I won't recount our time together at the old Cardinal Stadium, primarily because I was too young then and only concerned about getting food from the concession stands. In addition, the thought of talking about Ron Cooper makes my stomach churn. So with that said, I want to reminisce with you about some of the moments following the 1997 regular season, both on and off the field that brought us to this epic moment today.
Look, you had at me hello with the opening of the new stadium. It gave us as Louisville fans something to be proud of, a sense of legitimacy if you will. And while your first performance was comically bad against a Tim Couch led Kentucky team and the new plastic chair back seats were hotter than molten lava, I knew that brighter days would eventually come. And come they did. Coach John L. Smith occasionally provided me and the rest of the fan base with a glimpse of what Louisville Football could become again. And along the way you produced under the radar superstars like Dewayne White that became the foundation for a program getting its footing back while hometown heroes like Chris Redman and Ibn Green reset the record books. Life was good, or at least better.
Time passed and you continued to scratch and claw trying to gain respect and attention on the national scene any way you could do it. Who would have ever thought that you would one day provide the fan base with an opponent that carried more clout and weight than the likes of Southern Mississippi or South Florida?
Following the sad departure of John L., I must admit to being nervous about where things might be heading. I, like others, was beginning to wonder if UofL Football would ever be anything other than a stepping stone. But, thanks to the leadership of the best athletic director in all of college athletics, all of my faith was quickly restored with the hiring of Bobby Petrino. Newer heights were achieved in the years that followed, marked by some of the most brilliant offensive juggernaut teams in school history. Sure, you had me reaching for the TUMS with subpar performances like the home game against Memphis in 2003. But overall, "Bobby Ball" was more than I could have ever hoped for and following the move into the Big East, games like the infamous Black Out victory over a top 5 West Virginia team told me that Louisville had finally arrived. Our first ever BCS Bowl win shortly thereafter was just the cherry on top. Life was now great, what could go wrong?
Well, the stepping stone stigma was still alive and well and Coach Petrino disappointed us all with his departure. And then.......enter the year 2007. Enter the Kragthorpe Era. Enter three years of my Louisville Football fandom that I never want to relive. My loyalty is unwavering but you had me scratching my head and venting on message boards almost daily. And the worst part of it was starting what would become a 4 game losing streak to our in-state rival Kentucky - the same school that our previous head coach had owned and embarrassed annually. But despite how awful the Krag Years were, nobody is perfect and I had come too far watching the program do everything from playing games on Tuesday nights to hosting Grambling because of the draw their band might create to just cash in my chips.
And, once again Tom Jurich made it right. Coach Charlie Strong gave us toughness. We went back to beating UK. Recruits like Teddy Bridgewater arrived on campus and became legends. The stadium underwent new developments. And, you won my heart eternally with the convincing Orange Bowl victory over the Florida Gators. The program was back on track. Train horns were blowing and we the fans were showing up in record numbers. And despite Coach Strong leaving to pursue an even bigger dream, I no longer felt like Louisville Football was a stepping stone. Instead, it had become what all had been hoping for.....a CONSISTENT winner and a school that no longer tried to enter the conversation with the "big boys" but instead WAS a part of that very conversation. And nothing made that more plausible than our entry into the ACC. Finally, you had found yourself accepted into a conference that wasn't just respectable or underrated but one of the best in America that would provide us with opponents that we once dreamed of playing on annual basis.
When Bobby came back I knew deep down that he was going to push the program even further ahead. He has done that and more. And so today I felt compelled to write this letter as I am about to head over to PJCS and watch ESPN College Game Day do a live broadcast right outside The Oven's gates followed by an epic showdown of two top 10 teams. I mean THIS is what it's all about for me personally as a fan. And win or lose today, I wanted to again just say thanks for giving us the fans something to be proud of and to look forward to. The future is loaded with potential and I for one can't wait to watch it play out.
A thankful Card fan
PS: Beat the hell out of the Noles