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Let’s toast to the season

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A new ride begins.

Clemson v Louisville Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

‘Buzz’ is a crucial word in the sports lexicon. It’s a versatile term, applied to a diverse scope of situations. Sometimes a player creates a ‘buzz’ among the crowd with an electric play. Oftentimes a new head coach or coordinator injects the program with some ‘buzz’, as the local media and fan base excitedly chatter about his obvious superiority to the predecessor. Maybe a coveted high school prospect picks your school, and now there is finally ‘buzz’ surrounding the recruiting class’ potential.

Most commonly, however, the word is ascribed to the anticipation of an upcoming season. It is a descriptor for the excitement, the electricity, and the momentum in a community as the drudging offseason fades away, beckoning that once-a-year moment when your team storms onto the field for the first time and the stadium greets the season’s dawn with a joyful, frenzied roar.

There is no buzz for Louisville football right now.

Offices, barbershops, and schools in the city are not exactly overflowing with hopeful conversation about this football team. The fans do not seem particularly desperate to embrace the upcoming campaign. Louisville, the town that lives and breathes for college sports, feels as if it’s welcoming the end of summer with a collective shrug.

The possible explanations are numerous, and understandable. For one, football’s national consensus does not hold Louisville in very high regard. The Cardinals are unranked in both major preseason Top 25 polls, and didn’t even receive a vote in the AP edition. The ACC media has projected the Cardinals at 5th in the Atlantic division, and Athlon foresees a 6-6 record for the team. It’s a lot easier to hype up a squad that’s expected to fight for a conference championship than one aiming for mere bowl eligibility. Plus, beginning your schedule as twenty-five point underdogs tends to dampen ambitions.

A dearth of familiar faces and personalities may also be at play. The program orbited around Lamar Jackson for the last two seasons, and he handled the spotlight with an easy grace and flashlight smile. Now number eight is off to the NFL, but he is not the only notable absence. Louisville always has at least one gregarious personality, unyielding emotional leader, or unique talent to attract interest and casual fans. Whether it was Jaire Alexander’s brash confidence, Lorenzo Mauldin’s emotion and red dreadlocks, DeVante Parker’s breathtaking athleticism, or the magnetic charisma of Teddy Bridgewater, a strong presence is always there.

This year, the fans can’t put a face to their program quite yet. All of the candidates, the likeliest being Puma Pass, are young, inexperienced, or newcomers. Talented players like Mekhi Becton, CJ Avery, Dez Fitzpatrick or Dorian Etheridge may endear themselves to the faithful and join the list of idolized fan favorites. They simply need to seize the opportunity to do so.

More broadly, perhaps people are growing weary of the venomous ‘just win, baby’ mindset that is becoming more and more obvious in college athletics. The recent examples of universities compromising integrity for athletic success are too numerous to list, and include our own beloved school. As the profitability and popularity of college sports continues to balloon, and the NCAA grows more feeble and unfit to manage its enterprise, the lusting for wins and money will only become more recognizable and prominent in the highest levels of administration.

However, that is exactly why I claim that this team deserves our fullest appreciation and enthusiasm. Amid the storm of turmoil and unrest that engulfed Louisville for the past three years, the football program was a bright light. Its issues have been mercifully confined to the field of play. No NCAA investigations, no embarrassing scandals, no cover-ups or lawsuits or police records to peruse. Bobby Petrino is reconstructing his reputation and captaining a steady ship.

Of course not everything has been perfect. Coach Klenakis’ arrest is an unfortunate situation; one we hope is handled with all due empathy and prudence. The Wake Forest playbook fiasco was confusing and very ill timed for University of Louisville public relations.

But Louisville fans can take pride in this football team, and this program. The players have been nothing but sterling examples to the rest of campus, consistently demonstrating an uncommon level of class, focus, and brotherhood. Bobby’s wandering eye for more glamorous jobs appears to be left in the past. Even Dan McDonnell has been scrutinized more recently than Petrino for such instances. On the surface, Louisville embodies the ever strived for ‘clean program’.

A clean program, a loyal coach, likable players, and the first major sports season under the refreshing leadership duo of Neeli Bendapudi and Vince Tyra. This fan base and city are ready to move on from negative press and E:60 special reports. An exciting new era has brought a cautious but determined optimism to UofL. It’s time for these newfound positive vibes to make their way over to football as well. The exciting vision taking hold should include Puma Pass long bombs to a gliding Jaylen Smith. It should include Cole Bentley pancake blocks and ferocious tackles behind the line by Jonathan Greenard. So it’s time for a toast to the 2018-19 Louisville football team. A thank you to them, for their character, hard work, and the invigorating moments they are sure to give us. Thank you for gifting us a glorious respite from life’s worries every game day. The largest crowds in Cardinal Stadium history will be ready to cheer you on through every twist and turn.

Good luck, and Go Cards.