Anytime you murmur or simply mention the name, especially in or around the city of Louisville, it’s almost assuredly going to invoke a lot of big smiles and headshakes – the type that normally come about after seeing something that someone literally had never witnessed before.
Jackson has been and will continue to be rightfully known as a once in a lifetime talent to Louisville Football fans. In fact, to the fanbase that vehemently supported him during his three seasons at UofL and currently with the Baltimore Ravens, I would venture as far as labeling him a folk hero even at the ripe young age of 24. His wide array of electric, jaw-dropping plays and eye-popping moves during his days in a Cardinal uniform are over between the sidelines but they will be etched in Louisville Football fans’ memories forever. And despite sadly never getting the opportunity to play in a major bowl game with sizeable ramifications, he will always be labeled by many as the ultimate winner, the greatest pure athlete to play at Louisville and a future NFL Hall of Famer.
Individual performances such as leading the dismantling of a then no. 2 nationally ranked Florida State team in 2016 and a dominant come from behind defeat on the road at arch-rival Kentucky in 2015 are just a few highlights Card fans normally reminisce about when Lamar is the topic of discussion. And as awesome as those moments and so many other of his feats were, bringing the Heisman Trophy to Louisville for the first time in program history was clearly the crown achievement of Lamar’s playing days as a Cardinal.
In many ways, winning the most coveted individual award in college football not only solidified Jackson as a college football icon and household name but it also gave some validation to the Louisville Football program – a program that had been looking to capitalize and further catapult its place in the college football pecking order following a momentous BCS Sugar Bowl win over Florida in 2013.
But despite all the phenomenal individual highlight reels (i.e. the infamous “Lamar leap” over Syracuse’s Cordell Hudson), the team wins and the accolades, Lamar Jackson’s most impressive contribution to the University of Louisville Football program came this past Saturday when he deservedly had his number eight jersey retired joining Johnny Unitas as the only Cardinal to tout such an honor.
It’s no secret that the 2021 Louisville Football season has been underwhelming to say the least. It has been cloaked in negativity.
Leading up to Saturday’s game against Syracuse, I’m not sure if I had ever seen the Louisville Football fanbase as apathetic at any time before. Yes, there were the Ron Cooper days of doom and gloom but that was before a new stadium and better conference affiliations would brighten fans’ spirits. And of course, there were the Kragthorpe years that were filled with despair and self-loathing. But nothing, in my opinion, has been as divisive in terms of the lack of unity among Louisville Football fans than the take on whether Coach Scott Satterfield should remain the Cards’ head coach going into next season.
Some fans may find it hard to fathom, but there was a sizable faction of Louisville fans who semi-secretly were sincerely hoping that the Cards were going to cash the season in by losing to Syracuse Saturday. Other fans haven’t been so elusive in their scorn of the Satterfield Era by no longer even coming to games and practically giving their tickets away on a weekly basis.
Enter Lamar Jackson.
As someone who made the trek out to Cardinal Stadium this past Saturday to watch the Cards beat the living daylights out of The Orange I can attest to three things…..
One, the overall vibe in and around the stadium was better and more positive than it had been in some time. People generally seemed optimistic and enthusiastic. Fan on fan crime was absent.
Two, while not a sellout, the attendance was respectable, and fans were involved in the game often and early. It was refreshing to see and feel that energy again.
And three, the Louisville Football players looked and played like a different team - a team that UofL fans were hoping to see much sooner than November 13th.
The difference maker? By all accounts it appeared to be obvious - the mere presence of Lamar Jackson being back in Louisville and roaming the sidelines in Cardinal Stadium. By simply returning to the city he once held in the palm of his hands to accept his honor, Cardinal fans came together as one again. Louisville Football found some life.
Lamar Jackson brought out the best in the Louisville Cardinal fan base. He brought out the best in the UofL Athletic Department. And perhaps most importantly, he brought out the best in the Louisville players and coaches.
I’ve personally had some awesome experiences inside Cardinal Stadium. The Blackout win over West Virginia was unforgettable. The OT victory over Florida State in a monsoon was extraordinary. The time I kept a violently puking and historically inebriated close friend from being thrown out of the stadium by telling a security guard the hot dog he ate was bad was precious. Any of the games where Louisville kicked Kentucky’s ass were heart-warming. I could go on further, but this past Saturday may have been my all-time favorite.
Lamar’s acceptance speech at midfield was a perfect personification of who he is not only as a player but also as a person. It was raw, unscripted, genuine, sincere and like a breath of fresh air to witness.
I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to feeling emotional as I listened to Lamar give his thanks. The reality is that we as Louisville fans could never thank HIM enough. We could never show the warranted amount of gratitude. But on Saturday, a crowd decked out in number 8 jerseys did their best to let him know that he is authentically revered and loved.
Jackson’s legacy at The University of Louisville was already cemented in the hearts of Card Nation. And now, it will forever be on display along the siding of Cardinal Stadium. And as the years come and go UofL fans will tell their kids and grandkids about the playing days of #8. They’ll talk about a how a young kid from Florida who threw an interception in his first collegiate pass blossomed into a Heisman winner, an NFL MVP and a player who brought back life into a program that so desperately needed it.
And just like that, Louisville appears to have some momentum. Beating Duke on Thursday night would assure bowl eligibility and it would give the Cards a little extra boost heading into their season ending game with Kentucky. What looked to be a game that the Cards would most likely be heavy underdogs in a month ago has now morphed into a contest that UofL could have a legitimate shot at winning.
Thank you, Lamar Jackson for all the great memories but thank you even more for reminding us as UofL Football fans that our program still has a lot of pride and plenty to fight for.