This past Saturday I was fortunate enough to spend the day in Louisville, Kentucky on the sixth game of my cross-country college football journey. The Cardinals entered this high-profile matchup against South Florida with a 6-0 record. I got there a couple of hours early as I wanted to experience some of the legendary Louisville tailgating I had heard so much about. It was a good thing I went hungry, as I mingled among many parties, filling up and talking football. I learned that the Cardinal fan base is very passionate about their team, and that many of the fans are excited about the possible potential BCS Orange Bowl bid, should the Cardinals be Big East Champions.
About 30 minutes before game time, I made my way to my seat, and it turned out I was sitting in a section of season ticket holders. I talked to many of the fans sitting around me, because they were wondering what I was doing wearing my Oregon Ducks apparel. I shook hands with the gentleman sitting next to me, who introduced himself as Gary Barnes, a 1972 Louisville graduate. Gary turned out to be a wealth of knowledge and had several amazing stories to share. My favorite was how he was a key player on the 1972 team that won the Missouri Valley Conference Championship, and he was wearing the ring to prove it! When he was coming out of high school, he was a highly touted tight end from Cleveland. His high school teammate and best friend was a guy named Tom Jackson, and the two decided to go to Louisville together, spurning many bigger name schools. We know Tom Jackson as a 14-year veteran of the Denver Broncos and ESPN analyst.
HISTORY The Cardinals have been playing football since 1912 and have won seven conference titles during that time, the last as Big East Conference Champion in 2006. That season saw them climb to No. 6 in the polls, their highest ever ranking. Currently, the Cardinals are ranked No. 17 and have a 7-0 mark. They play their games in downtown Louisville at the beautiful Papa John’s Stadium. The stadium seats 55,000, and there is not a bad seat in the house. The stadium is named after the pizza chain founded by pizza mogul John Schnatter who has poured millions into the community and the university.
Every year, the Cardinals have two huge rivalry games. The Governor’s Cup is the trophy at stake in a fierce in-state battle with the Kentucky Wildcats out of the SEC. The Cardinals play the Cincinnati Bearcats for the Keg of Nails, with the winners being thought of as tough as nails. The Cardinals won the Governor’s Cup earlier this year, and will play for the Keg of Nails on Friday night. Cincinnati has won the game four years in a row.
TRADITION Head coach Charlie Strong took over the program three years ago and follows an impressive list of head coaches that have walked the sidelines here. At 23 years, Frank Camp has been the longest tenured coach. He was followed by notable coaches, including Lee Corso, Howard Schnellenberger, John L. Smith and Bobby Petrino. Schnellenberger is credited with putting Louisville on the football map, and the athletic center is named after him.
There is a long list of players that have gone on to outstanding careers in the NFL. Hall of Fame quarterback Johnny Unitas is the most notable of former players. Tom Jackson and offensive lineman Joe Jacoby might also end up in Canton at some point. Current players in the NFL include Elvis Dumervil, Michael Bush and David Akers.
THE GAME If you haven’t seen him play, let me tell you, quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is the real deal! The 6-3 QB stands tall in the pocket and delivers the ball on target and also knows how to to run. The Cardinals dominated the first half jumping out to a 14 -3 lead. In the second half, the Bulls closed the gap quickly. Quarterback B. J. Daniels threw for three second half touchdowns, the last coming with just over three minutes left, giving the Bulls their first lead at 25-21. Bridgewater promptly led the Cardinals on an eight-play, 75-yard drive, finding Eli Rogers for an 11-yard scoring strike to win the game. Bridgewater finished the day completing 21-of-25 for 256 yards with two touchdowns. He also led the team in rushing, adding 74 yards on the ground.
Personally, I thought the fans were awesome, and I want to thank all of you that made my trip to Louisville an amazing experience!