The weather forecast for Thursday is 61 degrees, winds out of the southwest at five miles per hour. Perfect setting for another historic meeting between the Louisville and Florida State football teams. The kind of game that brings out the best in Bobby Petrino.
Games between UofL and FSU were at one time a once-in-a-decade event like in 2002 when the Cardinals shocked the college football world with a 26-20 win over the Seminoles at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Louisville was filler material on the FSU schedule, having lost the previous 12 games to FSU by a total of 394 points since 1952, UofL failing to score in five of those games.
Visions of a field covered with of thousands of jubilant rain-soaked fans clad in bright, reflecting yellow, red and white ponchos linger from that game. There’s also a flashback of the apprehension of getting banged in the head by the goal posts being carted around the field. One of those gladdening, exhilarating and gut-busting experiences one will never forget.
UofL football would be forever changed by that win, awakening fans as to what could be possible with a serious commitment to college football.
The rest of the 2002 season was a blur, Louisville losing to Kentucky in the opener, finishing with a 38-15 loss to Marshall University in the GMAC Bowl in Detroit, and compiling a 7-6 won-lost record. But there was that Florida State win, what it inspired in the minds of the UofL faithful.
Bobby Petrino wasn’t around that night. He had served one season as John L’s offensive coordinator in 1998 and moved on to the Jacksonville Jaguars in the NFL. He would arrive at UofL two seasons later, compiling a 41-9 record in three seasons and delivering BCS Orange Bowl hardware in 2007, furthering the dream of UofL fans. What nobody could have anticipated was the nightmarish three years of the Steve Kragthorpe era.
What Petrino proved during his first tenure here was that the dreams that surfaced after the Florida State win weren’t misplaced, that UofL could compete on a national level. Despite his success here, Petrino wasn’t ready to take the next step, not committed to Louisville, taking his aspirations and wandering eyes elsewhere, first to Atlanta and on to Arkansas where he and a companion on a motorbike would careen into a ditch, banished for a year before winding up at Western Kentucky University.
Seeking forgiveness and a second chance, Petrino would contact Tom Jurich at least a year before Charlie Strong left Louisville, Petrino asking Jurich to help him get his life back in order. There were reports when Tennessee was pursuing Strong in 2012 that Petrino would be the choice if Strong left. Negotiations between the two parties fell through Strong returned for another season at UofL.
When Strong did leave the following year, Petrino was the first and last choice for Jurich. UofL fans enthusiastically welcoming Petrino back. Big difference this time around, with Louisville in the Atlantic Coast Conference, having a chance to compete for a national championship. Petrino repentant, overjoyed at a second chance, saying he wanted to compete for the national title at UofL, this time with conviction, knowing he has a way to get there.
The fans and Bobby Petrino are on the same page now. Thursday night’s game could be a mile marker to the ultimate destination. Down the road a bit maybe, but an integral part of the itinerary.