Two major conflicts, one right on top of the other, five or six hours of emotional highs and lows for University of Louisville fans Saturday. The pressured-packed, non-stop intensity certain to severely test the cardio, cerebral and central nervous systems of many a Cardinal fan.
The first in basketball against the University of Kentucky. The second, in football, a bowl game against the University of Miami, forcing fans to quickly adapt between sports and changing venues with little time to absorb or savor the results from the first encounter to the second.
UK fans are seemingly omnipresent, impossible to avoid, and are never going to go away.
Obviously, UK is not just another basketball foe. The school’s administrators, coaches and fans proclaim the program to be the premier basketball program in the nation, backing up the claim with eight national championships. A program with a coach who is able to recruit first-round NBA draft picks on an annual basis and arrogantly boasts that “UK is college basketball.” A program that wouldn’t even schedule UofL for 40 years and finally did so only under considerable pressure from the State Legislature.
The rivalry extends from the basketball court to all other sports and even into the daily lives of Louisvillians who live and work alongside UK fans. They are as strong in their allegiance to the Wildcats as UofL die-hards are in their collective loyalty to the Cardinals. Never mind that Wildcat fans account for only 36% of the local population, they are seemingly omnipresent, impossible to avoid, and are never going to go away.
Their proclivity for basketball contradicts the national passion for football, an incongruity shared by many UofL fans, affecting the progress of both schools’ football programs for decades. Ironic that one of their own, Howard Schnellenberger, brought ambitions of big-time football to Louisville and a path that would eventually lead UofL to the Atlantic Coast Conference and the best of both worlds for Cardinal fans.
Just as obvious, Miami is not just another football opponent. Until recently, the program was one of the best in the nation, having claimed five national championships, two Heisman Trophy winners, and at one point in 2011 had 42 active players in the NFL, the most for any program ever.
Miami, until recently, would never have considered Louisville to be a rival in football by any stretch of the imagination.
It was the aforementioned Howard Schnellenberger who coached the Hurricanes to their first national championship in 1983, arriving in Louisville two years later with the surprising proclamation that “Louisville is on a collision course with the national championship. The only variable is time.” The coach will spend the first half of Saturday’s game on the Miami side of the stadium, the UofL side the second half.
Miami, until recently, would never have considered Louisville to be a rival in football, having won 10 of 12 games against UofL by a combined score of 277 to 117. They tied 13-13 in 1950. The Cardinals’ only win was a 31-7 rout in 2006 en route to UofL’s first BCS win in the Orange Bowl that season. Still no reason for anyone in Miami to seriously consider Louisville a rival.
Charlie Strong would begin to change that perception when he arrived in 2009, heavily recruiting Florida in general and Miami in particular, with assistance of Clint Hurtt, a former Miami player and assistant. They would compete directly against the Hurricane for talent, convincing several Hurricane recruits, including Teddy Bridgewater and Eli Rogers, to switch to UofL. Today UofL has more than 30 players from Florida on the roster, including more than a dozen from Miami.
This, plus the fact that Louisville and Miami could possibly play again right away in the first game of the 2014 season in the ACC sets the stage for what could quickly become a fierce rivalry. UofL has a lot of ground to make up in the series but Miami wants continued dominance and a return to national prominence. They don’t like each other already.
Don’t forget the blood pressure medicine Saturday and keep the aspirin close.