Back in the early nineties, a standing ovation at Fairgrounds Stadium when he was introduced, 36,000 voices proclaiming “Ali! Ali! Ali!” Even Tennessee football fans that night were joining the chorus.
Ali was on the 50-yard line at the 2007 BCS Orange Bowl in Miami, Florida for the UofL-Wake Forest game. The biggest game in UofL football history, he had to be there, joining the 35,000 fans from Louisville making the trip.
When Asaad Ali, his adopted son, was playing for the UofL baseball team in 2010 and 2011, Muhammad was a frequent visitor to Jim Patterson Stadium, joining Tom Jurich in the hospitality suite, even making financial contributions to the Louisville baseball program.
Jurich issued the following statement after Ali’s death:
“All of us in the Cardinal Athletics family are deeply, deeply saddened with the passing of an absolute worldwide legend in Muhammad. While he was undoubtedly one of the greatest athletes in history, the Champ made a difference in the lives of so many around the world.
“His generosity with his time for anything we asked of him — or things he offered to do without us asking — was incredible, as was the financial commitment he and Lonnie made to our baseball program at UofL. It was a true honor for me to know him and he will be greatly missed. Our deepest sympathies and prayers go out to Lonnie and the entire family.”
Coach Rick Pitino joined in commemorating Ali:
“All of Louisville celebrates the life of our Champion. “He shined brightest in the ring and preached peace outside of it. He loved babies, people and cherished his friends. We will miss you Champ. Rest in Peace.”
This UofL fan will never forget the time his family bumped into the Champ at a Kentucky Derby breakfast in Frankfort, Muhammad Ali pulling my 4-year-old son from my arms, lifting him high and placing a kiss on his cheek. Remember thinking, “The most famous person in the world, that man.”
Always reaching out, engaging and absorbing, Muhammad Ali making people feel better about themselves and the world.