Off The Bench … Finally

Have to love the creativity of the U of L marketing staff. A brochure, displaying my name on the back of a U of L basketball jersey, jumped out at me from the stack of mail today. Inside the brochure, there I was again, this time in a football huddle.

The glossy piece promotes premium seating packages for the football stadium expansion and the new downtown basketball arena — facilities that will define the future of the University of Louisville athletic program.

For the naysayers who, in the past, doubted whether either project would become a reality, you had better step up soon if you can afford it. There are less than 500 of the packages available.

Whatever Happened To Frenetic?

A longtime friend happened onto the blog a couple of days ago, apparently surprised that I was giving Steve Kragthorpe the benefit of the doubt for a tumultuous season. Ron Key, a native Louisvillian, is Director of Operations and Administration at the University of South Florida (USF).

“I have noticed in watching U of L this year that they are not playing full throttle,” writes Key, who became a Card fan shortly after he learned to walk. “They are not playing frenetic like last year’s team, just seem to be going at three-quarter’s speed. They are not ready to play when they are on the football field. The frenetic behavior is just not there.”

As much as I hate to admit it, I have to agree with Ron. It became obvious early on this season that the players had lost their swagger, their cockiness, and sense of urgency. Gradual improvement on the defensive side of the ball has been offset by a slow degradation of a once powerful offense.

One can still hope, however, that the Cards have bottomed out and they can begin the return to respectability, starting this week against Pittsburgh.

Round Ball?

Don’t look now but basketball is breathing down our necks already. The Cards tip off the season on Monday in a exhibition game against Carleton University at Freedom Hall. Hope nobody is expecting U of L to just roll over the visitors. Carleton is a basketball powerhouse in Canada, having won five straight national championships. Anything less than a romp could ignite another round of Pitino bashings.

Slow starts in opening exhibition games in recent years against Georgetown College and Bellarmine University have done just that, setting a negative tone before the season officially got under way.

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Football is tops, basketball a close second in my book. The affinity for all things U of L actually began with basketball, however. I was a 13-year-old during the 1955-56 season, following Louisville games on radio even though I lived in Big Blue territory, only 11 miles from Lexington.

The Cards started off that season winning nine games in a row before losing a heart breaker to Ed Diddle’s Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, a perennial power in those days. I could have used Diddle’s trademark red towel to dry my tears after the loss.. The Cards recovered quickly, however, achieving a 26-3 record, including the National Invitation Tournament trophy, then the most prestigious prize in college basketball.

They defeated Dayton in the NIT championship, their third win over that top 10-ranked team that year. The game was, in fact, one of U of L’s first televised games. I missed the telecast but heard it on the radio. My headache was gone after the game.

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Fellow fan and blogger Tom Heiser, who continues to impress me with his exceptional mastery of the English language (I learn at least one new word almost every time I visit his CJ fan blog) got me pumped up for the upcoming season with this summation:

It shouldn’t come as a surprise if U of L is exerting high pressure on the national barometer. Their midseason transformation from an error-prone youth corps to an unselfish, role-oriented upstart didn’t go unnoticed — from their tourney ranking to early pre-season rankings in the top 10.

Keeps On Building

This really isn’t the Tom Jurich fan club blog but, by gosh, we could all learn some life lessons from the man. Let’s hope he writes a book after he resolves the gridiron challenge.

Tom will oversee groundbreaking for a new women’s field hockey facility Thursday evening before a match against Indiana University at 7 p.m. Get there a little early so you can also watch warm ups.

Thanks to a gift from cosmetic surgery specialist Randy Waldman, construction will begin on the new Marshall Center, which include offices for the field hockey staff and new seating for 1,500 spectators. The entire expansion will encompass over 14,000 square feet.

Tom Jurich: Blame or Credit?

The environment surrounding the U of L football program is a painful reminder that many sports fans are woefully shortsighted. The same fans who were calling for Rick Pitino’s head a few months ago now want Steve Kragthorpe gone. Some are even questioning Tom Jurich’s abilities.

Nothing unique about this situation. Fan bases are pretty much the same everywhere, including many duplicitous, selfish and unforgiving people. Win, they’re with you. Lose, they doubt you. Winning, it’s us. Losing, it’s them and the piling on is malicious.

Less than a year ago, the U of L basketball team lost consecutive games to Kentucky and Massachusetts and another one a few games later to Notre Dame. Even an NIT invite was in doubt. The criticism of Pitino was so great that Tom Jurich felt compelled to defend him. It all went away when the team got back on the winning track.

Football season, and here we are again. Fans are up in arms, demanding explanations. Never mind that seven starters, including three now in the NFL, are gone. Never mind that several players have been dismissed for disciplinary problems. They argue that U of L had a Heisman Trophy candidate at quarterback and deeper talent than any team in the school’s history.

I saw the Orange Bowl game in person. U of L did not trounce Wake Forest. In fact, the Wake Forest defense kept us bottled up most of the game. Without a trick play and a last minute interception, the outcome could have been far different. But U of L won. The struggle is a distant memory.

Would Petrino have done better this year? Maybe so, maybe not. I can guarantee, however, that the very same people would be outraged. With some fans the way they are, small wonder Petrino treated the fan base they way he did, and John L. Smith before him.

The important thing to keep in mind is that Tom Jurich is the same person who made all the Liberty Bowl, Gator Bowl and Orange Bowl appearances possible. He’s the guy who hired a baseball coach that took U of L to the College World Series in his first year. His foresight made entry into the Big East Conference possible. He has made great coaching hires and delivered an incredible number of first class athletic facilities to Belknap Campus. And don’t forget the new downtown basketball arena that will symbolize just how much this community treasures U of L athletics.

Tom is not going to come out and detail the problems in the football program, some of which may have been festering during the Petrino years. Just not going to happen. He endures these concerns day after day, dedicating his life to the athletic program. He feels it in his gut in disappointing times, even more so in football because that’s his first love.

Someone said we as a fan base will ultimately be judged by how we conduct ourselves during times of adversity. Lot of truth in that. Meanwhile, now is the best time for fans to appreciate Tom Jurich for everything he has done for the athletic program. He will do what is best for football. You can count on that.