Times that try men’s souls

The last thing anyone expected in March was an out-of-control virus that would be wreaking havoc on our lives and livelihoods. Instead of University of Louisville basketball, one is keeping with updates on infections and deaths and the latest restrictions on individual movement.

Charlie Springer during happier times at Jim Patterson Stadium (Barbara Springer photo).

The numbers keep going up and up, with no relief in sight. Doubling every other day it seems. The only positive coming from China, which claims the new cases are slowing down. Problem is the chicoms have little credibility, having tried to conceal the danger until it was wildly out of control.

So one waits. Waits for what? No solutions coming soon. One is left to wonder about the chances of contracting the virus. To wonder if one may have already been infected. To see when local testing will be available. To wonder when one will be able to see family, friends and loved ones again without threatening them or ourselves.

Someone at the Centers for Disease Control stated that if you’re not overacting to the threat, you’re probably not preparing enough. So one washes one’s hands several times a day, wears gloves on trips to Kroger or to Walgreen’s or any other shopping trips. Spraying bleach on door knobs, sinks, other surfaces, hoping it’s just in time, not too late.

Each day pretty much the same. No NCAA basketball tournament action to distract from the daily doom and gloom. The simulations on YouTube of computerized games just a depressing reminder of what we’re really missing. No quick trips out to Jim Patterson Stadium to see a UofL baseball team that ranked No. 1 in most of the pre-season polls. Just left to anticipate someday going out to Cardinal Stadium or down to the KFC Yum! Center.

No going to church services on Sunday, doing high fives with fellow UofL fans, no taunting of people who follow Kentucky. No ability to worship or pray collectively. Avoiding other religious services, including funerals … or visitation services for that matter.

Waiting for grandson Koby, a college junior, to arrive from Florida, having to leave his dormitory at Florida Gulf Coast University and his job with Sprint.  The school and the company each forced to take actions to protect the individuals, the people they come into contact with, along with the institution and the business.

Hoping son Steve and his family four hours away in Murray are doing okay. Giving thanks that he has gotten over two bouts with the flu. Regretting not being able to make the trip, with all the differences in ages and the warnings about small and large group gatherings.

Thankful for a spouse who is good at dealing with a wide variety of different challenges, willing to make sacrifices and puts family first. Her being a great cook and a rabid UofL fan are qualities that make her even more loved and indispensable.

Challenging times, one never knows what to expect next. Some day this particular challenge will be another one of those events that altered the course of humanity. Hopefully, it will make us stronger and better prepared for what is coming our way.

For now, we have our hands full just getting through this one.

Many buses at Jefferson Transportation but just a UK bus for Louisville fans

University of Louisville fans showing up early Friday morning for a trip to South Bend were greeted by a giant bus bearing University of Kentucky advertising (WDRB TV graphic).

No sign of any giant buses ensconced with University of Kentucky logos or advertising at 11117 Decimal Drive in Jeffersontown on Monday morning.

That’s the address of the corporate headquarters that dispatched a UK bus to Cardinal Stadium on Friday to take 50 University of Louisville fans on a trip to South Bend, Ind. There were, however, 15 other tour buses bearing either Shockey Tours or Jefferson Transportation markings on Monday morning.

Numerous buses at the corporate headquarters but nothing but UK buses for Louisville fans (Charlie Springer photos).

Imagine the shock of approximately 50 UofL diehards who had for weeks been anticipating a fun trip with fellow fans to see their basketball team play at Notre Dame. Only to see a University of Kentucky bus arrive at the pickup point, according to a WDRB news report.

What were the transportation people thinking? That the group was going to some of the Midwest’s top casinos? Going sightseeing in January? A big family reunion in Northern Indiana? Not this trip, strictly basketball.

One UofL fan upon learning about the incident sent an angry email to Shockey Tours, angrily complaining:  “There’s no way you guys didn’t send that UK bus on purpose for the South Bend trip. Those customers deserve their money back.  If you don’t offer that, you should be ashamed. That’s just poor business. I’m all for rivalry and pranks but I wouldn’t be juvenile enough to let it cross over into my  business and customer service.”

He did receive a response from a Steve Cisco, apparently the driver who replied via Messager,  “Were you aware that this company is under new ownership? I was handed this trip a few days back with nothing but a pickup location, time and destination. I knew nothing of this group. I have offered a substantial discount on their next travel.”

Shockey Tours was purchased by Jefferson Transportation in Murray, Ky., in September (Charlie Springer photo).

Can’t imagine the person making the arrangements for 50 people never mentioning that a UofL group was attending a basketball game against Notre Dame. Likewise, it hard to see how one of the few UK-marked buses being the one that showed up.  It would seem like a bus driver would have much more information about a tour group. Was this really a coincidence or was he deliberately kept in the dark? Maybe the joke was him.

The Shockey Tours headquarters on Decimal Drive in Jeffersontown (Charlie Springer photo).

The company providing the bus, one of those large 56-passenger buses, was Jefferson Transportation, a Murray, Ky.-based business, which recently purchased all of Shockey Tours assets in Louisville. The company owns dozens, if not hundreds of buses in Louisville alone.

Jefferson Transportation has yet to respond to a telephone call from Card Game about the experience.

Another question that begs to be answered is why the University of Kentucky would be purchasing advertising on buses in Louisville. No one should be surprised that a school that has purchased local billboards for years would be seeking more exposure in the state’s largest city.

Many UK partisans no doubt laughing it up after hearing the story. It’s the kind of thing more than a few of them would wish upon Louisville fans. The kind of over reach that separates Cardinal fans from the insufferables.

Maybe, just maybe, it was a coincidence. However, the UofL fans who rode in a UK bus all the way to South Bend will never forget it and are unlikely to forgive the transportation provider anytime soon. If their team had not claimed a rare win over Notre Dame at South Bend, the 500-mile round trip would have been a total nightmare.

Merry Christmas, bring on the holidays for UofL fans

Reflecting the spirit of the season at a UofL basketball game with his elf cap is Sutton Wyatt, the 6-year-old son of Jason and Lori Wyatt. The family has had season tickets for 10 seasons (Photos by Mike DeZarn).

Shopping done, the gifts are wrapped, so we are switching into Christmas mode, fully immersing ourselves in the holiday season.

Every sport at the University of Louisville with an attraction all its own, the fans forever faithful in the pursuit of wins with each new challenge. UofL providing dreams for youngsters old and young, diversions from the rigors, and all the other ups and downs of everyday life.

All those new faces in key positions — Neeli Bendapudi, Vince Tyra, Chris Mack, Scott Satterfield, Dani Busboom Kelly, and John Michael Hayden — exceeding expectations. Dan McDonnell and Jeff Walz maintaining unprecedented success, still aiming higher.

Much to be thankful for, knowing the challenges have made us stronger, the issues will be resolved and the university has so much more to achieve. 

Thanks for being Louisville fans. The Observer appreciates your support of Card Game.

Merry Christmas to you and yours.

Muhammad Ali inspired fellow University of Louisville fans

muhammed-ali-quote-on-fitness-observatoryMuhammad Ali attended many University of Louisville athletic events over the years, always a UofL fan, always an inspiration to his fellow fans.

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.

Louisville, Georgia Tech luck into prime time

Almost surprisingly the University of Louisville will be playing in basketball game on a Saturday, traveling to Atlanta to play Georgia Tech at 4 p.m. Imagine that. Fans of the schools catching a break from a television network.

The TV networks, in their unquenchable thirst for ratings, would have fans believing that a combination of late night games and noon games is the new normal. Of the last four UofL games, two have been played at 9 p.m. in mid-week and two others on Sundays, one at noon, the other at 8 p.m.

Like people who have been watching games at 7 p.m. all their lives aren’t fazed by late-night games. Or bothered by having to get up early for noon games. The network executives have far more pressing concerns.TV image

The formula for determining noon football games is pretty predictable. If one’s team is having a mediocre season, one can expect to be playing lots of noon games. Unless the foe that week happens to be highly-ranked opponent. Get on a roll, however, and more prime time slots quickly become available. The problem for football fans is not knowing the kickoff times very far in advance.

Attendance for home games will inevitably be affected, as it was for UofL football this past season, with three games kicking off at 12:30. Average attendance dropped below 50,000 at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium for the first time in three seasons.

Much easier for college basketball fans because the time slots for most games are announced before the season begins. The only exception on this year’s UofL schedule is the final game at Virginia, for which no tipoff time has been announced. Following the football model, if UofL continues to win and Virginia keeps stumbling, they will have a noon tipoff.

The inherent problem is that even the most prominent athletic conferences and the universities have effectively handed off control of key aspects of their programs. Handed them off to people who don’t have the same interest in seeing them succeed or fail in terms of fan support, adding to the pressure of winning and losing.

TV exposure has, for now, overtaken such concerns as ticket prices, attendance, concessions and parking as the No. 1 priority for the decisionmakers. Too bad if that comes with some major inconvenience to the most loyal fans.