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.

Jurich legacy goes on at Louisville

Tom Jurich has put to rest any speculation that he would entertain any overtures to succeed Steve Patterson as athletic director at the University of Texas.  He told a local radio show Thursday he doesn’t want to leave the University of Louisville.

While Jurich’s decision comes as no surprise, this latest confirmation of his affection provides reassurance to fans and supporters that the UofL athletic department will continue to benefit from his dynamic and creative leadership into the future.

Tom and Terrilynn Jurich not going anywhere.
Tom and Terrilynn Jurich not going anywhere.

One remembers wondering when Jurich was hired in the summer of 1997 just what kind of impact a new athletic director could have at UofL. I believed at the time that the position was largely administrative, hiring and firing personnel, developing schedules, maintaining facilities, in effect managing the status quo.

UofL was in Conference USA at the time. Denny Crum’s basketball program was in decline, as was Freedom Hall. Ron Cooper’s football program was spiraling, the last season at Fairgrounds Stadium. Lelo Prado’s baseball program was struggling to hit the .500 level in wins and losses, also competing at Fairgrounds Stadium. Women’s basketball was competing in a 1,200 seat gymnasium on Belknap Campus, undergoing coaching changes every few years. No one was giving a second thought to soccer, volleyball, swimming or softball.

Things quickly began to change because Tom Jurich brought with him the vision and energy of developing a first class athletic program in every respect. Now almost every sport plays in modern facilities, with their own dedicated fan followings and they are competitive on a national basis. They receive strong support from the university, the facilities are constantly being improved or upgraded and the teams land highly rated recruits. The question always lingers, which UofL team will be the next to win a national championship?

Why would Tom Jurich want to leave all that? He’s not content to be a caretaker at another major university. He wants to continue building the University of Louisville, always raising that vision of his to new and unprecedented levels.

Jurich gets Indiana in basketball and football

Another wish has come true during Tom Jurich’s tenure as vice president of athletics at the University of Louisville with Friday’s announcement that UofL and Indiana University have completed scheduling arrangement to compete in both basketball and football.

A natural rivalry with only 92 miles separating Louisville and Bloomington. Long overdue and Jurich has been working on this for years. Don’t ever doubt TJ when it comes to getting things done.Indiana Logo

Three-game series in each sport, with games to be played at Indianapolis, in Louisville and at Bloomington.

In basketball, the teams will tip-off in their first game at Bankers Life Arena in Indianapolis on Dec. 31, 2016, followed by games at the KFC Yum! Center on Dec. 2017 and at Assembly Hall in Bloomington on Sept. 2018.

“I’ve felt for a long time that these series were a natural for fans from both universities and I’m thrilled to see it come to fruition,” said Jurich.  “We have played each other in most sports and it has been a very friendly rivalry.  There are a lot of fans in Southern Indiana that support both schools who I know will particularly enjoy the competition.”

In football, the series will kick off on Sept. 23, 2023 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium on Sept. 7, 2024, and at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington on Dec. 8, 2025.

A pity that the football series is so far into the future, especially for some long time followers of UofL football, including this observer. At least we have the satisfaction of knowing that it’s going to happen. If we’re still around, don’t crowd us while we’re navigating those stadium steps.

Jurich has worked on this for so long that it had to be a monumental challenge. Not that IU will ever be a great football power, but it’s a series that needed to happen. Tom embraces the big challenges and, sooner or later, they become a reality. With everything he has accomplished at UofL, one wonders what’s left for him to work on. He’s paved the road for his coaches to follow through on the playing fields.

Making it through the summer

So how do fans who spend nine to 10 months a year following University of Louisville athletics survive the next two months without UofL competition? I’m not really sure. The opening football game against Auburn in the Georgia Dome is Sept. 5.

Thanks to Dan McDonnell’s team for extending the baseball season, putting the Cardinals within one game of the College World Series. One questionable foul ball/home run away. We may never know for certain. Really makes it difficult watching the championship series with Virginia and Vanderbilt, knowing UofL should have been there.2014-15-e1419956266732

Rick Pitino’s basketball team from one missed free throw away from returning to the Final Four for the third time in the last four seasons. UofL making only six field goals in the second half, Mangok Mathiang’s second free throw attempt not even close. Pitino willing his team to another incredible finish.

Bobby Petrino delivering a 31-28 win in the first-ever football game against Notre Dame at South Bend and a 9-4 won-lost record with a trio of untested, unproven and injury-plagued quarterbacks.

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