Super Heisman Man: Louisville’s Lamar Jackson

Hey, Lamar Jackson.

There. Did it. Broke out of the gate early, made America take notice, put University of Louisville football squarely in the national spotlight. Nailed down honor after coveted honor, separated yourself as America’s  best college football player in 2016.

No doubt, not even close.

Play after play, on the ground, through the air, touchdown after touchdown, week after week. Setting new standards for athleticism, so often, so consistently. Considered his norm notching three, four or five touchdowns game after game.

Lamar Jackson winner of the Heisman Trophy winner for the 2016 college football season.  Racking up 3,390 passing yards, 1,538 rushing yards, with an astonishing 4,928 yards and 51 touchdowns. Leading UofL to a 9-3 won-lost record.

Louisville has had many great football players. Among them Johnny Unitas, Lenny Lyles, Deion Branch, Brian Brohm, Elvis Dumervil, Howard Stevens, Walter Peacock … So many names on the flight deck at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

But only one of them ever considered a serious contender for football’s most prestigious award — the Heisman trophy destined to stand alongside the Walter Camp and Maxwell Player of the Year awards on the Jackson family trophy wall.

Lamar Jackson bringing unprecedented attention to University of Louisville football, rewarding the faithful for long-standing loyalty. One of the most outstanding performances in the history of any sport.

Lamar Jackson himself, his fans, his detractors, his teammates, the opposition — everyone knowing he could have done much better. God willing, absorbing the lessons, getting better, setting even higher standards next year.

Hopefully blowing the doors off the hinges next season, having only just begun.

Photos courtesy of Cindy Rice Shelton.

Chris Redman enters the Kentucky NFL Hall of Fame, Unitas honored

Former University of Louisville quarterback Chris Redman was inducted into the Kentucky NFL Hall of Fame during ceremonies Friday at the Louisville Palace. Presenting his son was former Male High football coach Bob Redman who said Chris initially intended to carry on the family tradition of  playing center. That was before his first PeeWee practice session. Afterwards, he wanted to drop football altogether. Dad took him to the Middletown McDonald’s and ordered 20 Chicken McNuggets to persuade him to keep playing. Took several trips to McDonald’s to convince him, in fact.

Howard Schnellenberger and Charlie Strong, two of the best to ever coach football at the University of Louisville, got together before the induction ceremonies, causing photographers to trip all over themselves and each other to capture the special moment.

An empty chair was part of a special tribute to Johnny Unitas who became one of the best quarterbacks in the history of the National Football League. Johnny Unitas, Jr. was on hand to honor his father, describing his dad as one of the greatest quarterbacks and an even better father. That’s Chris Redman and Bubba Paris at right.

No early morning wake-up calls for Louisville football fans … yet

So far so good.

Game times for six University of Louisville football games have been announced and, thus far, none of the kickoffs are set to begin at noon.

If UofL lives up to expectations, there may be no need for early morning tailgating.

The first three games, all at Papa John’s, against Kentucky, Missouri State and North Carolina will begin at 3:30, allowing for prime time tailgating for late waking UofL fans.

The game at Florida International on Sept. 22 is at 7:30, as is the game at Rutgers on Nov. 29. The Cincinnati clash at Papa John’s on Oct. 26 is at 8 o’clock.

Keep the fingers crossed, however.

Five of the six remaining contests are conference games, and the start times until after the season begins. The TV people waiting to see how the conference race is shaping up. If UofL lives up to expectations, there may be no need for early morning tailgating.

*     *    *

Chris Redman, who quarterbacked U of L from from 1996 to 1999, will be inducted into the Kentucky Pro Football Hall of Fame during ceremonies Friday at the Louisville Palace.

Redman was career leader in passing completions (1,031) and 12,541 passing yards, completing 84 touchdown passes and holds almost every single game, single season and career passing record at U of L.

Other Louisville inductees have included David Akers, Deion Branch, Tom Jackson, Joe Jacoby, Lenny Lyles, Sam Madison, Frank Minnifield, Howard Schnellenberger, Ted Washington, and Dwayne Woodruff.

Johnny Unitas will be in there some day. Pretty certain of that.

Will Johnny U be moving?

Charlie Strong was asked during a recent press conference if he had given any thought to moving the statue of Johnny Unitas, which is largely concealed by a rubberized tunnel during Louisville football games.  “Hmm. That’s a good idea,” he said. The program is committed to a $7 million-plus renovation of the football training complex. Moving the statue about five feet to the east would set Johnny U free.

Lenny Lyles gets called up too early

One of my boyhood heroes was Lenny Lyles, the most productive running back in University of Louisville football history. He died Sunday at the age of 75, leaving an indelible mark on the program.

Lenny Lyles (Card Game photo)
While playing at U of L from 1954 to 1957, his team would amass a 25-12 won-lost record, and Lyles would score 43 touchdowns, which remains the all-time mark today. He amazingly scored six touchdowns in a 72-0 rout of Wayne State in 1955, the year we started following UofL football.
Lyles would lead his team to an 8-1 record during his senior year and to the school’s first bowl game, the Sun Bowl on New Year’s Day in 1958. Unfortunately, Lenny would be injured in the first quarter, missing the rest of the game (UofL defeated Drake, 34-20). He would go on to be a defensive back for the NFL champion Baltimore Colts, rejoining Johnny Unitas, another Cardinal great.
Some still credit Lyles with being the first black athlete at UofL but Lenny would be the first to remind them that a teammate named Larry Simmons actually preceded him. “Larry Simmons,” he would say.The book, Johnny U, relates that Lenny was the son of a hod carrier and his mother worked as a maid at the Brown Hotel. He played at Louisville Central High. Segregation was a fact of life, but Coach Frank Camp wanted him at UofL:

“And I had already left for Lincoln University, a black school in Missouri,” said Lyles. “Coach Camp had to come and get me. His main selling point was if I went to the University of Louisville, three other blacks could go too — George Cain, Andy Walker and a kid from Alabama.”

About 30 years later, I would meet Lenny in person after joining Brown & Williamson where he was involved in minority business relations. A people person, he always brought out the best in others, laughing, joking, entertaining his fellow employees.

Work assignments always took a beating when he was around because Lenny was so engaging. He could talk football for hours.

We bumped into Lyles back in January at the Paul Hornung Award Banquet. He still had that broad smile that made fans and co-workers so comfortable being around him.