Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium expansion update

The end of the 2017 football season may have been a downer for University of Louisville football. However, the future continues to look bright with the expansion of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

Lots of work going on on Wednesday, with crews hard at work at the Floyd Street complex. A 10-foot chain link fence has installed just outside the north end zone, where the foundation of the 10,000-seat addition will be visible during the 2017 season.

Work also continues on the front of the football complex, across from the Trager indoor practice facility, where utility lines are being installed.

Painful to watch, Louisville football unable to handle adversity or prosperity

Sorry, but this observer had no choice but to turn the TV channel to another station during the third quarter. The football game was a disaster.

LSU’s dominance of the University of Louisville during the Citrus Bowl confirmed what many had suspected: This UofL football team had fallen from being a national title contender in October to one with zero confidence or aspirations in December.

Lots of symptoms, problems affecting the team’s psyche, with no logical reasons for what appeared to be a near total collapse.

— Probably the weakest offensive line in all of college football, unable to provide any blocking or protection for the quarterback or running backs.

— A team with the largest number of sacks and fumbles in college football. A team that couldn’t didn’t value possessions, unable to hang onto footballs. Turning sure things into unpredictable mishaps.

— A quarterback,  winner of the prestigious Heisman Trophy, unable to call an audible, read a defense or escape a pass rush. Hurrying his passes even when not challenged, unable to hit open receivers, not knowing when to throw the ball away, even while standing in his own end zone.

Something about the composition of this team that couldn't handle adversity or prosperity.

— A coach labeled as an offensive genius unable to make offensive adjustments, forcing his quarterback to keep going long, resulting in a steady diet of hits, sacks and negative yardage. A three-game losing streak to end the most promising season in the school’s history

— A defensive backfield riddled with injuries, providing easy pickings for quarterbacks from Houston, Kentucky and LSU. Need points? Just go to the air against Louisville. Even Jaire Alexander, a second team all-ACC cornerback, resorting to pass interference, still unable to prevent receptions.

This observer has seen a lot of football over six decades, including numerous seasons when many games were over for UofL at the end of the first half. Not many expectations for teams during the first five-and-a-half decades but always optimism that things would get better.

And they did get better, with UofL winning a BCS Orange Bowl in 2007 and a BCS Sugar Bowl in 2013. This year was set to be extra special, with Louisville in the top 10 for much of the season, third for a week or so, fifth and sixth over a couple of weeks. A matter of taking care of business and UofL would have been in contention for the playoffs, possibly a national title.

Something about the composition of this team that couldn’t handle adversity or prosperity. Games against inferior competition became harder, more difficult to win, some decided in the last quarter, one on the final play. Finally, down the stretch they were unable to stop anybody but themselves.

What a letdown, so disappointing. Difficult to fault the fan base for not traveling to Orlando for the Citrus Bowl. Or to blame those watching the final football game on TV for wanting to change the channel. Just too painful to watch, the final chapter in what was once a very promising season.

Johnny U takes a sabbatical, moves to secure location

Johnny U has left his perch at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

Johnny Unitas no longer stands guard over the North end zone at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. In his absence is a stub of the concrete statue honoring the former University of Louisville great.

The statue has been moved and won’t be back until the expansion is complete in 2018.

That was the word from JCPS Stadium Manager Michael Ortman who is putting a padlock on Gate 9 a couple of minutes after the observer leaves the stadium on Tuesday morning.

“Where’s Johnny U?” the observer asks.

“I can’t say,” says Ortman. “The statue has been moved to another location where it will be safe and secure.”

“What about the bricks with the donors’ names on them?”

Stadium Manager Michael Ortman.

“They have been palletized,” replies Ortman. “and they are in safekeeping as well.”

“You sure you can’t tell us where Johnny U is being stored?”

“No way,” says Ortman, wondering who the character is asking all the questions. “The statue is in a safe location and I’m not saying anything about the whereabouts.”

As Vice President Tom Jurich promised, the stadium expansion began two days after the final game of the 2016 season. Work is clearly visible in both the north end zone and north of the Howard Schnellenberger football complex. Lots of preparation work for new utilities is under way in both areas. 

The shell of the new end zone structure is expected to be in place during the 2017 football season, along with framework of construction of the new football training facility. 

As for when and where Johnny U will be stationed when he returns , Ortman is equally mum.

“We’ll see,” he says.

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.

Lamar Jackson’s greatness differs from another Louisville legend

There probably has never been a more humble candidate for the Heisman Trophy than Lamar Jackson, representing the University of Louisville in the voting for college football’s most outstanding player in 2016.

Jackson is as soft spoken as they come, unassuming, unassertive, somewhat reluctant to accept all the praise coming his way, giving any credit for his accomplishments to his teammates. He genuinely seems surprised that the sports media is making such a fuss over him.

Lamar Jackson prefers wins over individual awards (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).
Lamar Jackson prefers wins over individual awards (Cindy Rice Shelton photo).

“I just go out there and play and try to win games and have fun with the team,” he said during a Monday evening press conference. The UofL sophomore indicated that he was surprised at being named a finalist for the Heisman award.

This  despite becoming the first player in Division I history to gain 1,500 yards rushing and 3,300 yards passing in a single season. Only the sixth player to ever post 20 rushing touchdowns and 20 passing touchdowns in a single season.

Jackson has achieved greatness in a year when the community of Louisville bade farewell to Muhammad Ali, one of the most recognized faces in the world. Ali was loved and respected in spite of his brashness, his arrogant speech and braggadocious personality.

Jackson is, without question, the polar opposite of Muhammad Ali, quietly going about his business. The UofL sophomore has the college football world focusing on him and Louisville football like never before in the history of the program. 

Jackson is not a natural when it comes to public speaking. He would rather be anywhere else instead of in front of a microphone. He is so reticent to speak that the result that he mumbles his remarks, often making his words almost incomprehensible.

There have been many great athletes at the University of Louisville, among them Darrell Griffith who led UofL to its first national basketball championship in 1980. Griffith was considered a Louisville legend long before his cut down the net in Indianapolis.

Jackson, regardless of his low key approach, may have already achieved the status of another “living legend” at UofL. He may well win the Heisman Trophy this weekend in New York, and may even contend for the award again next season.

But for Lamar Jackson, it’s pretty obvious that team honors come first with him. Even more apparent that Jackson will consider next season a failure if UofL is not a serious contender for the college football playoffs and a national championship.

If Bobby Petrino can assemble a support cast to protect him and take full advantage of his exceptional skills, Jackson’s senior year could be very special. The Heisman Trophy is nice, but it’s a distant second to what Jackson wants to accomplish at UofL.