Giving Birth To Tailgating

Bill Olsen popped out of retirement briefly to give this observer a call a few days after reading some recollections on his tenure at the University of Louisville. We talked about several things that Bill was involved with, some of which will be shared in future blog entries.tailgata.jpg

His primary challenge in the eighties was football because the basketball program was at its zenith, having captured national championships in 1980 and 1986. When he became AD in1980,  football tickets sold for $3 each. Attendance was about 15,000 per game.  He made it his goal to ramp up the football program in a big way at U of L.

“The only games we ever made money were those against Western Kentucky, and we didn’t play them every year,” he says. “We were facing some significant challenges.”

He recalls that Tommy Carroll, former president of the University of Louisville Associates, conceived the idea of tailgating before he arrived. A marketing committee was created by Charlie Herd, of the Chamber of Commerce.  Among the members were Maury Buchart, then Vice President of Marketing at the Courier-Journal, Bob Goetz, also of the CJ, and Mike Brown, of Pepsi.

“The marketing committee suggested that we start promoting the tailgating concept, making them social events as well,” said Olsen. “Many other schools were doing it but we had just never done it.”

The committee urged Chamber businesses to get involved. Among them was WHAS Radio, which promoted the concept of 84-for-84 (840 is station channel). Wayne Perkey, Milton Metz and other station celebrities manned a tailgating area, selling sandwiches and cold drinks for 84 cents. U of L also encouraged the cheerleaders and Lady Birds to mingle with crowd and got the band to march through the crowd around old Fairgrounds Stadium. Many groups of friends and families quickly gravitated to the idea of food fests, and it ballooned from there.

“We also put up billboards,” he says. “The images on the first billboard consisted only of a leaf falling on a football. The theme was ‘Six Super Saturdays.’ We stayed away from the inferior product on the field and focused on the atmosphere surrounding the game.”

“Tailgating just continued to grow. People loved it. Some of them enjoyed it so much they never went into the stadium for the game. We became one of the best tailgating schools in the country.”

Oh, and football attendance had grown to between 28,000 – 30,000 in the years before Olsen retired in 1997.

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U of L also ran with an idea suggested by Charlie Herd, the “Kids & Cops” promotion with Pepsi’s backing, with the police passing out trading cards with pictures of the football players. The program promoted U of L football while also building good will between the police and children and youth around the city.

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Maury Buchart, mentioned above, also was the person who introduced the cabooses that line the back of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. The cabooses lease for about $10,000 a year for tailgating purposes. Some of them are available for rent for private parties. This observer celebrated a milestone birthday party there (the best ever) a few years ago and the cost then was $300 for the night.

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Chalk Up No. 40, Advance To Championship

Justin McClanahan is feeling no pain. The thumb is just fine now, thank you.  The back? no problem.

McClanahan appears to have fully recovered from the thumb injury that sidelined him for the first nine games this smcclanahan.jpgeason. as well as an aching back that bothered him in recent weeks.

The proof came Friday as the University of Louisville baseball team mowed down Villanova 13-6 to move into the championship game of the Big East Tournament, McClanahan leading the way, U of L improving its record to 40-19.

Check this out: Two home runs, including a grand slam. Five hits in six at bats. Seven runs batted in. Eleven total bases. Three runs scored.

The pride of amateur baseball in Annapolis, Md., has raised his batting average to .379, with 93 hits in 247 at-bats. He has 10 homers and 56 runs batted in.

ul-cardinal-head-logo2-thumb11.jpg   Thomas Royse, the freshman righthander from Lexington, picked up his fourth win without a loss in relief, scattering four hits, striking out three, and allowing three runs over six innings.

ul-cardinal-head-logo2-thumb11.jpg  Righthander Zack Pitts (6-5), once considered the ace, is not as effective as he once was, lasting only two innings, giving up three runs in the second. Somewhat of a concern in post season play.

ul-cardinal-head-logo2-thumb11.jpg  Chris Dominguez smashed his 20th home run this season, along with a single, pushing three runs across the plate.

ul-cardinal-head-logo2-thumb11.jpg  Championship game against Cincinnati Saturday at 1 p.m. The game will be telecast on ESPN-U. Get the yard work done early.


Construction Constructive

Should be getting the word very soon on the expansion of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium from 42,000 to 63,000 seats, according to Business First of Louisville. The University of Louisville is expected to announce construction schedules during a reception today for Minority Business Enterprise and Women Business Enterprise-certified organizations interested in participating in the project.

Gonna happen, naysayers, stick your heads back in the sand.

ul_cardinal_head_logo2 Some concerns about the future of the downtown basketball arena project remain, with major bond insurers having been hard hit by the sub-prime loan lending crisis. The Museum Plaza project has been indefinitely postponed as the developers await lower interest loans. Metro Council President Jim King, a banker, has said there’s a big difference between the stalled Museum Plaza project and the Louisville Arena — the Arena has plenty of time to get its financing together and it has significant state and local guarantees.

Maybe so, maybe not. The expected timeline for obtaining bond insurance keeps getting extended. The best news is that Jim Host, who has already navigated this project through some major hurdles, is determined to make it happen.

Take good care of yourself, Big Jim.

ul_cardinal_head_logo2 About 15 years ago, Joe Elliott, then the evening talk show host at WHAS [yes, the station that sold out to UK] pronounced the U of L football stadium project dead. That was before Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corporation (a former employer) pledged $3 million for the club and Papa John’s Pizza pledged $5 million for naming rights.

I enjoyed calling Elliott the evenings before opening games for several years to tell him we would be on our way out to the stadium. The message was to never doubt the determination of the University of Louisville, the administration and fans.

Reasons To Back Memphis

This observer picks Memphis in the NCAA championship. Not because he likes Memphis, nothing could be further from the mark. Memphis is the choice because it is the non-traditional power overcoming all the biases against non-state universities and schools that are not considered by the herd as traditional powers.

Memphis is not at all likable, with players like Joey Dorsey who use intimidation more than finesse to get their way. The sight of Dorsey towering over and glaring at a Tennessee free throw shooter is one I won’t soon forget. Their coach, John Calipari, is a whiner personified, a man who recruits controversial players, the kind of person you like to see get canned and have his team placed on probation.

The pick for Memphis is for all the schools that have to work twice as hard to get recognition, that don’t get first choice at state monies to beautify their campuses, that have to fight the rural legislators and the big state university like dogs for recognition, that have to convert “state” fans to “hometown” fans or have to work or park next to state fans every day in their own communities.

Go get ’em, Memphis. Beat the stereotypes.

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Tar Heels All Day Long

Much at stake Card fans.

Saturday will be a long day whether Louisville wins, splits or loses two games against North Carolina. Carolina fans have all but marked both games down in the win columns. Can’t blame them because the University of Louisville has had to make up ground in recent years, getting the men’s and women’s teams competitive.ul_cardinal_head_logo2.jpg

The challenges are immense but Tom Jurich hires people like Rick Pitino and Jeff Walz because they relish such opportunities. Take on the best, means more, even more satisfying, if you beat them in front of their fans.

Men must defeat the nation’s No. 1 team, a team with a 32-2 record to make the Final Four. A real shot at a third national championship beckons for the first time in two decades. The surprising trip in 2005 was a major achievement, but nobody gave U of L any chance.

However, the Cards are a serious contender this time around; they’re close, they can almost taste it.

Got to get past North Carolina first.

Women must get past a No. 3-ranked team with a 30-2 record to make the Elite Eight. Would be the first time ever to get that far. This is all new to them. Perennial powers UConn and Rutgers can attest to their toughness, however.

It would be too easy to say they’re a year away. That would be a mistake, next year is a mirage, not yet real. The next level is staring the women in the face.

Got to get past North Carolina.