1980: Things Were About To Change

University of Louisville basketball returns to Indianapolis this weekend, the birthing place of the school’s first national championship, the occasion sparking memories of a climactic visit to the Naptown in 1980. Quite a season, putting a new face on U of L basketball in so many ways:

  • Card gear was scarce, almost impossible to find, even at the UofL book store. Everybody wore the same stuff because of this. Fans considered themselves lucky if they could find a T-shirt at Bacon’s or Ben Snyder’s department stores. Not much variety in Card wear at games; everybody wearing the same thing. The trip to the Final Four changed all that, with the downtown Stewart’s actually offering UofL shirts for the first time in its long history. The variety of gear to be found these days a wonder to longtime fans.

    Rob Hickerson
    Rob Hickerson
  • The C-A-R-D-S cheer was originated by a young man named Rob Hickerson. Stepping out of anonymity in the upper reaches of the southeast corner of Freedom Hall, challenging people, getting them off their posteriors. Hickerson could not sit still, running up and down the aisles, jumping over rails, inventing a new sign language, finally getting fellow fans involved. The Hall would never be the same. Rob is still around, still waiting for some spontaneity, but still doing his thing, just not as often.
  • Louisville fans started filling up Freedom Hall. Gone from a few seasons before were the huge dark areas of unfilled seats behind the baskets. Still one had a good choice of seats, as the observer did, often taking advantage of free press passes provided by George Rorrer, then sports information director. But the observer preferred being a fan, getting away from the know-it-alls at the press table. Plenty of seats to choose from at the time but they would become extremely scarce after the national championship.
  • I remember driving around Louisville the day before the Final Four, looking for signs of support. About the only evidence of anything unusual was one on the marquee at a Kentucky Fried Chicken on Preston Street. Car flags hadn’t even been conceived yet, nor had UofL license plates. Bumper stickers prevailed, and there were far too many blue ones.
  • Got better on the way to Indianapolis, with vehicles adorned in all sorts of ways. Mine? A felt Cardinal Bird taped to the car radio antenna.
  • Things were about to change.

Got any memories of those days? Share them here.

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Charlie Springer

Charlie Springer is a former Louisville editor and sportswriter, a public affairs consultant, a UofL grad and longtime fan.

18 thoughts on “1980: Things Were About To Change

  • March 25, 2009 at 1:05 pm

    Charlie, I went to my first UL game just after Christmas in 1974. It was easy to get tickets then. My parents took me because they first were interested in the Kentucky Colonels. However, they didn’t seem to care for ABA basketball and stuck with UL. It was 1977 when Darrell Griffith was a sophomore was about the time UL games started getting sold out. Walk up sell outs basically. I just don\’t remember it being that empty in Freedom Hall at that time. We eventually got season tickets and we were in the section above were Rob Hickerson started his Cards chant. We had had them a couple years before then and Freedom Hall was pretty full for UL games then. The 1980 championship of course changed everything.

    • March 25, 2009 at 3:25 pm

      Ron, thanks for the memories, and for refreshing mine about the attendance. Dave Hart, who just recently passed, had done a good job of promoting the program and building the donor base.

  • March 25, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    Just recall what Freedom Hall, the OLD Freedom Hall, looked like then, without all those banners, without those suites, without those bright TV lights, without that jumbotron, without the end zone and sideline stats, without the words “Denny Crum Court” on the playing floor, and without all the SEASON TICKET holders! Those of us “old-timers” will always treasure being there at the “beginning.” Thanks, Denny. Go Cards!

  • March 25, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    Great memories, great year. I think the smallish crowds were over before then but tickets were easier than now. I remember most the intensity of the crowds. That year was unlike it had been in any previous year. I think it came from the players’ intensity. That was a unique, determined group. We played Ohio State at home in December right after Scooter went down and out in a TV away game. Ohio State had a great team that year, with a big front court. Fans were worried/depressed that our hopes of success were gone with Scooter’s knee. However, the players seemed to rise to the occasion in that game and played their hearts out and the crowd got charged. It never let up after that in Freedom Hall. To me that Ohio State game was the transition from then to now. We had a hiccup at Iona, but otherwise those guys just willed their way past everyone. Griff was the senior leader, but Lord I miss Derek. He brought a unique fire. There was a nice little special recently on CBS or ESPN regarding Nolan Smith. It focused also on Derek with some video. Brought back great memories and sadness.

    Now it is back to Nap-Town as Poncho would say!! This is it!

    • March 25, 2009 at 3:26 pm

      Poncho Wright, never wrong. I can still see his rainbow shot arching over the floor, hitting nothing but net.

  • March 25, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    I remember some ferocious Memphis State games in those years. The rivalry is still just intense, they just aren’t playing each other for the time being. The rivalry is too good to stay gone.

    • March 25, 2009 at 3:59 pm

      We really need to play Memphis again. What a shame. I sense that Pitino is not a Calipari fan.

  • March 25, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    My mom brought me a surprise last week, my 1980 final four scrapbook. I have old clippings of just about everything written about the team that year. Amazing stuff to read. Anyone who doesn’t believe this years team is so similar to that team needs to read those articles! Denny Crum talking defense defense defense. Great crazy guards off the bench. (burkman and branch) The stars (griffith and smith) the freshman center (mccray) and someone you just love to see smile (brown). The games felt the same too, down in the first half, charging back in the second. I distinctly remember believing that if we were within 10 points at halftime, we were gonna win for sure. We are even the ville now because of ponch wright and the “the ville is going to naptown”. Memories. I loved that team, I love this team too, maybe even more.

  • March 25, 2009 at 5:31 pm

    great memories charlie!

    hey, i’m sometimes one of those guys on press row as is Prudat and KyLures

    I guarantee we not only don’t know-it-all

    we know very little! ; – )

  • March 25, 2009 at 5:40 pm

    oops! I added smith in there, but I guess that was wishful thinking! Another memory for mw was actually attending the game in indy! I was in college at the time, and me and several friends had driven to Houston for the regionals. By the time we got back, the student lottery had already taken place. We were so bummed! We went straight to the ticket office and asked for mercy. We ended up getting tickets all right! In the bleacher seats at the end of the court on the floor right under the basket! It was incredible! We were next to the band. Actually, if you get the dvd of the game, we are in it! OK. so you have to go frame by frame to see me, but I am there!

  • March 25, 2009 at 5:45 pm

    That reminds me, Linda, I have two big pizza containers of memorabilia and stuff from the 1980 and 1986 years in the attic. May have retrieve those treasures soon. I will watch for you in the DVD.

  • March 25, 2009 at 7:52 pm

    I was a sophomore in high school the year we won our first National Championship. So many good memories from that time! Please…to the basketball gods…let it be 1980 all over again! GO CARDS!!

  • March 25, 2009 at 8:55 pm

    We were at the final four in Indy that year. Paul came home from work with a “surprise” one afternoon…tickets for the tournament. He had an “in” with the student activities director at the time..George Howe. We had been married 15 months and I was 8 months pregnant with first daughter Angela…but there was no way I was missing the games.

    We drove back and forth in the old 1975 Chevy Malibu we had…me stopping to “pee” frequently as pregnant women are want to do. The atomsphere was absolutely electric and we had seats up high across from the UofL bench. I remember having to “hold it in” the entire second half because I wasn’t about to walk those steps one more time until the game was over and I remember the obnoxious UCLA lady two rows in front of us that I wanted to go down and slug. Most of all…I remember the craving for cold spaghetti and my mom’s chicken and dumplings the entire ride back that night and insisting we stop by there at 3 AM because I knew she had some left from the weekend. To this day, Angela won’t eat cold spaghetti.

    A time I’ll never forget and we have the official program for the game in a box somewhere in the attic.

  • March 25, 2009 at 10:01 pm

    While we couldn’t get to the game, we never missed a play. I remember when we won it all in 1980 and 1986 riding down Bardstown Road with hundreds of other cars jambing the road…people running alongside the cars yelling GO CARDS!! I held my arm out the window and was just hand slapping all of the fans running beside our car. It was wonderful. Remember the Celebration we had at Freedom Hall in 1986? I remember Denny telling the fans after U of L won it all both times…don’t tear the city up; celebrate and enjoy it but (implied) be good. Unlike other cities when their home team wins the NCAA Championship, for the most part, Louisville acted as though she had been there before…this team reminds me so much of those teams. NO COACH will EVER be as special to me as Denny Crum back in those days but (don’t get me wrong) I love RP and appreciate the job he is doing here. This team has the Cardinal Spirit of the past…I love the whole package. Let’s do it again – go CARDS and PLEASE keep on going. LOL

  • March 25, 2009 at 11:28 pm

    I remember coming to Freedom Hall and welcoming the new champions home. What a thrill!! I was only 11 but I remember it like it was yesterday…getting to see Dr. Dunkenstein and the gang! I had his poster up in my room: you know the one with him in a lab coat holding a basketball cut in half and each half was filled with a strange smoking liquid. Also, my favorite song that year was “This is It!” The radio and TV stations every time they started to talk about UofL. I wore my official red UofL National Champions t-shirt that showed the roster and the final score all the time. My 8 year old son now wears that shirt proudly!! I would love to be able to buy him a new one of his own. That would be spectacular!!!

  • March 26, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    Forgot about the lab coat, Kim. Sharp memory you have there.

  • March 26, 2009 at 1:42 pm

    Believe it or not, there are some 1980 (!) National Championship tee shirts available at Kohl’s, Oxmoor. Go figure.

    • March 26, 2009 at 6:43 pm

      Believe it or not, I’ve still got my ’80 and ’86 shirts put up – only way I’ll get them out to wear is if we win another one….wouldn’t it be lover-ly? Keep on going, CARDS. You rock!

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