Card March is back, with hundreds of fans, maybe thousands, wanting to get up close and personal with the University of Louisville football team on its way into Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium in the season opener. The showing Monday probably even exceeding Coach Bobby Petrino’s expectations when he introduced the concept a decade ago.
Petrino and many of the players appeared to be surprised and overwhelmed by the show of support, the gathering of well-wishers so large that it was difficult for many fans to even see the players. Senior guard Jake Smith for one, pausing a couple of times on his way down the steps to take it all in. While not an altogether spontaneous gathering, it was the spot where many fans had to be, wanting to be a part of kicking off a special season.
The celebration was back at the Denny Crum Overpass, with players descending the steps, into the tunnel and on to the stadium. Back to the original location after former Coach Charlie Strong had moved it several times over four seasons, relocating the event three times last season alone. He once even threatened to cancel it.
For whatever reason, the event never seemed to gain much traction during Strong’s tenure, the former coach often complaining about lack of turnout. That may have been due to several factors, including mediocre opponents, noon kickoffs and inconsistency. Under Strong, the team skipped Card March a couple of times during inclement weather, taking the bus directly to the locker room.
A baffling decision considering the team and fans were supposed be in this thing together. There may also have been some resentment, too, with Strong telling fans what they should be doing or how they ought to be, or comparing them with those of an arch-rival fan base.
Petrino has never gone out of his way to lecture the team’s fan base, recognizing that fan enthusiasm will grow with genuine anticipation, quality opponents and exciting football. The stadium was near capacity at kickoff against Miami, and there was no mass exodus in the last five minutes. The fans were loud when it counted, the coach giving them credit for their support on third-down defensive situations.
It may be a challenge to generate the same kind of fan intensity for an opponent like Murray State on Saturday but Card March is clearly back where it belongs.