Gut Check For Longtime Fans

Two days after an inexcusable loss to UConn, this observer still feels it. The  Louisville faithful are taking it very hard, as indicated by the E-mail this observer received from a longtime University of Louisville football supporter:

“After not missing a home game for 42 years and catching most of the away games, this is as bad as we’ve been since Cooper. Kragthorpe has lost us, a huge number of the old faithful. Never thought I’d say this, but bring on basketball …”

He and his wife were fans before the University of Louisville bandwagon made its most productive passes through town in 1980 and 1986, They were there for football in the sixties and seventies when Louisville football struggled to average 17,000 fans to meet Division I guidelines.  They were there before Howard Schnellenberger started educating the locals about college football. They were there before anyone even imagined something like Papa John’s stadium. But when the stadium became a reality, they gladly forked over huge bucks for tickets, the donation and good parking.

Good times, bad times, they were there, putting their resources behind the program so it could get better, become respectable, competitive. You can imagine their euphoria going to the Orange Bowl. Thrilled when the jets flew over during the Star Spangled Banner. Jubilant when the massive silver vessel was awarded to the Cards.

Their  incredible loyalty and love for the program had finally been rewarded. They eagerly anticipated the following season when the Cards would be ranked among the top 10 in the pre-season and expected to compete for even bigger stakes.

They were shocked, however, that the 2007 Cards bore no resemblance to their previous team, that the defense was a laughing stock, the offense became progressively worse as the season wore on. Okay, so maybe there were some bad apples left over from the previous coaching staff. Difficulties in adapting to a coaching transition, etc.

They bit their tongues when UofL opened the 2008 season with a embarrassing loss to a Kentucky team using a backup quarterback.  But they recognized that only nine UofL players in that game had ever started a game. They knew this year’s team was putting forth the effort, and acknowledged that the defense had made significant strides.

But when the Cards lose a game they should have won and put the program back on the right track, they are left puzzled by many of the coaching decisions and can only shake their heads in frustration. They are looking at the head coach for answers but they’re not getting any — and they have begun to doubt if they ever will.

These two fans are reflective of many others who follow Louisville football, dedicated fans whose aspirations for the program have been put on indefinite hold. They have legitimate reasons to be disappointed. They worry in their collective gut that the situation may get worse before it gets better.

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Men’s Soccer Trips Notre Dame — The 19th ranked Louisville Cardinals defeated third-ranked Notre Dame 2-1 on Sunday afternoon in Cardinal Park. Senior Aaron Clapham scored the game equalizer in the 89th minute to force the overtime period. The Cardinals’ win snaps Notre Dame’s seven game unbeaten streak and its 15-game BIG EAST regular-season unbeaten streak. Link.

Women Bump UConn — U of L’s Women’s Field Hockey emerged with a milestone win over UConn Saturday at Cardinal Park. Read Sonja’s report 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.

7 thoughts on “Gut Check For Longtime Fans

  • September 29, 2008 at 6:59 am

    For a second there, I thought the last horse might have crossed the finish line and realized that Steve Kooperthorpe is injecting our program with the cancer of mediocrity.

  • September 29, 2008 at 7:05 am

    I spoke yesterday with a long time Cardinal football fan who has been a supporter of the program since back in the Schnellenberger days. Although no longer a Louisville resident, she still follows Cardinal sports very closely from her Florida home, and she offered these observations…some her own…some her husband’s thoughts.

    -It’s been worse for UofL football. 11 years ago, we suffered thru a one win season. We talked about a road trip we took that year to Hsattiesburg, and sat there numbly as the Golden Eagles smacked the Cards by over 30 points in a game that wasn’t even close.

    “That’s maybe the most despressed I’ve been about the state of Cardinal football I can remember.” Mary Beth recalled. “Several years earlier, we had been Liberty Bowl champions, but it seemed that afternoon in Mississippi that we had reached the bottom of the ocean floor. I think the guys just cashed it in after that game for the rest of the season. I remember thinking that I had signed up with excitement several months earlier for seats in our new stadium, and wondered if we would be putting an awful as this product in it, and if anyone would show up to support it.”

    History, as we know, shows the Cards did rebound…and went to 9 straight bowls after that woeful 1997 year.

    She remains optimistic about the future of Cardinal football.
    “I think the Cards can still turn this year around and pull out a decent record. I think we’ll beat Memphis and MTSU, and give South Florida a fight to the wire after that. I only wish we could come up to see it.”

    The time to rally behind the Cards is now. Just as the Southern Miss game back then was a turning point in a season…the Memphis game could prove to be a bellweather for the rest of the 2008 season. Capture a win in the Liberty bowl, and the Cards will have the momentum and confidence to take down a surprising good MTSU team at Papa John’s.

    Keep supporting these guys, there are a ton of rough and unpolished diamonds on this roster that could become brillant showpieces with a little care, maitenance and support. Instead of jumping off the ship, grab a friend and bring them out for the rest of this cruise. As Yogi Berra used to say,
    “It ain’t over till it’s over.” and your support over these next three games is crucial to a team tottering on the brink of either success or failure.

  • September 29, 2008 at 7:19 am

    This team is still playing for the coaches. There are serious holes in key positions though. You have to give them time to plug those holes. We are also a very young/inexperienced team. This game, although painful to the fans, was a great experience for the team in learning how you have to continue to execute down the stretch.

    I don’t understand the over-emotional reaction to a tough loss to a team that was loaded with veterans who knew how to close out a game. Some things are taught, but only learned through experience. You have to give them time.

  • September 29, 2008 at 10:14 am

    I also have memories of the Cooper era and don’t really want to go down that road again. It is hard to get excited about this coach when he comes in and takes over a program that has had so much success in the last 9 years. Was Petrino really not recruiting for a longer stay? Was it really neccesary to have a complete revamping of the program because we got a new coach? Wasn’t there anything positive found in the returning players that could be built upon? Come on, this program was in better shape when Kragthorpe took over than we are seeing on the field. I think we are lacking discipline in the players and focus when playing in practice and it translates to poor performance in the games. I think the world of Tom Jurich and I am hopeful he will in due time admit this mistake and get us the coach we need to sustain a quality football program. I just hope it’s in time to hold onto the faithful who have donated and followed this program to the heights we have experienced the past 9 years.

  • September 29, 2008 at 1:49 pm

    My biggest concern at this point is:

    Playcalling (UK and UConn games),

    And (5) verbal 2-star commits, and (1) 3-star (Lake Taylor’s Mike Privott) who is back and forth, out of (25) scholys a year.

    Looks like more “last minute Christmas shopping” again this season, with the JUCOs search starting in December.

    Well, only (19-20) more recruits to go, to fill our scholys for the year.

    God help us.

  • September 29, 2008 at 2:29 pm

    I started following Louisville football in 2001, when I retired from the Army and worked to finish my degree. I was in the stands the night we beat Florida State in the rain, and remember thinking that they might have some potential if they could win a game like that with an over their heads performance and then figure out a way to beat the mediocre SEC team from down the road.

    As an Arkansas native and son of a bookie, I have been following college football for over forty years. I can think of three keys to building a consistent powerhouse football (or for that matter basketball) program. The school must put together a quality coaching staff that can teach fundamentals and convince high school stars that the NFL is within reach if they come to Louisville. That staff must then get some players into the professional league. And the staff must convince parents that their kids will develop personal character under their mentoring.

    These three things come together only if the coaching staff stays around long enough to create its own culture. It is no accident that the best football programs in the country built their traditions under long-tenure coaches like Frank Broyles, John Vaught, Joe Paterno, and Bo Schembechler. Consistent, traditional powers all talk about some “era”—the “Crum era” or the “Pitino era.”

    Some of these guys stayed on too long–Broyles and Paterno come to mind–but no five-star recruit will commit to a program without a realistic expectation that the coaches recruiting them will be there to teach him. “Fire Kragthorpe” web sites are counterproductive.

    Steve Kragthorpe is a fine football coach. He has recruited and won at an historical doormat. We can debate about why things went wrong last year, but in the end that was not his team-—he could not possibly have made major staff changes before last year, and it takes at least a year for a coaches first recruits to have an impact (and Kragthorpe’s have!). When Kragthorpe did make staff changes he made some good ones—attracting Ron English alone should inspire some confidence in his ability to manage a big-time program. He also could not be expected to win last year with Petrino’s players–kids who were apparently either pissed about Petrino leaving, refusing to buy into the new philosophy, or just plain too busy getting stoned to play hard for the new coach.

    But the man can plainly recruit quality players. He kept Anderson and Beaumont–obviously the core of a future stud offense–in Louisville. He got Bilal Powell, also a future star. Phil Simms thinks enough of him to keep his kid at Louisville. And he did all this less than a month after his hiring in January last year.

    My point is that Louisville has no chance to build a consistent winner and traditional power by bringing in a new coach every year until we accidently get into a bowl. This breeds Petrinoism—mediocre coaches who come in, win, and go for the big bucks. Besides, if it’s all about the coach, why is Petrino getting killed in Fayetteville?

    Louisville has just now begun to build the facilities that attract young players. We are putting kids into the NFL. We have started to build a fan base and tradition. But this all takes years, and we have to keep plugging and take the good with the bad.

    To be sure, Kragthorpe may not be the man for the job. But until his recruits are seniors, and players scouted by the previous regime are gone, we won’t really know. I say let’s give the guy a chance, and I predict success if we keep doing what we are doing (and keep Ron English–high school cornerbacks will want to play for him).

    Go Cards.

  • September 30, 2008 at 3:07 pm

    Thanks Justin.

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