The atmosphere was electric on an historic night for the University of Louisville, the first game for the football program as a member of the Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Watterson Expressway was already backed up at the Crittenden Drive exit three hours before kickoff, and an hour before the traffic patrols would arrive. The Green Lot was near capacity, too, except for the usual spots near the stadium, with UofL fans ready for some serious tailgating, taking full advantage of the Labor Day holiday. Many had arrived a couple of hours earlier and were well into their food and beverage stockpiles.
They don’t keep records of participants in Card March but the days when everyone in the crowd could personally high-five the players going into the tunnel are history if Monday’s event is an indication of things to come. The tunnel, the apron surrounding the area, and the walkway leading to the tunnel were all packed with well wishers. The Budweiser concession booth will have to be moved because Card March overran their exhibit area. Fans waving cameras in the air, hoping they will get lucky with shots but obviously too far away.
The sidelines on the field were packed, anyone with a connection there, media, bloggers, two or three dozen football recruits, ACC executives of every stripe, ESPN camera crews, cheerleaders, Ladybirds, skydiver crews, tough to move around, almost as crowded as the corridors beneath Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
The crowd a record gathering of 55,548, including at least 1,500 fans from Miami. There were the familiar faces in Section 234 but also a lot of new ones, eager to be a part of something special. Dressed in black, many of them from head to toe on a Black Out Night. They had staying power, too, the vast majority of them hanging around until the last two minutes of the game. Remarkable the night before a work day or school day for many. They were obviously enjoying being a part of something special for the University, including a great football game.
On the field, there was Bobby Petrino, ready to resume where he left off seven years ago. Bringing back the black uniforms, that aggressive offense of his, and wanting to get to the end zone at every opportunity, wanting to notch some style points, adding another touchdown with less than two minutes remaining. Gotta tweak that offense every opportunity, get the kinks out, leave no doubt that his team had dominated.
Dominique Brown, a one-man wrecking crew on offense, carrying that ball 33 times for 143 yards and a touchdown. None more impressive than on UofL’s final clock-crunching drive that consumed almost eight minutes, Brown carrying the ball nine times for 39 yards — denying Miami any hope of getting back in contention. That drive capped off by 10-yard touchdown pass from Will Gardner to Gerald Christian.
Gardner, in his first start as quarterback, completing 20 of 28 passes for 206 yards, not Teddy Bridgewater flashy but a solid performance, even with that fumble on his own seven yard line in the second quarter. A rookie quarterback mistake but he wasn’t throwing any interceptions against a defense that was better prepared than the one UofL defeated 36-9 in the Russell Bowl last season.
The play of the night, of course, that sensational Corvin Lamb kickoff return for 97 yards. Miami players never had a chance once he crossed his own 30-yard line, still chasing the kid from Miami in their nightmares.
“He’s a guy whose speed shows up every day in practice,” said Bobby Petrino. “I think we’ve just got to find a way to get him the ball and get him involved in our offense as well as special teams. He’s coming off an injury and we didn’t get to see him a lot in spring but he keeps getting better every day in practice.”
An electrifying night, one to remember, another one of those milestones that keep University of Louisville fans shaking their heads in delight these days.