Louisville Football’s Rise to Live Howard Schellenberger’s Dream: by Mark Blankenbaker


To begin writing this I began with the title. And then I let the screen stay blank for a little while. Silence. Me & my keyboard behind a bright screen where I have hastily written so many other words about Cardinal football. From this spot I’ve written, I’ve researched. I planned travel, booked hotels. Tracked, followed, and analyzed. But it didn’t begin here.

It began in the parking lot at the Kentucky Fair & Exposition Center. Throwing Nerf Football in the parking lots. Getting excited to stay up past my bedtime because Louisville was playing on Thursday Night. I remember the biggest human being I ever laid eyes on was Ted Washington. I remember Brett Favre. Playing on the field at Old Cardinal Stadium with other random kids after the games. Seeing Texas go down, Caravan to Riverfront Stadium, failed two-point conversion against Ohio St, Brohm’s broken leg, Anthony Cumming’s post-pattern, the Liberty Bowl…..and Southern Miss. Oh Southern Miss I remember how you used to be.

I remember the stadium during Ron Cooper. The canon mis-firing during the game injuring several student volunteers. I was at every game during 1-10, and I remember those games being cold. Even the ones in September. I remember having a brief lead over Penn State & Joe Paterno and how exciting that was. I remember going to Joe’s Older Than Dirt for Ron Cooper’s last Coaches’ show and Paul Rogers reading a question off the air: “How long will it take for you to pack your s***?” And how insistent Cooper was that he would be back for 1998 to open Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.

I remember the opening day thrashing of that new stadium. And hearing one of the most annoying and uneducated Kentucky fans in existence say over & over again: “Air Raid ’98″ as Tim Couch lit up the brand new scoreboard. I remember my father’s heart attack that year and him having to miss Mike Watkins fill in for Chris Redman against Army to go bowling. I remember him arranging for me & my friend to go to the Motor City Bowl because he was unable to go. I remember how cold Pontiac, Michigan was 2 days before Christmas after a pep rally and BEFORE the Silverdome opened its gates.

I remember the Liberty & GMAC Bowls. I remember the rain. I remember the goal posts coming down. I remember: “Are You Ready?” I remember Jerry Punch announcing John L. Smith to Michigan State DURING the GMAC Bowl after a 12-hour bus ride, taking a beating against Byron Leftwich and Marshall, and then riding 12-hours BACK.

Taking a knee against Kentucky because Bobby Petrino wanted “to give them want they want.” I remember Miami & how the eyes lit up around the now demolished Miami Orange Bowl when Stefan LeFors hit Tiger Jones on a fade. And I remember Devin Hester, Frank Gore, and Kerry Rhodes’ drop. I remember going 11-1 and going to the Liberty Bowl. The jubilation of a Big East invite, Dumervil’s 6 sacks, & I remember driving through the fog of West Virginia only to arrive in the one of the most hostile environments imaginable in Morgantown. I remember the Big East apology letters.

I remember what happens when you jump on the bird. The best individual performance I’ve ever witnessed was Michael Bush’s first half versus Kentucky in 2006. I remember his leg. I remember Brohm’s thumb. Urrutia’s stiff arm. Will Gay’s offisides. Jeremy Ito’s point to the camera. The field rush in Piscataway. I remember Pat Carter to Anthony Allen in the Orange Bowl & celebrating while hugging my mom who the next month would find out she had breast cancer.

I remember the Atlanta Falcons and upon meeting Steve Kragthorpe how upset I was that we took a step back. And those 3 years I have tried to NOT remember. But somehow I just can’t forget or forgive Larry Taylor’s ‘fair catch’ or Mike Teel’s deep ball. I remember carving “Fire Krag” backwards into a pumpkin and projecting it against any surface I could find.

I remember Charlie Strong’s tears on his first day. Bilal Powell’s run. Pat Moorer on Fox Sports for 3 quarters as Charlie Strong. I remember Jeremy Wright’s kickoff return & Charlie Strong’s fist pump. Will Stein’s deep ball, Teddy Bridgewater’s first TD, beating Kentucky. Charlie Strong surfing his team, Andrew Johnson’s kisses. Anthony Conner’s neck…….

And then this year. I have no idea on the time. No idea on the gas. But it was worth it. It rained. If you read me regularly you already know about the rain. It even rained during the Sugar Bowl in New Orleans. Kentucky, UNC, FIU, Southern Miss, Cincinnati. Still 11-2. This year was incredible. Full of moments like the ones above. We’ll look back at Teddy, we’ll look back at Coach Strong & Shawn Watson’s emotion. “You can buy a person a lot…..”, ”I am so proud, that was awesome.” But there are a million other stories that got us there.

There are certainly a lot of other moments to remember. But even for those memories that we might lose along the way it’s important to regain perspective of the journey. The highs and lows of a football program, of life, are all there to make you appreciate the struggle and when arriving at accomplishment. In the end, Louisville fans made this happen. We made it happen because we stubbornly kept showing up. Kept fighting the good fight. Thousands of C-A-R-D-S chants. Tickets. Parking. But it’s the PASSION. Louisville isn’t Ohio State. And we don’t want to be. We are tight knit group with no room on the bandwagon. No room for people who lack conviction. In 2012 349,938 tickets were punched (2nd in school history) during THE WORST WEATHER SEASON ON RECORD for Gamedays. That speaks for itself.

Louisville has won. Louisville has lost. There can be a lot of excuses in life & football about why you aren’t where you want to be. But there are some things no one can take away from you Hard work, Passion. Block out the naysayers. Take names of the critics. This is personal. What is life if it isn’t personal? Louisville football should NOT be here. They should not have wins in the Orange, Sugar, and Fiesta Bowls. Let alone APPEARANCES! But this city and our school has never worried about where OTHER PEOPLE think we should be. We’re great. We know it. Give us a stage and we’ll show you.

Before Wednesday night maybe the light on Howard Schellenberger’s vision was dimming for a lot of you. Maybe the “collision course” was more of a mission statement than a prophecy. But for a school whose motto is: “It’s Happening Here” in a city tabbed as “Possibility City” maybe it’s time to renew the belief in the “The Pipe’s” crystal ball.

I don’t need to break down the X’s & O’s for the Sugar Bowl. I’ve done that before, you’ve read that before. You’ve seen the game. Florida came in and was over-matched. Period. The game wasn’t close. Louisville left points on the field. It wasn’t Louisville’s best effort. It wasn’t a flawless game. And still it was enough to beat the #3 team in the nation by 10 with the FOOT OFF THE GAS!!!!

The 2013 Sugar Bowl win wasn’t just in between the lines for Louisville. I predicted a win. I asked CrumsRevenge to make a Hype Video for the fanbase. We didn’t do that because we wanted to sell tickets for the school. We did that because we wanted YOU to believe what we already thought was possible. And maybe inspire some casual Cardinal fans to re-think their position. The Sugar Bowl was about showing the WORLD what the Cardinal Fan Base is all about. It was about showing the WORLD what this PROGRAM is all about. The fans, the players, the coaches, the administration, the SID staff, the local media. We all played our part, and NAILED IT. Passion, effort, hard work, ingenuity no one can take from a person. HEART. And that’s what happened Wednesday Night. WE SHOCKED THE WORLD.

-Mark Blankenbaker