“You comin’ bitch?”
That was my invitation. My new brother-in-law was a graduate from the University of Louisville Medical School. I was an accepted member of his extended family and a man nearly 10 years his junior. I had proven myself worthy by being the straight man during a 48-hour bachelor party trip to Vegas. Despite my Big Blue leanings, my ability to drag drunks from the black jack table before they puke was a valued asset. I was in the inner circle.
“Yeah. I guess.”
It really was my only response. Doc Redbird, my brother-in-law, bleeds red. So do his friends. He was inviting me to watch the annual UK vs U of L football game. The game was to be held at ground zero: Papa John’s Stadium. I was being invited into the inner sanctum of Louisville fandom. These guys had season tickets, parking passes, and a deep desire to see UK lose by a large margin and as often as possible. These are men that call you up when Louisville girls volleyball beats UK in a summer league just to brag and take the opportunity to extol the virtues of everything that is red. They were legacy. One guy has basketball season tickets 10 rows behind Pitino. Another is a surgeon with box seats. They are serious boosters and they have little humor regarding the expectations of The University of Lousiville Athletic Program. They also wanted an audience. They wanted me there to witness the destruction of UK football.
I was nervous. I attended UK from 1994-2000 which was the pinnacle of the Pitino/Smith eras in basketball. Unfortunately, it also coincided with the Bill Curry era. The era of 1-10 seasons and three to nothing wins over Indiana. Not good times. Bad times. Hal Mumme, Craig Yeast, and Tim Couch had provided a faint flicker of hope only to have it dashed by ego, increased expectations, and aspersion. The year was 2002 and Louisville was riding a 3-contest Game One winning streak. Quarterback David Ragone was bringing Heisman buzz to a Louisville program that was expected to finish in the top ten in the nation. It was assumed to be a bloodbath for John L. Smith’s squad.
UK entered the game with some talent. Jared Lorenzen, Derek Abney, and Artose Pinner were providing a spark on the offense. Dewayne Robertson, Jeremey Caudill, and Quentus “I am Cumby dammit” were stars on the defensive side of the ball. They had a puncher’s chance, but nobody expected Guy Morriss’ squad to really compete. Morriss had taken over for Mumme in 2001 amid scandal and had gone 2-9 the previous year. The Louisville fans knew that an old fashioned ass-whoopin’ was about to commence.
My only compatriot was Doc Redbird’s other brother-in-law, a UK graduate named Jeff. Jeff and I met Doc Redbird’s crew at the stadium for tailgating and suffered the requisite amount of bile and invective. Doc had scored tickets for the whole crew and had mercifully given Jeff and I tickets next to each other, “so you guys can cry on each other’s shoulders when the Kitty Cats are down by 37 in the first quarter.” There was no comeback.
It is here I feel I should point out the only three things that make attending a UK vs U of L football game worthwhile:
1) Reserved parking spots. Unlike UK, U of L parking pass holders are assigned a spot within a parking lot. You can get there 2 hours prior to game time and your spot is saved. I like this idea. As someone that has to get to his spot when the lot opens every Saturday at 8 am, I would appreciate having the opportunity to have my spot reserved for when I get to the game. We pulled into the lot 4 hours before one of the biggest games of the year and were escorted to a spot 10 rows from the stadium. Bliss.
2) Blacktop. All the parking spots for U of L tailgating are on asphalt. As someone that has suffered through muddy, rainy games 2-3 times a year, I can see the value in not having to deal with muddy shoes and slick grass slopes that hinder visits to the porta-potty. You ever see the inside of a UK porta-john during a rainy game? It looks like Claude Bassett’s anus prolapsed all over the floor. No mud, no issues.
3) Beer sales inside the stadium. This needs no explanation. It is awesome not having to smuggle in alcohol. I don’t care what it costs. Beer during a football game is what God intended. Back to the story.
After hours of tailgating and healthy doses of bravado and insults from Louisville fans, we entered the stadium. Jeff and I found our seats amidst a plethora of Cardinal adorned Luddites.
“How do you think we will do?” Jeff asked me anxiously.
“Hell, if we just make a showing, I’ll be happy”, was my only response.
We had no idea what we were about to experience. UK started off the game with teeth-shattering defense. On the first four Louisville offensive series, UK sacked the Heisman hopeful 2 times and held the offense to -3 yards. The Pillsbury Throwboy sprayed the ball all over the field. Lorenzen hit Ernest Sims for a 64 yard touchdown and Pinner kept a ball-control offense on the field chewing up clock and maintaining the lead.
The next few hours were full of high fives and chest bumps for Jeff and me. It was pure elation. Here we were, sacrificial lambs meant to be embarrassed and shunned, cheering for a plucky team that was giving the Cards all they could handle. On a play late in the fourth quarter, Jeremy Caudill broke through the line and hit David Ragone so hard there was an audible groan from the stadium. Caudill stood over Ragone like Ali over a Liston and punched the air in victory. Ragone, channeling the collective feelings of the fans, simply threw up. One play later, the Cardinal QB threw an interception to Mike Williams and the game was over. 22-17. UK wins.
Jeff and I practically skipped back to the car. I couldn’t erase the grin off my face if I tried. Most of the tailgating crew had left the game at halftime and were sulking under the tent. They were so upset that the game was close that they couldn’t bring themselves to watch it. Jeff and I started in, asking how many Heisman winners had lost their opening day game to an unranked team and wondered aloud if Doc Redbird could assist in removing DeWayne Robertson’s facemask from Ragone’s spine. It was bliss. When it was time to go, somebody tossed me the keys to the car. I looked over at Doc Redbird who was still nursing a Budweiser and staring at the pavement.
“You comin’ bitch?” I asked.
He exhaled. “Yeah. I guess.”
Beisner’s take: Ahh, a football entry. A nice change of pace. First, right off the bat, I love the way you wrote this. Like I said with Mr. Fraysure’s, I love the casual style and, for whatever reason, I’m personally more inclined to enjoy a good story over a recap. Does that make sense? I know everyone has a U of L friend/acquaintance that does this exact same thing year-round and a lot of people reading this were putting themselves in your shoes throughout the story and enjoying a good chuckle at the expense of that friend/acquaintance. That’s also a good thing. The ending was solid too meaning that you, sir, weave a good tale. Honestly, I really enjoyed it. Like the one before this, I’m interested to see what everyone has to say because it was a little different.
Sweet KSR readers, what are your thoughts on Mr. Johns’ story? You are the deciding factor tonight.