The epicenter of the Bluegrass Rivalry in Louisville creates the most chaotic culture for clashes between fans. The Thanksgiving tables around the city were surely filled with less turkey than there were arguments about the Cats and Cards. The KSR writer in a family filled with Brohms, I always believed my passion for the Cats’ was unquestionably the most difficult. I found a Cats’ fan that has a much tougher time, stuck in the middle of his team and his family.
The life of Vince Irvin has changed a lot in the last year. It has been a roller coaster ride that the cliche cannot do justice. As fast and crazy as the ride has been, football has kept the proverbial cars on the track. Tomorrow the ride will reach its climax when the lifelong Cats’ fan sets aside his Big Blue allegiances for his little brother, Cardinal quarterback Reggie Bonnafon.
It may seem implausible to believe, but Vince is as passionate about his Cats as anybody. He started at a young age. Even though their mother has always been behind the Cards, both Vince and Reg’s fathers introduced them to the blue at an early age with the Cats’ Pause. Vince never put them down, while Reg was more indifferent. Vince’s fandom has only grown over time. A regular KSR reader, one of his greatest memories from last year was going to Indy to watch the Cats take down the Cards in the NCAA Tournament.
He’s also a pretty clever Cats’ fan:
Kansas didn’t lose, they just ran out of time
– Vinny Irvin (@V_SoSpiffy) November 19, 2014
Vince is a pretty good athlete himself, starring in basketball and football for Fern Creek before playing four years of football at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky., where he’s currently finishing his degree. Vince was a good left tackle (even though he couldn’t block me), but Reg has always been a special athlete. He played receiver for Trinity while awaiting his turn to start at quarterback his Senior season.
Not too many paid attention to Reg before he became a starting QB, except for Louisville. After performing well at a camp, they told him if he kept improving, a scholarship would be waiting for him. A year later at the same camp, he did everything they wanted, receiving an offer immediately after. At this point, Joker Phillips was still the Cats’ coach and had not pursued Bonnafon at all. Once Stoops took over, DJ Eliot immediately began recruiting Reg. It was a little too late, but once Eliot found out Vince was a UK fan he wanted to get them all on campus for a basketball game at Rupp. Vince told his little bro, “Even if you are going to Louisville, we gotta take a visit.”
Entering his first college football season, Vince didn’t think he’d see much of his brother on the field, “I wasn’t expecting much out of this season. I was really hoping he’d redshirt but I knew that Louisville’s quarterback situation was so thin that probably wasn’t going to be an option.”
Petrino turned to Reg early in the season against Murray State. In the second half he became the proverbial “most popular man on the team” as the backup quarterback, completing 8/11 passes for 112 yards and a touchdown, while rushing for two more scores. The next week the Cards were on the ropes at Virginia. Reg looked like a true freshman on the road in the ACC. Card fans that adored him a week before, wanted him gone a week later. On the other side, Kentucky fans started chirping on Twitter. Vince was stuck in the middle, “I can’t even pick a side on this one. Everybody’s coming at him.”
Vince stood strong by his brother. Unfortunately the adversity Reg faced on the road at Virginia was NOTHING compared to what was to come.
The one hour and 50-minute drive from Columbia never took so long. It was a Monday morning when Wallace Bonnafon suddenly passed away. “He was pretty much my second-dad since I was two.”
Football didn’t matter so much anymore. The family spent the next week in mourning, spending time together to try to make sense of things. “More important than anything I felt like, was that I was just here for him.”
The emotional burden can still be heavy at times for the family, but they keep moving forward. After a week off, Reg started his first game at home against Wake Forrest. He had a few hiccups, fumbling a handoff exchange and dropping a shotgun snap, but the Cards got the W and he finished the game 16 of 32 for 206 yards and 71 yards on the ground. Little did he know, things were just getting started.
Will Gardner eventually returned from injury, allowing Reg to work on his mechanics during practice while getting some game snaps here and there. Vince could now let out a sigh of relief, knowing that the season didn’t fall on his brother’s shoulders, “It’d be so much easier if he was playing receiver. Any other position BUT quarterback. The quarterback shoulders the blame, for EVERYTHING.”
That all changed when Vince received a text in class, “Reggie’s starting for the rest of the year?” Gardner injured his knee for the third time, giving the ball to Reg to finish off the season with games at Notre Dame and against Kentucky.
The story could not have been written any better last week. He started strong with two rushing scores, one that capped off a 93-yard drive. Vince could not hide the pride from his face when talking about his brother’s composure. Reg hit some adversity in the third quarter, allowing old bad habits to surface, but Vince kept the faith in his brother. When the game ended, Vince could not contain his emotion:
“Actually after the Notre Dame game, I cried man. After it was over, he took a knee to run the clock out. It was…it was just emotional man. Everything we’ve been through.”
Vince’s emotion has quickly been replaced by anxiety. Stuck in the middle gain, he’s found himself torn, subconsciously cheering against his Cats. He wants his brother to do well, but not at the expense of Kentucky. Unfortunately, there really isn’t another option, “I wouldn’t say I was cheering against UK, but if he’s playing em, you don’t want him to be that guy that loses to UK. How everything’s going right now, you don’t want him to be the guy that loses to UK.”
“I was looking forward to the UK game. It wasn’t going to be all on him. Will does his thing, then Reg comes in a few times , does whatever he does. But if they lost, it was all going to be on Will.”
Vince is right, if the Cats can pull off the upset, it will be at Reg’s expense. Louisville’s quarterback play is the only uncertainty on the team. If he takes care of the ball, everything else – the aggressive defense and stable run attack – should take of itself. A big part of the Cats’ gameplan will be applying pressure in the hope of creating turnovers.
Vince will be perpetually stuck in the middle for the rest of Reg’s career. Vince will always be a Cats fan, but once a year he will have to put away his blue for his brother.
“I can’t cheer for UK. I can’t do it. If he was playing any other position, I’d definitely be able to do it. Everything just comes down on the quarterbacks.”
Before you got at a Cards fans’ throat, remember this story of Vince and Reg. After all, it’s just sports.