|Fri, Apr 18, 2014 06:36 AM
Read RossCounty government gives beat writer Ross Schulz so much to write about, it can't ALL possibly fit in the newspaper, so we've made room here for that and whatever else he wants to blog about.
April 17, 2013 | 01:21 PM
One of my Louisville fan buddies once wore a T-shirt that had the Cardinals basketball logo and the words "Since before you were born" written on the front of it. I didn't understand what it meant then — and probably still don't know what the shirt was trying to say — but I think I, at least, have an idea.
Growing up in Southern Indiana, everyone gives basketball a try at one time or another; it just comes with the territory. I'm not sure you'll find any other part of the country where kids skipped lunch to get a game or two in before heading back to class as we used to do in middle school.
Every kid had their favorite college team, which, for the most part, was either Indiana or Kentucky. I was one of the rare breed that wore the Cardinals shade of red over Crimson and would get a nauseous feeling at the sight of Kentucky blue (and, no, I wasn't alone).
I've noticed a transformation around here since those days in the not-so-distant past. It's hard to travel a few miles down or up S.R. 135 without seeing a Cardinals license plate on the front of a vehicle. It's just as likely, possibly even more so, these days that you'll see a kid at school wearing a Louisville shirt rather than Indiana or Kentucky. It didn't used to be that way.
In high school, I can remember only four legitimate Louisville fans in our class of about 160. There was, however, one teacher smarter than the rest who proudly flew her Louisville flag in the classroom for all to see. The only possible way to delay her lesson on trigonometry was to talk to her about Denny Crum. And believe me, I tried all other ways, as well.
Many of my friends had the portrait of the young boy shooting hoops outdoors with the bubble dream of playing in Assembly Hall pictured above him. In my room, you would find no such thing; you'd have better luck seeing a growling, angry, fighting cardinal staring back at you.
Now, it wasn't always easy being a Cards' fan in the '90s and the early part of this decade, but, in my mind, at least, there's nothing else to be.
Once, when I was in elementary school (OK, eighth-grade, maybe), one of Denny Crum's teams fell helplessly behind a team they had no business losing to. So, I began to cry right there in front of the TV. Mom worriedly asked me what was wrong.
"They're going to lose!" I sobbed.
Instead of laughing at me, she comfortingly said, "Oh, they'll come back!"
They didn't, but they regrouped and so did I.
Another tough loss to swallow for the Cards was back in 2003 in the second round of the NCAA tournament. With the hiring of Rick Pitino just a season prior, fans were ready to see his March magic at work. But, as fate would have it, we would have to wait a couple years later for that. The Butler Bulldogs shot their way from behind to pull the upset, sending a strong contingent of Louisville fans home disappointed from Birmingham, Ala. From Birmingham, we headed down to Panama City, Fla., for spring break, but the vacation was already ruined by Darnell Archey and his ridiculous 8-of-9 shooting from behind the arc. Back home, my brother took his frustration out on his bedroom wall, leaving a nice surprise for our parents. With some deft poster re-arranging, the gaping hole wasn't revealed for a good while.
That's just a couple of a number of frustrating examples of post '80s-life rooting for Louisville, but there have been some great moments as well, like the climb "from out of the Pit" victory to get back to the Final Four in 2005.
Many thought the long NCAA title drought would come to an end in 2009, when the Cards held the top overall spot in the tournament, but a good game plan from a great coach with a funny name sent what seemed like half the city of Louisville back down Interstate 65 in a slow, sad, bumper-to-bumper procession.
Then, of course, last year, when the Cards made an unlikely run to the Final Four to meet one of the best teams college basketball has ever seen in the Kentucky Wildcats. It was more of a celebration of the state of college basketball in Kentucky than the fierce rivalry both fan bases have been accustomed to lately, but that didn't make the hard-fought loss any easier to accept.
The calendar eventually flipped to 2013, and most Cardinals fans knew they were watching a special season, with special players and the perfect man to lead them. But no one could have predicted the gut-wrenching emotional run the bunch endured from the Big East Tournament all the way to Atlanta, Ga.
When the program closed the curtain on Freedom Hall in 2010, I saw the passion, respect and understanding that truly places the Cardinals faithful behind no other fan base, and maybe what the "Since before you were born" shirt was describing.
With the gates just opening more than a couple hours before the tip, the concourse was shoulder to shoulder and the buzz in the building was impossible to describe, but it felt something like that short second or two when every horse is in its starting position just before taking off in the Kentucky Derby, when time stops.
My biggest regret from the game was not finding a game-day program. I tried and tried, but they must have been gone before I had a chance. The vendors selling those programs must have had the easiest job in the building that day.
I can't remember a time, place or event when I became a Louisville fan, so, in that sense, I guess, it was before I was born. Some Cards fans are born, but not all, as the growing fan base proves. Others jump on as time and teams pass, like the 2013 version of Cardinals, who probably made more fans along the way than any other.
The television replay of the 1986 national championship game was being shown on the big screen before the final game in Freedom Hall, giving those fans not yet born or too young to remember a chance to see what it felt like to experience Louisville winning a national championship.
Finally, that group of the fan base doesn't have to rely on past generations or video replays to experience a championship.