“The Pacific was a Home Run”: My Favorite Sportswriting

I’ve been known to steal ideas before, and here it comes again. Deal with it.

At theathletic.com the other day, writers covering different sports listed their take on the best books about each.

OK, there’s a nifty idea, I says to myself.

At which juncture, I perused the bookcases in my condo, donning one of my Covid masks, so I wouldn’t choke on the dust stirred up, and pulled out a few of my faves.

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I’ll start with my favorite sports book, and my favorite story by my favorite sportswriter. My favorite writer period, the fellow whom I would aspire to emulate, while understanding I really am not worthy of toting his inkwell.

Murray, Ky. — You run up Route 641 to get here from Paris in Tennessee, because that is the closest place to Murray where there are any hotel rooms. You run past the browned fields, hawks, and vultures riding the thermals at different levels, and you run past the ponds, as still as Sunday morning. You go through Camden, where Patsy Cline’s airplane went down, and all the little farm roads off the highway seem to lead to churches, many of them the least common denominations. One of them, two miles up the road, calls itself The Church of the Living God of the Holiness of Holiness, which certainly ought to narrow things down. The way you know you’ve passed from Tennessee into Kentucky is that all the liquor stores and roadhouses seem to have disappeared. Continue reading “The Pacific was a Home Run”: My Favorite Sportswriting

U of L Pigskin Rewind: West Virginia ’06

It was a dark and chilly night.

And, Fiesta Bowl W notwithstanding, it was the biggest football game in U of L Cardinal history.*

Sideline reporter Erin Andrews was shivering on the field. Meanwhile ESPN’s A Team of Chris Fowler and Kirk Herbstreit benefited from several space heaters in the TV booth, though they had the window open.

*The game that supplanted this one between #5 Cards against the #3 Mountaineers as Most Important Ever came but a week to the day later in Piscataway, New Jersey. The story of which, I doubt you shall read about here.

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Perhaps it was the gravity of the frigid Fahrenheit in the 20s, November Thursday Prime Time encounter — Winner legitimately in National Title Game discussion, Loser SOL — or maybe just steadfast defense by both home and away, but there weren’t a lot of first half offensive fireworks. At least not as many as expected. Continue reading U of L Pigskin Rewind: West Virginia ’06

Pigskin Rewind: ’04 Liberty Bowl

So overwhelming was the response to my consideration of U of L’s football forays to THE Ohio State University– We apologize for the interminable delays at Customer Service, please stay on the line, a representative will get to you eventually — that I felt compelled to give it another go.

So, while shuffling about the interweb, I came across an enticing title on the youtube, “Best 4th Quarters,” with a link to the final 25% of the Cardinals vs. Broncos back and forth in the highly anticipated 2004 Liberty Bowl. 

And, remembering little about that year’s U of L pigskinners, or that bowl battle in particular, except that the Cards had prevailed, I figured, “Hey, cut to the good part. Why waste 2:59:28 watching the whole game video, when 46:49 gets you right to the filet mignon?” 

Some thoughts after watching. Continue reading Pigskin Rewind: ’04 Liberty Bowl

Pigskin Rewind: Cards/ Buckeyes ’91 & ’92

Looking on the interweb for something else, to be totally transparent, I came across videos of these two Louisville at Ohio State games, a highlight piece for ’91, and the full game for ’92. I immediately set aside my other quest, and scrambled down those rabbit holes of Cardinal history, and thus report.

There was certainly a deja vu all over again feel to that pair of gridiron battles along the banks of the Olentangy in the early 90s.

The least of which may have been that Cardinal coach Howard Schnellenberger wore the same black sportcoat on the sideline both seasons, which is worth a mention for he did so despite the blazing, relentless sun and truly abysmal heat.

An old school guy, ever the in-game delegator, the Schnell never wore a headset, never carried a laminated play sheet, and rarely appeared to inquire in advance of his offensive or defensive coordinator what play was to be called, or the defensive alignment?

But, no matter how cold, or how hot,* he always roamed the sideline with a look of concern, in a sportcoat and tie. Continue reading Pigskin Rewind: Cards/ Buckeyes ’91 & ’92

Cardinal Rewind: ’86 Memphis State

Spoiler Alert. Sorta. Oh, not really. 

Yes, duh, this is a consideration of the iconic U of L game when Milt Wagner netted two free throws with a tick left on the clock to steal the ’86 regular season finale from arch rival Memphis State. 

Any lifelong Cardinal fan born before the mid 1970s remembers the particular moment and most of the details of the joyous concluding seconds. 

But, until I watched a replay of the game yesterday for the first time, if someone were to have asked me what I remembered about the rest of the action, my answer would have been the same as Edwin Starr’s, when he was asked, “War, what is it good for?”

Absolutely nothing.

So, when I happened upon a full video yesterday, I settled in to watch. 

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First the details of the final sequence. Continue reading Cardinal Rewind: ’86 Memphis State

Remembering Jim Price

If my abacus is working properly, we’re talking about the fall of ’68.

Which would have been my second year of law school on the Belknap Campus.

One evening after dinner, I was shooting hoops with a classmate, on an outdoor court near the dorms. Milller Hall, maybe.

Walking toward us came heralded frosh, recruited from Male High, Henry Bacon, and another fellow, whom I assumed was a member of the Cards noteworthy freshman class, Jim Price.*

*The others in the class were Mike Lawhon, Larry Carter and Al Vilchek. Ron Thomas later transferred in, if memory serves, and became a key figure on the ’72 Final Four squad in Denny Crum’s first year. 

It was indeed Price from Indy, about whom I knew little.

They asked if they could shoot along? Duh. We didn’t play hard to get.

Then one of the Cards said, let’s play two on two. Continue reading Remembering Jim Price

Cards, CWS & the Coulda Woulda

Under the Old Normal, may it rest in peace, the first pitch of the College World Series in Omaha would be Saturday.

In a Reasonable Normal, the Louisville Cardinal Nine would be there, co-favorites, with, say, the SEC anschluss of Florida and Ole Miss, who started the abruptly cancelled season with a sizzle, and, oh, Vandy, which has driven the Cards to the Douglas County line a couple of times.

In a Perfect Normal, this would be the year.

Cards Win! Cards Win!

In ’07, Dan McDonnell led U of L to the CWS in his first season coaching at The Jim.

Finally won a game in Omaha in 2017.

Took a couple out of the loser’s bracket last season.

The Cards and McDonnell were poised. On the cusp. It was time.* Continue reading Cards, CWS & the Coulda Woulda

That Darn Cardinal/ Cowboy Connection

As the kinda sorta somewhat hopeful somewhat sad connection between the Cards and the Cowboys dawned on me, my mind wandered back to the one game in the series with Oklahoma State I do recall.

And it’s not the one that showed recently on ESPN, of which I hadn’t the slightest memory.

It’s the ’93 tussle in the tourney in Indy.

And what poured forth immediately were gleeful memories of those great trips up the I65 to watch the Cards. Going husko gordo on pastrami and latkes at Shapiro’s, savoring the Cards in action, and returning to the deli for another cholesterol-loading repast post-game.

My immediate thought of that Okie State encounter was that it might have been the day the Professor and I dined at our favorite deli thrice. For breakfast. Then searching for tickets. Then, ducats secured, lunch. Then the games. Then dinner.

But realized that was another NCAA at the RCA Dome in ’89, when U of L beat a couple of Arkansas schools in the opening rounds to advance to the Regional.

Loved those games in Indy, the scene of several fond Cardinal moments. Those Big Four doubleheaders. ’80. The Regional in ’83. Feeding my need for real hard-crusted rye bread, Nova mit schmear, and a salami omelette.*

* If you’re wondering why I’m meandering through the past here, it’s a reasonable question. Who knows when those happy days will come again? Be grateful I didn’t muse on about why they tore down RCA Dome and built Lucas Oil, which might have led to a rant about the Pontiac Dome, perhaps the ugliest edifice ever constructed by man. 

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Which brings me to offer how ironic it is that Oklahoma State, just sent to time out by the NC2A, and the University of Louisville, also facing serious sanctions, are scheduled to meet in November in one of those made for TV early season matchups. Continue reading That Darn Cardinal/ Cowboy Connection

Just A Bit More About Westley

As I was out on my morning walk the day after learning of Wes Unseld’s passing — wearing my #31 throwback — I ran into my pal Bruce, a long time Cardinal fan.

We, of course, shared our sadness about Unseld. What I found interesting is that the specific game he remembered is the one I mentioned the other day, the Cincy game when Wes got in deep foul trouble in the 1st.* Bruce remembered four fouls in the first, and reminded me how Unseld, after intermission, would guard with hands by his sides and not move, with the Cards in a zone. Then when the shot would go up over him, he’d snare every rebound.

*I find it fascinating that, as much as we both love Unseld, and were locked in during his entire career at U of L, we both independently remembered the same game, and few moments from any other. 

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I read everything I could about Unseld on the interweb, and just wanted to pass on a few tidbits gleaned from other writers’ work and observations. Continue reading Just A Bit More About Westley

Remembering My Favorite Cardinal Ever

That young Westley Unseld would eventually become heralded Wes Unseld wasn’t so obvious at the beginning of his basketball career.

The tale is told of a conversation between Wes’s brother George, a baller of no small measure who played at Kansas, and Sol Mocerf, the father of Howard, another member of the ’60-’61 Seneca Redskin Freshman team.

While waiting to take their family members home after a practice one day, George is said to have offered, that he didn’t think “Wes was going to amount to much.”

Wes Unseld has acknowledged how his career was kickstarted under the guidance of Carl Wright, the former Eastern Kentucky Maroon, who coached Wes in those formative years.

As Howard Mocerf remembers, Wright worked with the young prodigy daily during practice at a side basket in Seneca’s gym. Shooting. Rebounding. Footwork.

“He’d wrap a football chinstrap around Wes’s hands, so he’d learn to hold the ball with his fingers, not in the palm.

“Wright worked his butt off.”

Still success didn’t come immediately. Continue reading Remembering My Favorite Cardinal Ever