November 9. 2006.
It was the moment Cardinal Faithful had believed would arrive since The Schnell had proclaimed it inevitable years before.
The Cardinals were not only on the cusp of a seemingly implausible dream come true, they had breached the perimeter.
Yes, Schnellenberger, not as wise about the future of college football as he thought, had jumped ship in a pique. He didn’t like that the school prexy had joined a conference. So The Pipe left for a one and done campaign as Supreme Commander Sooner Nation.
Yet his promise remained in the hearts of the loyal, though the vision faded somewhat in the campaigns right after he abdicated. There was the immediate and precipitous decline under Ron Cooper. A revival of belief under John L. Smith. But he too didn’t buy in entirely, going AWOL in Mobile during a bowl game after some success.
Enter the savant. Bobby Petrino 1.0.
The Impossible Dream appeared back on track. Petrino had all the trappings of The Next Great College Football Savant.
During his second season at the helm, Petrino’s Cards scored at will, like some video game. Shutouts against the Cats and Carolina. Fifty+ on the scoreboard five times, 65 against Houston, 70 against the Bearcats. A bowl W over similarly ascendent Boise State in Memphis.
Louisville was entering juggernaut mode.
On to ’06, when it all seemed to be falling in place just as Howard I said it would.
U of L throttled the Cats in the opener. Temple was vanquished 62 zed. #15 Miami was eviscerated at what was then Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. A big road W at Kansas State, followed by a workmanlike plod through the Big East. #3 West Virginia handled, no problem, and the Cards took that Mountaineers’ spot in the rankings.
A victory the following week over Greg Schiano’s undefeated #12 Rutgers squad, and, as mythos would have it, a Cardinal spot in the BCS would be secure.
National TV. Prime Time. So lofty was the air at that elevation, breathlessness ensued. It was hard to comprehend for anyone who’d ever sat with 4500 or so fellow fans that late in a season at Fairgrounds Stadium to endure the cold and U of L vs. Drake.
It was all too glorious at the start of the battle. Anthony Allen bulldozing in from three yards out. Art Carmody adding a point. 7-0, halfway through the 1st.
The Scarlet Knights knotted it minutes later on a Teel to Underwood pass and conversion.
Which deadlock lasted all of :17 seconds. JaJuan Spillman went goal line to goal line on the ensuing kickoff. Gambler Petrino went for the deuce. Allen in again for the points after.
15-7 Cardinals after one quarter of play.
Minutes later Brian Brohm to Jimmy Riley upped the advantage to 22-7 after the extra point. Carmody’s 39 yard exclamation point FG pushed the lead to 25-7 midway through the 2d.
U of L fans had to wonder: Are we really seeing this?
I’ll spare the most gory details of the buzzkill that followed. The Cardinals did not tally again. Coach Brohm (Jeff) and brother QB Brohm (Brian) yelled at each other on the sidelines. Rutgers’ catch up was slow and inexorable. Jeremy Ito’s second chance 28 yarder at :13 was the dagger. QB Brohm was sacked on the last play of the game.
Chris Fowler, no Lindsey Nelson or Chris Schenkel or Keith Jackson he, but the voice of college pigskin then and now nonetheless, intoned concisely, “No more BCS for Louisville.”
After clandestine meetings. and a public breach with his AD, Petrino was gone in a couple months, his seat taken by the most egregious coaching choice mistake of Tom Jurich’s career.
The Dream lay dormant, on life support.
Charlie Strong rekindled it with great recruiting, and consecutive bowl victories over highly favored #4 Florida in the Sugar and the U in Russell Athletic. But the latter was his last W as Cardinal mentor. He grabbed a burnt orange mock turtleneck and headed off to the Lone Star state.
Bringing about the return of the chastened, tarnished prodigal son. Bobby Petrino 2.0.
Questions were posited. Would he still have his mojo? Would he take off from where he left off? Was the hire worth the negative PR?
The ’14 campaign was relatively satisfying, but not especially memorable. 9-4, ending with an L to Georgia in the Belk. Will Gardner was the leading passer. Brandon Radcliff led the rushers. Other than running the third most plays in any Cardinal season, there was nothing too good or too bad of note, simply an acceptable transition campaign.
On to Bobby Petrino 2.1. As he who would become Lamar Jackson emerged, the Cards won 6 of their last seven in ’15, including a memorable harbinger of success ahead for the future Heisman holder in that win over Texas A&M in the Music City Bowl.
2016 started with a bang. 70-14 over horrid Charlotte, followed by the LJ leapfrog over Syracuse, 62-28. Jimbo’s #2 Florida State Seminoles were throttled like some directional payday foe, 63-20. Only a coulda woulda shoulda loss in Death Valley to the eventual national champs marred the run up to a pivotal game at upstart Houston.
U of L simply proved itself not ready for prime time or precocious Ed Oliver. Braying about being left out of the CFP Final Four for the week, the Cards didn’t show against the Cougars. That 10-36 failure was followed by a 38-41 meltdown against UK, and a no show against LSU in the Citrus Bowl.
That Cardinal gang spit out the bit. Petrino wasn’t able to get his minions ready for the Cougars or back on track. The season ended not with a bang but a whimper.
Even a Heisman winner at the helm couldn’t mask defensive problems, and a way less than hoped for ’17 campaign was marred by unexpected Ls to BC, Wake Forest and NC State, ending with another bowl loss to the SEC in Jacksonville.
Which brings us to this critical juncture, the 2018 campaign.
Let’s dub it Bobby Petrino 2.2.
With the force of the Cards’ greatest ever gone, along with most of the defense and the lead recruiter, will U of L move forward and upward? Or will there be bugs?
Coming soon: Part II, The Campaign Ahead.