We live in an era of extremes. The moment something noteworthy happens, it must be categorized as either the best ever or the worst ever. There are no “pretty good wins” any more – every victory is the “best win in program/franchise history” and every loss is “an absolute embarrassment that will set the program/franchise back 10 years.”
The wildest thing about the era of extremes is that it exists in a previously unfathomable loop. Like minor characters from one of the “Men in Black” movies who get hit with the red flashy thing that wipes away our memory, we forget all about the previous “worst/best game ever” from the previous year or previous couple of years and make the same arguments and use the same lines whenever an especially pleasing or displeasing result happens again.
This phenomenon makes it difficult to accurately place anything current in any sort of historical hierarchy. We’re forced to wait a few years and then look back and see how significant that event really was.
Last Saturday night was an exception.
When Lamar Jackson’s name was called near the end of the Heisman Trophy ceremony in New York, every Louisville fan with their televisions tuned to ESPN knew they were experiencing one of the landmark moments in their favorite program’s existence. Nobody knows exactly what Jackson’s historic accomplishment is going to wind up producing for himself or for Cardinal football, but we know that it’s going to be weighty and we’re pretty sure that it’s going to be positive. We also know that it’s cause for celebration.
A little over a year ago, Jackson was a true freshman quarterback in the middle of an up-and-down rookie season in which he’d split starting time. Now, he’s the youngest player ever to win the most prestigious individual award in American sports and the most famous college football player on the planet.
Both of those distinctions are deserved.
Also the winner of the Walter Camp and Maxwell awards given to college football’s top overall performer, Jackson made history in 2016 by becoming the first FBS player ever to throw for at least 3,300 yards and rush for at least 1,500 more, and the first to throw for at least 30 touchdowns and rush for at least 20 more. He set ACC and school records for touchdowns accounted for (51), total yards per game in a season (410.7), and points responsible for in a season (308). He also did it with flare, with grace, with swag and with any other modern verb you can think of.
Speaking in the raw, genuine and endearing manner that Louisville fans have become accustomed to and donning a red velvet blazer with shiny black lapels that has already become iconic, Jackson thanked everyone imaginable as he stood in front of the legends of college football past. He cut his speech off several times to pause and comment on the fact that he was still having trouble wrapping his mind around the moment he was experiencing. It was hard to blame him.
The pomp and circumstance of the Heisman Trophy Ceremony make it nearly impossible to be unaware of the gravity of the award and the impact it can have on those who receive it and the programs they represent. For those still oblivious to the importance, the coming decades should serve as a capable smelling salt.
Walk into any bar in any American city 10 years from now and ask the biggest sports fan in the place what they know about Louisville Cardinals sports, and one of the first two or three things they mention will be Lamar Jackson winning the Heisman Trophy. There might be some basketball talk or hopefully a mention of a football championship that precedes it, but what we all witnessed last week is now stuck in cement near the top of the UofL sports lore food chain.
Maybe 20 years from now, we look back at Jackson’s Heisman triumph as the springboard to even greater times for Cardinal football and UofL athletics as a whole. Maybe we look back at it as the most prominent memory from an era we now long for. The only thing we know for sure right now is that Louisville is the most recent and perhaps most unlikely member of the “we have a Heisman winner” fraternity, and we should still be celebrating that fact instead of trying to decipher exactly what it means. VT