Rivalry Pain

Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) and running back Brandon Radcliff (23) walk off the field. Photo by Adam Creech.

Cardinals quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) and running back Brandon Radcliff (23) walk off the field. Photo by Adam Creech.

The last time Kentucky beat Louisville in football, I had just begun what would ultimately be a failed one-year stint as a law school student. I wasn’t married, nor was I even thinking about making a move in that direction. Writing was a hobby, not a profession, and I had just begrudgingly signed up for this thing called Twitter because the people who owned my website told me it was a good idea.

As is likely the case for the majority of you reading this, Louisville’s 2010 loss to Kentucky on the gridiron feels like it was from a different lifetime. A relic from a state of mind where none of us knew if Charlie Strong was going to have success with the Cardinals, that it was even possible that Bobby Petrino could come back, or that the basketball team was just two and a half years away from winning its third national title.

As much as I’d like to attribute the pain from last Saturday’s 41-38 loss in the annual Governor’s Cup game to merely being out of practice when it comes to accepting defeat, the actual reason, at least in my eyes, is because it ushers in an extremely difficult reality to face.

The first two and a half months of the 2016 football season provided Louisville supporters with some of the most enjoyable days to be a Cardinal fan of any sport. UofL rolled up unthinkable numbers on offense, Lamar Jackson went from Heisman dark horse to Heisman favorite to Heisman lock, the Cards hung more points on Florida State than any team in the history of Seminole football had before them, even the Clemson loss, painful as it was, cemented Louisville’s spot as a big-time player on the national scene and a participant in perhaps the most memorable game of the entire season.

Whether UofL crashed the College Football Playoff or not, this was supposed to be the lasting legacy of the 2016 season – the year the Cardinals took a massive step forward on their journey toward being a perennial powerhouse and provided Louisville fans with three months of unprecedented fun and positivity.

Now, unfortunately, that won’t be the case.

When Austin MacGinnis’ 47-yard field goal sailed through the uprights on the closed end of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, it cemented an entirely different legacy for the 2016 Cardinals. We would all share memories of the good times, sure, but in the next breath we’d be forced to ask how it all went so wrong.

How could a Louisville team with everything in the world to play for be so throughly manhandled by a Houston squad that ultimately lost three games in the American Athletic Conference? How could the same group of players who ran roughshod over a very good Florida State team not give a more inspired effort against an improved, but certainly not great Kentucky team when the legacy of their season (and a potential Orange Bowl berth) hung in the balance?

I don’t know the answers to these questions anymore than I know how Louisville’s bowl future is going to play out. All I know is that having to address this unpleasant caveat any time we want to reminisce about the good times – like the school’s first Heisman Trophy winner in a couple of weeks – is going to be agonizing, and that’s why this particular loss to Kentucky is an even more difficult pill to swallow than it would be ordinarily.

If there is one positive to take out of the pain, I think it’s this: Perhaps last Saturday’s game will serve as a springboard to bigger and better things for the Governor’s Cup rivalry. The game is staying on rivalry weekend, which means Louisville-Kentucky is going to have to continue to compete for eyes with the likes of Michigan-Ohio State, Florida State-Florida and Clemson-South Carolina. That being the case, it would behoove both programs if their arch-rival were to have attained a certain degree of national respect.

As much fun as it’s been to point and laugh at Kentucky football for the better part of all our lives (regardless of what our age is), there’s little doubt that from a purely rational perspective, Louisville would be best-served by the Wildcats morphing into an SEC contender.

Of course, this still doesn’t feel like the time for rational perspective. There’s still too much pain and too many unanswered questions. VT