By ANNIE MOORE
Last weekend, the University of Notre Dame was introduced to the Louisville football program, and what an introduction it was. Thousands of Cardinal faithful made the trip to South Bend, and the series opened with an exciting game, setting the stage for many great matchups to come.
Walking around campus on Saturday you couldâ€™ve easily assumed Saturdayâ€™s game was a bowl game, by the virtually equal distribution of fans in both blue and green, and fans in red and black. But this was not at a neutral location; this was an away game for Card Nation, and many remarked that it was the biggest showing a visiting crowd had made in decades.
Louisville flags, fans and tailgaters peppered the campus as game day geared up, and anticipation and celebration were in the air. Many in Louisvilleâ€™s Catholic community took the opportunity to visit and explore the Catholic institution, pursuing tours, visiting parishes and stopping off at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes, Notre Dameâ€™s famous sacred ground. Hundreds of fans gathered at the Grotto for silent prayer and reflection, a powerful sight away from the gridiron.
But as game time neared, fans geared up to support the Cardinals in their opening game against the Irish. Fans lined the path for the team getting off the bus, just like a game at Papa Johnâ€™s Cardinal Stadium. Head coach Bobby Petrino even noted that the atmosphere at the CardMarch â€œfelt like a home game.â€
This atmosphere continued as fans funneled into the stadium before the big game. The wooden bleachers and 80,000 plus capacity were a far cry from Cardinal Stadium, and the Band of the Fighting Irish thundered in to remind everyone that this was Irish country.
As the game began, so did the rain, washing away earlier friendly notions; it was battle time now. And the game didnâ€™t disappoint. True freshman quarterback Reggie Bonnafon didnâ€™t have a huge game on paper, but his poise in the big game was the key to Louisvilleâ€™s success. Bonnafon ran in Louisvilleâ€™s first two touchdowns and added a third on a pass to DeVante Parker in the third quarter.
In the waning minutes of the game, Louisville was only up three, and Notre Dame marched down the field, well into field goal territory. Every fan in the building held their breath as Notre Dameâ€™s Kyle Brindza prepared to kick a 32-yard field goal to tie the game. The snap was mishandled and the kick went wide to the dismay of the Irish, and the ecstasy of Louisville fans.
â€œC-A-R-D-Sâ€ cheers rang out as the team knelt on its final three downs to end the game, and Louisville emerged with a victory, as well as an advantage in what will surely develop into a great rivalry. The football team and its loyal followers could head back down US 31 towards home with the knowledge that their introduction had made an impact.
Many precedents were set on that rainy day in South Bend. Louisville fans showed that they will travel and support the Cards when they go to Notre Dame. The Irish proved to be hospitable hosts, with greetings of â€œwelcome to South Bend, hope you enjoy your timeâ€ ringing out around every turn. And Louisville proved that it can contend with one of the greatest college football programs in the history of the game. What an introduction it was, leaving fans anticipating the next meeting of these two powerhouses.
Photos by CHRIS HUMPHREYS | The Voice-Tribune