Friday, December 13, 2013

Marking Nearly 30 Years of Louisville Football

My friend, Ken Sumner, and I have just survived another University of Louisville regular football season together, marking nearly 30 years now, but it’s been no picnic. Then again, maybe it has been. After all, sitting around eating, drinking and talking is pretty much the very definition of a picnic.

When it's cold on game day, you have to earn it.
We never had a checkered table cloth, although we did carry the same bumper-sticker covered cooler for decades. There were never any ants to deal with, but there were a couple of coaches we considered nuisances.

So, without further ado, and captured here for the benefit of future generations of football fans, are lessons learned from nearly three decades spent in the parking lot, food lines, restrooms and in or adjacent to the student section.

Generate your own shorthand. Kenny and I developed a few phrases that have stood the test of time. One of my favorites, “that was 10 plays ago,” basically means “I’m tired of you and/or your harping.” Credit goes to an unknown and frustrated section mate with coming up with that one. Also, any head adornment, other than a standard ball cap, must always be greeted by “nice hat.” “You gotta earn it” means it’s cold / raining/ snowing, while “Howard (Schellenberger) would be disappointed” means you’re running late.

Speaking of rain, once you reach your 30s, it’s OK to trade garbage bag protection for some honest-to-God emergency ponchos. It’s only a buck.

Bring the right tools for the job. Sure, necessity is the mother of invention, but I don’t condone pouring pure grain alcohol onto a fire. This might help explain why there were so many raw hamburgers in the early years.

Leave the real football to the real players. I cannot over emphasize how many misunderstandings have been caused by wayward footballs. Nerf footballs make for better tailgating neighbors.

If the ticket is stamped “obstructed view,” believe it. This lesson brought to you by the ugly pole running through the temporary bleachers at old Cardinal Stadium.

If you’re scalping tickets at a Louisville game, then you really aren’t at the top of your profession. Feel free to hustle the hustlers.

Never rush the field. I should amend this to say, “never rush the field when the police don’t want you to,” particularly if you’re with a guy in a leg cast.

And while we’re reminiscing here, let me close by telling you about a few of my favorite moments over the years. These aren’t necessarily important moments, just amusing ones. Since this is an oral history only, I will not let the facts get in the way of a good story. 
  • In one of the first seasons at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, we were still tailgating at the old stadium when some confused Oklahoma fans wandered through and asked, “which stadium do we play at?” I thought it was a funny, but fair question. 
  • For us, one difficult season seemed to be epitomized by a single, bad play as the center inexplicably hiked the ball off the running back’s head, while he was in motion. After that, whenever trickery was needed, we would suggest the “hike it to (Ralph) Dawkins’ head” play. After all, no one would ever see it coming … including Dawkins. 
  • Speaking of bad football, Kenny and I were some of the last left in old Cardinal Stadium for Ron Cooper’s final game as Louisville’s coach. I was so frustrated with the predictability of the play calling that I yelled to the opposing defensive coordinator: “If you haven’t figured it out yet, he’s going to run it on every first down.” The coordinator turned, smiled and gave me a thumbs up. I guess he had already figured it out. 
  • Kenny and I were at the new stadium for one of Louisville’s first big wins, a victory over Florida State, played in the remnants of a hurricane. At halftime, we saw my sister and her husband in the concourse. We were soaked, but excited. We knew we had a chance for a ground-breaking win. I called her midway through the third quarter to compare notes. They were home. Kenny and I stayed until the water-logged, jubilant, end. Fans were allowed to rush the field afterward, although we stayed put, perhaps reluctant from the earlier incident. It took days to dry out. As any old tailgater will tell you, sometimes “you gotta earn it.”