Ladies and Gentlemen, we are officially one week away from kickoff and I can barely contain my excitement. This time next week Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium will be filled with excited fans tailgating in the parking lot. It will be glorious. As gameday gets closer and closer, fans like me tend to get impatient and just like Christmas morning growing up, we want it to get here already. I have had to occupy my time recently watching preseason NFL football and getting in Twitter arguments with Jay Bilas regarding NCAA extra benefits. It has been a brutal wait, but it is inching closer and closer and I already have a pretty concrete idea of how my day will go.
9:03 I wake up fully ready to go. Football season begins today. The plan is to continue the tradition of going to the game with my dad and tailgating in front of the stadium. Unfortunately, my dad, an actual adult, has a few things he needs to get done and will need a couple of hours before he is ready to head down to the stadium. Damn. Having already gone to church the evening before, I have too much time to kill. I decide to keep my mind pre-occupied and make some gameday pancakes, while watching a little ESPN (Herbstreit looks amazing, by the way). The pancakes are just terrible. I empty about a bottle of syrup on them just to wash out the awful taste. Probably taste like that because I have never made pancakes myself before. The kitchen is also a disaster, but it at least occupies my time cleaning until it is time to tailgate.
11:44 I get a text from my dad saying he is almost ready to go. I am already showered, put on my red Big East champion t-shirt and newly purchased sideline hat, and shortly, my Dad and I head down to the stadium. We pick up a couple of his friends (yes, I am a young man in his mid-20s hanging out with a group of 50-somethings, sue me) first. Car rides like this to the game are interesting. For example, these gentlemen have the nerve to be quality family men with great jobs and as a result, do not obsess over college football every second of the day. Disgusting. This means they have not exactly been up to date on the recent news. Questions/comments asked along the car ride to the stadium include, “Do you think Bridgewater will be good this year?”, “I heard that Harris kid is a pretty good receiver,” and “What kind of team does UK have this year?” They have never heard of Senorise Perry, refer to Nate Nord as Greg, and ask if Michael Bush is still in the NFL. My dad smiles as if he envies their innocence, for he has to put up with me unloading every bit of Cardinal news on him every chance I get, whether he wants to hear it or not.
12:30 We are there. This is happening. The smell of football is in the air, the weather is perfect, the women are beautiful, and all is right with the world. The tailgate pops open, and we dive into a cooler of beer (Sam Adams Oktoberfest, Sierra Nevada Torpedo Ale, and my treat, Great Lakes Eliot Ness. There is not an ounce of Bud Light, Miller Lite, or any of that crap…we tailgate big, people), sandwiches, fried chicken, and the works. We watch as people walk past us to the stadium. Around 1:00, the basketball team walks by. Peyton and Russ are arguing about which Ninja Turtle is best (Peyton likes Leonardo, Russ likes Raphael. Both make solid points). Mike Marra and I make eye contact. I say casually, “Go Cards.” He gives a head nod and a fist pump. That. Just. Happened. And it was awesome. Chane and Wayne are right behind them, discussing the Indie film “I Melt With You” starring Rob Lowe, Jeremy Piven, and Thomas Jane. Wayne believes that the film is a bit over-melodramatic and self-indulgent, while being unnecessarily morbid, and Chane thinks it’s hilarious that it’s co-star used to do adult films. Even further back, Gorgui, Montrezl, and Mangok are walking and talking, likely discussing the proposed plan for Medicare by the Romney-Ryan campaign. I stop Mangok, and say, “Welcome to Louisville,” and stick my hand out for a handshake. He shakes it. I decide to move in for a mini bro-hug. He rejects me and looks slightly alarmed. It’s cool, though, he likely just wanted to catch up with his friends.
1:03 A friend of mine stops by the tailgate with his girlfriend to say hi. She is ann0ying. She keeps telling me how awesome tailgating is (true), how it is better than the actual game (slow down now), and how she thinks people should just stay out here and tailgate instead of going inside (just go home already). I smile politely as I secretly contemplate “accidentally” spilling my beverage on her. She gets a phone call, steps aside without saying “excuse me for a second,” and answers it with the highest pitch “HEEEYYYY!!!” I have ever heard in my life. My friend smiles and says, “Dude, she is so awesome. She’s like the coolest girl ever, so laid back.” I nod without saying anything, wondering if he would feel this way if she was 40 pounds heavier.
1:45 I decide to walk around the stadium for a quick lap to see if I see anyone else I know, and if they would be willing to give me free food and possibly a beer, that would be okay, too (don’t you dare judge me). I happen to see a couple of friends and stop by to say hey. Walking through the lot just behind me are two drunk UK fans totally not trying to get attention as they repeatedly scream, “Oooohhhhhh C-A-T-S Cats! Cats! Cats!” as that is what classy fanbases do, especially when they are about a 2-touchdown underdog. I walk up to my friend and we give each other the half-handshake/half-low five (the 20-something handshake Mike Rutherford at Card Chronicle would refer to as the “Slap Shake”). We discuss how each of us are doing, even though neither of us likely care, we just are trying to one-up each other. We then discuss the game. My MVP for the game, I tell him, is Jeremy Wright. His MVP, he tells me, is Adrian Bushell. Both of us secretly expect Teddy Bridgewater to be the game’s MVP, but both of us are trying to be profound and think outside the box, as both of us think we are smarter than the other.
2:54 At this point, I have visited a couple of other tailgates, casually mentioning I write for Louisville Sports Live to see if anyone I don’t know recognizes me (they all do, they just pretend they don’t…this is what I choose to believe). I am now back at the original tailgate, and we are ready to walk in. I could not be more excited. We stop to get a Killian’s before we go to our seats, as per usual, and walk down to our section. I notice that the people who usually occupy the seats behind us have given their seats to young UK fans. In fact, these are the SAME UK fans who were there two years prior for Strong’s opening game. Let me break it down for you. On the first UK drive of that game, Mike Hartline threw a deep touchdown pass to a receiver that had become wide open due to busted coverage, and this UK fan behind me yells out (in a crowd of U of L fans), “That’s a STRONG start, boys, that’s a STRONG start right there.” His friends laugh hysterically at the irony that he is not only using the word “strong” sarcastically, but that is, in fact, the last name of Louisville’s head football coach. His fat friend is laughing so hard he nearly spits out his Grizzly mint dip on his Jodie Meeks 54-point game t-shirt. His lanky friend on the other side of him yells out, “GITTERRDUNNNNN!!!!!”, and then nods his head and smiles proudly that he just used an obsolete catch-phrase circa 2003. Whatever, though, they won’t be making any obnoxious noise this year, and in any case, they weren’t as nearly as obnoxious, rude, or stupid as the WVU fans that occupied those seats later that year (those were also about 30 years older than the UK fans). I will be the bigger man here, and not do anything to retaliate from that year.
3:22 We are literally single-digit minutes away from kickoff and the Lady Birds are on the sideline in front of us doing a routine. I do what I always do, and try to avoid making awkward eye contact with any of them while at the same time determining which one of them is the most attractive. I’m a guy, and I’m not the only one who does this. As a guy in his mid-20s, the days I can continue to do this are numbered before it becomes creepy old guy-ish. Gotta take advantage of it. My immature mind is quickly turned away, however, when I hear the “Nobody…and I mean nobody…comes into our house and pushes us around” cue coming from Pepsi Vision, and chills run down my entire body. The team runs out, looking pumped and ready. It’s here. Game time.
3:30 KICKOFF! I unnecessarily tweet it along with thousands of other U of L fans despite the fact that every single one of us obviously knows this. Who cares, though? It’s game time, baby! The season is officially here. The Cards had one the toss and are kicking off. The team is pumped up, looking focused, and Charlie is walking the sidelines looking manly as ever. We are also wearing the same hat, and my self-esteem is through the roof because of this. I imagine what it would be like if we were best friends. I am already creating a secret best friends handshake in my head (SPOILER ALERT: it would involve fist bumping, and the “high five back around to low five” move Goose and Maverick did in Top Gun. I would throw out the idea of a chest bump to finish things up, but Charlie would shoot it down. The man is all class and will have none of that).
3:46 UK is forced to a quick three and out. Both the run and pass D looks excellent. Great way to start it off. Kai Dominguez makes a nice return to about, oh…let’s say to the 48 yard-line in UK territory. A nice couple of runs give the Cards position inside the 30, where Teddy Bridgewater throws a beautiful over the outside shoulder pass to Devante Parker, who hauls it in for a Cards touchdown. The crowd goes wild, and then, a fan next to me yells, “What kind of a JOKER would field a defense like THAT?” Really? I guess every fanbase has ‘em.
5:42 It is halftime, and we walk out to the concessions area to get another beer and mingle a little bit. At this point, the score is 24-7, Cards are up. The fanbase seems content. Everyone is having a good time, while UK fans are talking about Calipari and how Kobe Bryant would have 13 NBA titles and 9 MVPs if he had played for Cal. U of L fans laugh. These people are amusing. I see a couple of my friends, who seem to be having a pretty good time, and they ask me if I am going out later that night. I say no, as I have to work in the morning. They remind me it is Labor Day weekend, and just like that, I am even in a better mood. Of course I am going to go out! This is a night to celebrate! Plus, with the perfect night weather we will have, it would be crazy NOT to go out!
7:30 The game is over. Louisville wins 31-17. The Cards had a commanding lead going into the 4th quarter 31-10, but UK put up a touchdown in garbage time, while the Cards started to run the ball to run down the clock. I could not be happier. We continue to tailgate outside the stadium and discuss the future. The Big XII is brought up, and I quote what Mitch McConnell said earlier about how U of L will not be a Major League team in a Triple-A league. We dig into the cooler and take out some Bud Lights. Okay, so we did bring some. And I am drinking one. We aren’t as cool as I made out to be. I then start getting texts around 8:30 about where I am going out? I had been sitting down the last 1/2 hour and am shot. I turn my phone off. I realize sadly I am not 21 anymore. Damn. Getting old.
9:30 I am back home. I have the game taped and begin to watch it. Why am I watching a game that I just witnessed in person hours before? Am I just THAT big of a fan? Well…yes and no. You see, I am looking to replace something I once lost. On September 4, 1999, I attended the game in Lexington, KY. We taped it at home. When we got back, my Dad and I watched it. On one of the first scoring plays, Frank Moreau had a nice run into the endzone. The camera panned towards the U of L section, and there we were…my Dad clapping and I in my youth nodding and smiling confidently with my arms crossed. I was on freaking TV. Then, a few weeks later, I accidentally taped over the video with WCW Monday Night Nitro. I was distraught (it wasn’t even a good episode, Buff Bagwell was in the main event) an determined to once again appear on TV in the same capacity. I haven’t so far.
10:30 I decide to quit watching the game and hit the sack. I am really getting old, you guys. I go to sleep happily with visions of New Orleans or Miami in January in my head. The next morning I will go through my phone and delete a bunch of stupid tweets I sent out under the influence. It is going to be a great season. Go Cards.