Posted: 2:21 p.m. Wednesday, May 1, 2013
By Mike Rutherford
We're way past the point where a standard "Louisville 82, Michigan 76" post would be appropriate, but there are still some stories from Final Four weekend that need to be shared. The city's birthday presents the perfect opportunity. Ok, it doesn't really, but I'm still running with it.
It's a bit strange right now to think about how overlooked the Wichita State game is going to be 10 years from now...or how overlooked it already is right now. It reminds me a lot of how people look back at Louisville's 1983 NCAA Tournament. Obviously, that run is defined by the Dream Game win over Kentucky and, to a slightly lesser extent, the Final Four showdown with Houston. What so few people remember, or what those who do remember it still view as an afterthought, is the Cards' buzzer-beating win over Arkansas in the Sweet 16.
I definitely wouldn't classify myself as an in-game pessimist, but I'll also never be confused with someone who's overly optimistic while the Cards are on the court. Basically, I'm a big "we're OK" and "don't let up" guy. I say this to make it understood just how rare my behavior was at halftime of the Wichita State game.
While anyone and everyone around me in red appeared to be on the verge of a nervous breakdown, I was cooler than Jimmy Stewart in a Hitchcock flick.
That was the worst half we've played in two months and we're down by a point. We'll win this by double digits.
I said this twice. Once to my buddy Colin and once more to someone in the bathroom whose name I don't remember.
We're going to f---ing lose.
I said this after Cleanthony Early's trey put the Shockers up 12 with 13:30 to go. It was the first time I really believed it. The unthinkable was going to happen.
None of us wanted to admit it, but we all were as close you could possibly be to assuming that Louisville would play on Monday without actually assuming that Louisville would play on Monday. At this moment, however, I started picturing trying to sell our tickets for Monday to people outside, packing the car up and then making the overnight drive back to the city. It was horrifying.
After the mother of a small-ish child in the row in front of us looked at Colin for the second time after a four-letter outburst, the decision was made to move down to an empty row below us in a section that was on a level plane. It meant having to inch up on tip-tows to get a full view of the action, but it also provided ample space for pensive pacing and minor freakouts. I'd worn the same t-shirt for every game since the start of the Big East Tournament, but had a button-up on over it from earlier in the day when I'd attempted to look presentable for brunch and other outings in public. The button-up came off. Tim happened.
If we win this game, it's legitimately because of Tim Henderson.
I still don't really remember much about the run after that. Luke did stuff, Karl Hess made me prematurely blame him for "ruining this for all of us," Luke did some more things, Colin continually hit me in the chest with his Final Four seat cushion because sometimes that's the only way to celebrate, Peyton did some stuff, I hugged a lot of people.
When the final horn sounded I saw Colin running up three stairs to go high-five Darrell Griffith, who was at the end of that row above us. The only logical thing to do was to follow him.
ONE MORE, GRIFF!
One more, man.
Celebrating what was, at the time, the biggest Louisville basketball win of my life with the most legendary Louisville basketball player of all-time was the perfect capper.
Still need that shirt.
I'd heard from a bunch of people heading into the weekend that Atlanta was a bad Final Four host city. How accurate that statement was didn't really hit home until after the games that Saturday night.
We stayed for the Michigan/Syracuse game (the wives of two of my best friends have learned to cheer for Louisville, but were born and raised as die-hard Wolverine fans...the odds), and figured we could get at least two or three hours of celebratory drinking in afterward.
The problem is that there's no centralized social scene in Atlanta. It's not like New Orleans where you can leave the stadium, start walking towards Bourbon Street and know that you're going to see everyone you want to see when you get there. The MARTA line was outrageous so we attempted to hail a cab, which was even more outrageous. By the time everyone had gotten three miles outside of the Georgia Dome, it was about 1 a.m. and everyone we knew was spread out. We made the executive decision to return to the home of the ATL-iens with whom we were staying and wait outside for them to get home. I was not pleased.
You owe me a night out, Atlanta.
We were searching for things to do on Sunday/ways to keep our mind off of what the next day held when we decided to check out Joey Wagner's U of L fan party at Whiskey Blue. I was expecting it to be a decent little get together where I knew some folks and could have some drinks, but it surpassed any sort of expectation I could have had.
The rooftop venue was ridiculous, the weather was perfect, there were tons of former players and diehard fans in the building; all of that coupled with the fact that Louisville was 24 hours away from playing for a national title basically made it as close a Cardinal fan paradise as I think you can get.
I can't tip my cap to Joey and his guys enough. If he's throwing a U of L party in the future - or any event that interests you, really - you owe it to yourself to check it out.
We met up with friends at a nearby bar to watch the second half of the women's Final Four game, which was another incredible time. As fantastic as it had been to be in the building for the Duke and Wichita State games, I had definitely been missing the "game watch party" environment, and the fans at the bar and ladies both delivered the fix.
At some point I ordered fish and chips. I ate it, but I still have no idea why I ordered it. I'm not sure I've ever ordered fish and chips.
I'm not saying we're superstitious at CC Headquarters, but my roommate Brandon was mowing the lawn last fall and noticed that the back gate was open. He went to close it, but then remembered that the U of L football team had just played perhaps its best game of the season against Pitt. Suffice it to say, the gate remained open for the rest of the fall and through the winter.
It wasn't closed until two weeks ago.
If I have ever have enough money, I'm going to hire someone to paint a mural of that first image.
I have a weird thing for starting lineups. I used to be obsessed with the giant helmets the teams ran out of before the Super Bowl, I'm still upset that they've done away with the player signatures on CBS during the Final Four, and I threw what could have legitimately been described as a tantrum when Madison Square Garden gave Syracuse "Hypnotize" instead of us before the Big East championship game.
When I heard our guys come out to Pitbull on Final Four Saturday...well, words don't really do the moment justice. It was just yet another perfect moment in the midst of a perfect weekend.
The best running gag of the weekend goes to "Dan," who would over-dramatically mutter "This is for Kevin" every time he was taking a leak in a crowded bathroom. It got a huge reaction every time, and I was consistently jealous.
If I could go back in time to fall 2006 and tell myself two things, they would be this: 1) Take it easy at the Derby pre-party next May. If you think you might be going a little too fast, you're going way too fast; And 2) Six years from now you and Harry Douglas are going to call Art Carmody to wish him a happy birthday from a roof-top party on the day before Louisville wins the national championship in basketball. Whenever you're struggling with something between now and then, just remember that this moment is going to happen.
Also, this happens the day before that:
Let the record show that Harry Douglas bought these tequila shots and then proceeded to drink only half of his. Am I saying I drank Harry Douglas under the table? Pretty much.
I also wound up with more of a pregame buzz than I had planned. That ceased to be a problem once Pitbull hit for the first time.
Hajj Turner, who is still one of my top five favorite Cardinals of all-time, was also at the pep rally on Saturday and was kind enough to pose for a picture. I have absolutely no idea who took said picture, but if it was you please know that I'd desperately like you to send it my way.
You haven't experienced frustration until you've spent over an hour in a parking garage on a work conference call when all your friends are drinking 20 seconds away on the day your team plays for the national title. It was necessary, I get (got) it, but to say I was distracted would be the understatement of the century.
A friend was being passed a pitcher at Hudson's on Monday before the game when he stared at the guy doing the passing for an extra second. The guy then asked: "Do I look familiar? Like maybe someone on the team?" It was Luke Hancock's brother, who looks exactly like Luke and is a pretty awesome guy.
We wound up at the U of L pep rally again on Monday, and while I was in line for a drink I overheard the woman in front of me telling her husband: "I saw all these girls run over somewhere, and it was to Gorgui! The game is in three hours, what is he doing here!?"
This is going to be Mangok Mathiang's life for at least the next seven months.
I remember yelling "this moment's bigger than you, Travis" when they announced that Travis Tritt was singing the National Anthem, and then everything went a little black. Pretty sure Travis didn't hear me. The moment was definitely bigger than him, though.
The most amazing thing about that game is that I never got that Wichita State feeling of doom in the pit of my stomach. I had the same "are f---ing kidding me" reaction as the rest of the Louisville world when Spike Albrecht crossed Russ up and buried that 24-footer to put them up 12, but I wasn't freaking out yet. The only moment where I came close to being truly scared was when Trey Burke hit that awkward looking three near the start of the second half. It was the first time I realized that these guys were capable of weathering whatever storm we threw at them and would be there until the end.
The Tim Hardaway Jr. dunk to make the score 60-58 was the first time I said outloud, "this game is incredible." I mean, Louisville played in, and won, one of the best national championship games in recent memory. That's pretty cool.
I wasn't sure that anything could touch the Wayne putback dunk or the Peyton Siva three against UK in terms of pure emotion at a live sporting event, but I'm not sure it can ever get better than the Trez alley-oop.
I think everyone in the arena thought that Peyton had thrown that ball too far behind him, and I've never, ever heard a place get as loud as the Georgia Dome got after Trez found a way to throw that down. It was so unreal that the buzz was still audible even as Michigan was shooting free-throws about a minute later.
In 21 years of covering Final Fours that may have been the loudest I've heard a dome crowd after that Harrell dunk.— Andy Katz (@ESPNAndyKatz) April 9, 2013
In terms of single moments during sporting events, I'm not sure that one is ever going to be able to be topped.
Tom Jurich hugged me and said "thank you" at some point in the hours after Louisville won the national championship. If I die tomorrow, I want that to my full obituary. I'm dead serious. You'll just have to replace the "me" with "him." You probably could have figured that out yourself, but you can't be too careful with things this important.
Pretty much the first thing I did when I got to my seats on Monday was look for Griff so I could start planning out a potential celebration. He wasn't there. It was pretty much the exact same feeling I got when I first found out "The Valentine Man" wasn't real. I hate you, mom.
Dating back to the 2012 postseason, the "LET'S GO RIGHT NOW" pregame tweet is now 17-0. I'll never forgive the Superdome for having spotty service...or myself for not using someone else's phone like I did this year before the Duke game.
At halftime of both games (with us trailing by 1 both times) I went and got a mini pepperoni pizza from Papa Johns and finished it before play resumed. On Monday night, I ran into a friend in the concourse and described the situation to him before starting to talk about the game. This all led to me having to abruptly end a serious conversation with the line, "All right, but I REALLY have to get this pizza, man."
"Dan" told his wife he'd leave him alone approximately 1.5 seconds before taking this picture.
I'm not just saying this because the first time I did it got CC a Rick Pitino shoutout after the championship, but the Pitino family was so much fun to watch during games throughout the postseason run. When you think of coaches' families during games, you think of nervous live shots on television and polite applause from seated wives. That's not even close to the Pitinos.
From Joanne pacing in the isles to the sons mercilessly heckling the refs; it just felt like they were all right there in the same boat with the rest of us, which is pretty awesome. I just hope that Infra-Russ jersey is being framed and hung somewhere prominent.
I've waited my entire life for a "Kevin and Louisville will WARE the crown" or a "It's Slime time in Atlanta, the Louisville Cardinals are national champions." Instead I got, "Louisville completes the emotional journey to the championship."
I honestly feel like this is payback for the original sarcastic "Jim Nantz Quotes" post I wrote so many years ago.
The only downside to winning a national championship if you're a member of the team achieving the feat is that there's not really an opportunity for a big-time celebration on the night of the game. There are the award ceremonies and then the press demands and then you're paraded around for the fans, and then all of the sudden it's like 5 in the morning. We left the team hotel around 4 a.m. and the last person I saw before walking outside was Gorgui, who had just gotten away from some straggling fans and onto the elevator. I'm not sure I've ever seen a person look more exhausted. The man deserves whatever rest he's gotten since then.
A member of the staff summed things up pretty nicely after the game: "Go back and look at the pro talent on the last 10 or so national champions, and then look at the pro talent on this team. My man can coach a little bit."
No argument here.
I say it every year in the "the worst day of the year" post, but I typically don't get over the end of the Louisville basketball season until Derby rolls around. U of L winning it all for the first time in my conscious life has had an interesting effect on that phenomenon.
I've hardly done any research on this year's Derby race, I haven't had as much desire to go out to any of the festival events, and while I'm excited about this weekend, it's nothing like years past. It's like I've been in a perpetual state of bliss for four weeks and I'm spoiled to the point where any bonus potential glory is being met with an indifferent "cool."
It's been like Christmas on acid, only spread out over a month...and probably for a few more months.
Overall, I'm not sure it gets better than that weekend. From what happened on the court, to being able to share it with the friends and family I love, to being able to share it with all of you here (who I love too); it really was perfect. And we have it forever.