As we begin to come down from our collective high after seeing our dear Cardinals beat Florida in a Sugar Bowl, WIN THE NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIP in basketball, and advance to the College World Series, I just thought I’d remind my fellow fanatics that there have been WAY worse days. When it comes to the 5 stages of grief, I hope that we are all at the acceptance stage in regard to the UCF loss. When my grief was still fresh and wrapped in denial, I decided to jot down the 5 most heartbreaking losses that I’ve ever witnessed as a Cardinal fan. It helped me gain some perspective, hopefully it can help you, too. :-)
#5 UofL vs UK football (Krapthorpe Era officially begins)
Given the fact that my beloved Louisville Football Cardinals won a BCS Bowl game, I came into the 2007 season with some expectations. Sure, our head coach ditched us for the NFL, and Tom Jurich hired some new guy, but the returning team was pretty much in tact. Coming off such a successful year, it seemed we could just pencil in a victory over the rivals down the road, a program never known for putting a quality product on the football field. The first sign of trouble came in the Middle Tennessee St game when we allowed them to score 42 points! You would have thought I would have seen it all coming, but I didn’t. We go into Commonwealth Stadium, a clear favorite, and fail to do anything on defense and fail to protect Brian Brohm, our big-time QB that was a shoe-in to play on Sundays (ahem). The painful culmination of this game was the Cardinal secondary leaving Stevie Johnson WIIIIIIIDE OPEN for the go-ahead touchdown. I could’ve thrown that pass with my off-hand and hit him for a touchdown. Kentucky beat us in football and I COULD NOT believe it. The collateral damage was Stevie Johnson becoming a household name as a result of that game. It sucked!!! The heartbreaking aspect of it all, was just the shock of it. Losing to Kentucky simply did not enter my mind that day, so to see with my own eyes not only what happened, but how it happened, was simply HORRIBLE!
#4 UofL vs Michigan St. (2009 NCAA Elite 8)
The way this particular Cardinal team entered the NCAA tournament in 2009 is very similar to what happened last season. We were definitely the hottest team in the nation and received the distinction of being the top #1 seed. I recall that we didn’t look our sharpest in the first two rounds, but when you have that big of a target on your chest, the m.o. is to survive and advance. I think the turning point for the Cards, mentally, was the fact that we DESTROYED a 12-seeded Arizona team that pulled off an upset, in the Sweet 16. I think after this game (and during), what was a loose, but focused team became a loose and cocky team. As the game against Michigan St progressed, the thing that stood out the most to me was this white dude (Z-something) that was at least 6’9” hitting 3 after 3, and what seemed to be a lack of competitive effort from my Cards when compared to the Spartans. Although I was disappointed going into halftime, I was confident that Rick Pitino would light a fire under their asses and get them going in the right direction. Since his tenure, we’ve always been a second half team. A couple of minutes into the second half, the heartbreak began. My beloved Cards just couldn’t pull away and T-Will was getting completely shut down by whoever was guarding him. Around the 10-minute mark, I saw what any fan hates to see, the Cardinals began to relent and and lay down. By the 5:00 mark, I couldn’t stand to watch anymore. To see such a promising team just give up was too much for my heart to take. At the very least, that team should have made the Final Four.
#3 UofL vs Central Florida
This one is still fresh, it still hurts. Beating Florida in the Sugar Bowl and returning so many core components of this squad meant high expectations coming into the season. Looking at the schedule, the only game I was worried about was the Cincinnati game. Rivalry games on the road are always tough, and with us only being in the AAC for one season, it would be silly to expect that we would get ANY calls. Don’t get me wrong, I knew that Rutgers and Central Florida were quality teams, but I thought playing at home, and just being plain better at football would allow us to prevail. So, the game begins and we’re looking decent, but a few things occurred that caused me to worry a bit. The first sign was the fumble near the goalline that transformed a sure touchdown into a touch-back for UCF. I knew that this was a major setback, but had no idea how big it would be at the time. By the time the second half came around, I knew we were in a dog fight, our first of the season. This feeling changed once something major occurred; a UCF player fumbled a punt and James Quick, a local kid, who Cardinal fans had been waiting to see on the field, scooped up the football and ran it into the end zone. The entire stadium ERUPTED, and in a season defined by home run moments that put games away, this seemed to be more of the same. We were up 28-7, and with our quarterback and our defense, I thought it was a WRAP! As soon as they got the ball back they marched down the field and scored as if our first team defense was their scout team defense. I was like, “OK, my Cards got a little too content with themselves, but now they have our attention. No mas!” Then, it happened……Senorise Perry fumbles the ball deep inside our own territory. This was the “Uh oh” moment of the game. Everything went downhill from there. We all know how it ended. With only seconds left and a few yards away from the end zone, they scored a touchdown making it a 4-pt game. Heart….Break….City. Obviously, the team had a mental letdown after the James Quick score, but as a fan you would hope that your team (and the coaches) would get their focus back after a few series. Clearly, this didn’t happen and we took the L we couldn’t afford to take given the purgatory that is life in the AAC. I still can’t believe the defense simply DID NOT SHOW UP in the 4th quarter. What should have been an undefeated season and a sure trip to at least a BCS bowl has now become a damn near meaningless season in Teddy Bridgewater’s final year as a Cardinal. Just a sad situation……….I’m done. smfh
#2 UofL vs Notre Dame (5OT game)
A lot of people may wonder why this is so high on the list, when there was relatively little at stake. The simplest answer is that I’m judging this list based on how I felt after the game. And after this one, I was in a fatigued rage. It would really take a die-hard Cardinal fan to have watched this game from start to finish to really tap into how heartbreaking this loss was. First of all, we should NOT have gone to overtime in the first place. I believe we were up by 8 points with 43 secs left. I mean, even Murphy has to blush at how many things have to go wrong for your team to end up tied at regulation given those circumstances. Grant from Notre Dame hit two 3 pointers and scored on a highly questionable three-point play to end up tying the game. I won’t go into play-by-play mode to describe what happened in the 5 friggin’ overtimes, but suffice it to say it was a lot of lucky shots falling for Notre Dame and a lot of missed shots by Russ Smith on final possessions. What really added insult to injury was hearing how one-sided the commentators were, and how much they drooled over some shmuck named Sherman, who basically was the MVP of the overtime periods. When the horn finally sounded all those lame ND fans ran onto the court, like lame college basketball fan bases do, I was left feeling emotionally drained, enraged, and cheated. That night I learned there is a dramatic difference between losing a game after 40 minutes and losing one after 65 minutes. The fact that my wife was sleeping was the only thing that stopped me from going into rage mode. I had to take sit in a darkened silence for about 5 minutes before I could calm down enough to ready myself for bed. It was NOT a good night.
#1 UofL vs Rutgers
All Cardinal fans knew that the 2006 football season was going to be a special year. We did not realize how special the season was going to be until we beat West Virginia in a rematch of a multiple overtime loss we suffered in Morgantown. I remember early in the football season looking at the football schedule and feeling a sense of dread when I looked at one team in particular: Rutgers. I’d be lying if I said I could fully explain it, but logically I knew that they were an up-and-coming program and their placement on our schedule was noteworthy. I was pretty confident that we would beat West Virginia that year (the program that has the honor and distinction of being the fastest that we formed a hate-filled relationship with), but the next game with Rutgers was more of a question mark. It seemed to be the ultimate trap game, a road game after an emotional home win against a bitter foe. Once the game got going, it became clear that Rutgers was not going to lay down, as a matter of fact, we we’re going to get their best shot. It seemed like their best shot would not be good enough by the time the first half ended. We had a decent lead, but one thing I wondered about was, “Who the hell is this Ray Rice guy?” This dude was gashing us. I had no idea that this would only get worse in the second half. The second half of that game was nightmarish given how potent our offense was that year. It seemed whenever Brian Brohm went back to pass, he was getting sacked, hit, or hurried. It was almost as if they knew our plays or something; it was that bad. On top of that, we could not stop this Ray Rice dude. He ran right; he ran left; he ran up the middle. And they kept our offense off the field, not that we were doing much anyway. smh Eventually, in the 4th quarter they tied the game. Now, it was danger time. The fact that we did not score on the next drive pretty much sealed the deal, but at the time, I was still hanging onto hope. But, hope needed to translate to stopping that Ray Rice dude, and it could not be done. They steadily drove down the field, and the clock just ticked and ticked. Once they got inside the 30, all hope was pretty much gone. Finally, we forced a 4th down and their kicker got lined up. In what amounted to be a cruel, cruel joke, they missed the field goal…but low and behold, William “Friggin’” Gay jumped offsides! They kick it again, and it goes through. HEART….BREAK….CITY!!! More salt in the wound came in the form of their kicker pointing at the camera once he made it while every fan in the stadium ran onto the field. It was like he was pointing to all of us in Card Nation and giving us the Nelson laugh.
For me, no heartbreaking loss can even come close to this one. #2 is a distant 2. We controlled our own destiny and by winning out, it would have been us and Ohio St. left standing as the only undefeated teams. I’m sure not many would have liked to see us play for a National Championship, but what could they say with so many Big East teams in the top 20 that year. It still pains me to think about that lost opportunity. My only solace will be seeing Ray Rice or Jeremy Ito one day and fighting them onsite!!!! Greg Schiano can get it, too! (nh)
UofL vs UK (2012 Final Four) - The heartbreak on this one was more about missing out on a grand opportunity to beat our rivals for all the marbles and to know that we took out one of UK’s most talented teams of all time. That would have been super sweet.
UofL vs Wake Forest (1996 Sweet 16) - Dejuan Wheat was THE MAN when it came to Cardinal basketball in the 1990s. His opportunity to shine bright on the national stage was cut short due to a nagging ankle injury and Tim Duncan (and Randolph Childress). We lost a close one to Wake Forest 60-59. If we would’ve scored 2 more points we would have played a great Kentucky team for a spot in the Final Four. Not on the list because my memory of that moment is a little fuzzy.