On paper, the University of Louisville football team is better than the University of Kentucky’s football team. The Cardinals are ranked in the top 10. The Cardinals are coming off the a win in the Sugar Bowl over SEC power Florida. The Cardinals have a Heisman trophy caliber quarterback in Teddy Bridgewater. They have a coach, in Charlie Strong, that was courted by SEC power Tennessee and spurned the Volunteers to remain the head coach at Louisville. The oddsmakers in Vegas set the line at 7.5, with UL being bet up to a near 11 point favorite.
The University of Kentucky Wildcat football team is coming off a 2-10 season. The Wildcats have a new head coach who is coaching players that the previous coach left behind and that are still finding their way, with coach and players still feeling each other out. There’s a talent gap between the Cards and Cats at almost every position. UL is Apple stock and the Cats are Enron. The Wildcats lost to Sun Belt member Western Kentucky to start the season. The Wildcats have no real football history and the Cardinals have two (TWO!) BCS bowl victories. The Cardinals are the home Unitas and Tom Jackson and Super Bowl MVP Deion Branch.
The Wildcats have no shot on Saturday. No logical person would pick them to win. Why even play the game? Well, in the words of ESPN College Gameday anchor, and former UL head coach, Lee Corso, “Not so fast my friend.”
While I can appreciate the Cardinal fans’ smug sense of self-important superiority, the game will still need to be played. Fans will still have to come to Commonwealth Stadium. The bands will play, the cheerleaders will cheer. And the concession stands will charge ridiculous prices for lukewarm hotdogs and watered down soda. The teams will need to put on their pads and, at least, go through the motions of playing the game.
There are obviously a lot of reasons to believe the Cardinals will win on Saturday. They should. They’re more talented and, at this point in time, a much better football team. And I cannot offer you any schematic reason why the Wildcats will win. I can’t point to any position and say Kentucky has an overwhelming, game changing advantage. I can’t say that Commonwealth Stadium is the most intimidating place in the country for a visiting team to play.
But, I know this. The history of sports is littered with teams that have no business doing so, winning. Sometimes, a team can become more than just the sum of its parts. Sometimes, things just happen. Sometimes, the little guy wins.
I know, I know. It’s more than a little absurd to think of the Kentucky Wildcats being the plucky underdog, but on Saturday, the opportunity to play that role will be there. One game. 60 minutes to prove to themselves, the fans, the nation and, most importantly, to the Dirty Birds that Kentucky football is on it’s way back. 60 minutes for Coach Mark Stoops to be more than Bob Stoops’ brother. 60 minutes. 1 hour of game time.
I’m still optimistic about Kentucky football. I still believe better days are ahead. And one of those better days could be Saturday, September 14, 2013.
To paraphrase Herb Brooks, head coach of the 1980 US Olympic Hockey team (from the movie “Miracle”) : Great moments… are born from great opportunity. And that’s what you have here, tonight, boys. That’s what you’ve earned here tonight. One game. If we played ‘em ten times, they might win nine. But not this game. Not tonight. Tonight, we’re gonna play football with them. Tonight, we stay with them. And we shut them down because we can! Tonight, WE are the greatest football team in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. You were born to be football players. Every one of you. And you were meant to be here tonight. This is your time. Their time is done. It’s over. I’m sick and tired of hearing about what a great football team the Cardinals have. Screw ‘em. This is your time. Now go out there and take it.”
Saturday has to be the Cats time. Saturday needs to the time for the football Wildcats of the University of Kentucky to, as proclaimed in “On, On, UofK,” to shine. Kentucky has nothing to lose. Louisville is supposed to win. And the Cards may very well do it, the smart money has just about made the outcome a foregone conclusion. But to say that the Cats have no chance is folly. Because they do. There’s a chance and sometimes, that’s all you need to succeed.
On any given Saturday, anything can happen. Go Cats. Go Big Blue. Shock the World.