It was cold, it was wet. It was the Keg of Nails. What is Louisville vs. Cincinnati without inclement weather and Overtime? What is Louisville vs. Cincinnati without huge plays from the Louisville Defense? Big Time Catches from Damian Copeland, and DeVante Parker? And Clutch Play from Teddy Bridgewater?
For a rivalry that is coming to a close, the last two games have been outstanding. Two overtime thrillers, either could have gone to either side.
Last night also had the same feel as Louisville vs. Rutgers. The atmosphere was incredible. On the road, both teams with something to play for, a great crowd, and the fans were a little down coming in. At the end of the night, the tune of the season had changed. The realization that Louisville finished the 2013 regular season 11-1 started to sink in. The national media realized that shorting Teddy Bridgewater was a mistake.
Now the Cards will face an ACC team in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, FL December 28th. Last night was a goodbye to Cincinnati, but also the Big East/American Athletic Conference. Say what you want about the state of the conference NOW, but the Big East/AAC has been the best era of Cardinal Football to date, and provided the platform for gaining entrance into the ACC. Not to mention the elevated earnings and donations that have propelled the Cardinals into the upper echelon of collegiate athletics. Was it a stepping stone? Sure! But it was absolutely necessary.
Louisville went through 3 quarters and was very frustrating offensively outside of their opening drive. So much so, that I actually had to leave my warm seat in Nippert Stadium’s press box to get away from the Twitter negativity and decided to watch the rest of the game from the field. And the 4th quarter is where the magic happened and also when I couldn’t feel my fingers.
Teddy’s 4th & 12 scramble for a 1st down was transcendent. His scrambling TD pass to Damian Copeland happened right in front of me and it was just completely shocking. It was a play that I was too close to understand the perspective. I was so close I couldn’t believe it, and it didn’t make sense. It was like watching David Blaine do magic. But that’s Teddy Bridgewater. He’s magic.
But there was more the Cincinnati Browns (Preston Brown & Dominique Brown) kept coming up huge play after play. And Louisville legends Brandon Dunn & DeVante Parker were fantastic. Dunn said he came in as a “half a star”, his final regular season game finished with 9 tackles for the Defensive Tackle position, played on Offense, and shared a TREMENDOUS hug with his father after the game.
The post-game went from the Keg of Nails to what Mark Ennis called, “The Hug of Nails”. It was just hug after hug. Teddy Bridgewater & Shawn Watson. Coach Strong and well, everybody. Brandon Dunn and his family. Rose Murphy (Bridgewater’s mother) hugged the entire team.
In the end, Cardinal Football needed a hug. The program finished the regular season 11-1 ranked in the Top 20 with the best player in college football and the nation’s leader in sacks. But doubters across the nation were aplenty. Even before the season began the noise at which Louisville was cast aside was deafening. So much so that the 2013 season almost ended as ‘The Season With No Joy”. But after Thursday night in Cincinnati all that is forgotten. A season of frustration and lamenting over a single 3-point loss to a team going to a BCS Bowl is gone.
Now the Cardinal Football Program will move into the ACC, and will play in Orlando against a fellow conference member. Call it a dress rehearsal. But last night was a final chapter of the Keg of Nails (for now) and also the final chapter of the American Athletic/Big East for Louisville Football. And last call was as memorable as Louisville’s First Call in 2005 when the Cards played a Triple Overtime thriller in Morgantown.
Charlie Strong took his first Cardinal Football team down to Florida in the Beef O’Brady’s Bowl. While he was in St. Petersburg his staff was able to make some moves in the Miami Area and get two guys: Eli Rogers & Teddy Bridgewater. Is this the final chapter of Teddy Bridgewater & other Louisville juniors? The answer will come later. But for now these 11-1 Cards are headed to Disney World and it feels good.