Since the 1987 there haven’t been many Louisville Football games that these eyes haven’t witnessed. The Schellenberger years were exciting, but even Louisville’s 1991 Fiesta Bowl victory was discounted by national pundits. There have been a great number of pivotal moments during UofL Football History, internal change, coaching change, stadium change, conference change. But the night that changed Louisville Football forever happened on October 14, 2004 in Miami, FL at the Miami Orange Bowl.
That night in Little Havana established the program’s legitimacy in the eyes of College Football, and the program’s belief in itself that it may actually be able to achieve Howard Schnellenberger’s ‘Collision Course’. It seems appropriate to re-visit this game prior to the season-opener against the Hurricanes in what would be the games’ 10th anniversary in a month and a half. Bobby Petrino is back.
Miami in 2004 came into the Louisville game as THE DOMINANT FORCE in College Football. The Canes were 4-0 when the Cards came to town, pushing Miami’s record to 50-4 (.9259) dating back to the beginning of the 2000 season which also included the Canes winning the 2001 National Championship. To compare with Alabama’s current 4-year stretch dating back to 2010, the Tide is 46-7 (.8679) and won 2 National Crowns.
The two teams that night were LOADED with NFL talent. The world already knew about Miami. They were about to learn about Louisville. Also, of the players that actually appeared in the game 44 played in the NFL (22 Miami, 22 Louisville) and 12 Players are still active on NFL Rosters (6 Louisville, 6 Miami) totaling 214 years (and counting) in the NFL (110 Miami, 104 Louisville). There were other players, like Eric Wood who were dressed for the game but didn’t play in the game that also have had very nice NFL careers.
|Miami||Years in NFL||Louisville||Years in NFL|
|Roscoe Parrish||7||Travis Leffew||3|
|Frank Gore||10||Jason Spitz||7|
|Brock Berlin||2||Kurt Quarterman||4|
|Darnell Jenkins||1||Stefan LeFors||1|
|Rashad Butler||6||Eric Shelton||2|
|Chris Myers||10||Kolby Smith||3|
|Kevin Everett||2||Elvis Dumervil||8|
|Antrel Rolle||10||Montavious Stanley||4|
|Kelly Jennings||5||Robert McCune||3|
|Marcus Maxey||1||Brandon Johnson||7|
|Rocky McIntosh||6||Antoine Harris||3|
|Santonio Thomas||2||Kerry Rhodes||8|
|Orien Harris||3||William Gay||8|
|Baraka Atkins||2||JR Russell||1|
|Devin Hester||9||Malik Jackson||1|
|Buck Ortega||2||Brian Brohm||3|
|Brandon Meriweather||8||Michael Bush||7|
|Leon Williams||5||Lionel Gates||3|
|Tavares Gooden||6||Gary Barnidge||7|
|Greg Olsen||8||Harry Douglas||7|
|Sinorice Moss||4||Breno Giacomini||7|
|Kareem Brown||1||Amobi Okoye||7|
|22 NFLers||110||22 NFLers||104|
|6 Still Current||6 Current|
#3 Miami vs. #18 Louisville on Thursday Night in the Original Orange Bowl. ESPN had Mike Tirico, Lee Corso and Kirk Herbstreit in the booth, Chris Fowler, Mark, May, and Trev Alberts with pre-game, halftime, and post-game coverage….and of course Jill Arrington on the sideline. This was Louisville’s chance, ESPN was going “all in” as a network to showcase the game between the “IT” program in college football (Miami) and the “BCS Buster” that Louisville was labeled with from Conference USA.
Miami won the 2001 National Championship over Nebraska and lost in 2 Overtimes in 2002 against Ohio State in what was an epic game in a failed bid to go back-to-back. The 2003 season the Canes had lost to #10 Virginia Tech in Blacksburg and #18 Tennessee. Not just anyone was going to beat Miami. The Canes had suffered just 3 losses in 3 seasons.
Louisville had taken down Florida State (national outlets discounted the game due to Hurricane conditions) in 2002 during a disappointing season but rebounded with new coach Bobby Petrino in 2003 with a 9-4 season. Still the win over the Noles was a FAR cry from the 31-0 shutout the Cards suffered 2 years earlier to the Noles in Tallahassee.
The Cards had a Senior QB in Stefan LeFors that few had heard of nationally, even fewer recruited to play at the FBS level and was leading one of the nation’s best offenses. The Canes had given up just 1 Touchdown all season entering their 5th game of the 2004 season. Tirico said during the broadcast, “Miami is virtually unbeatable in the Orange Bowl.”
The now gone Miami Orange Bowl was a treasure. We parked in the backyard of a person’s home in the neighborhood and ate Cuban food from a street car. Arriving early the older crowd invited us to their tailgate and told stories of their proud Miami past. Walking by the students waiting to get inside, was less welcoming. But you could tell, this was an environment for a great college football game. One that could not be duplicated now if tried. It was clear that this game was going to be special.
Howard Schellenberger said during his sideline interview that a Louisville win vs. Miami “Would put them into orbit and extend their success indefinitely.”
Inside the Orange Bowl Miami had one thing on 10/14/04 that I distinctly remember. IT WAS LOUD. Having been to very many stadiums in college football I can tell you that the Hurricanes crowd on this night had a different tone than any I’d experienced before. It was piercing, not a low roar, but an urgent sound that constantly rang out throughout the course of the evening. The Miami band played when Lousiville was over the ball and they were mic’d up to carry the sound throughout the stadium’s sound system. A familiar theme was “The Imperial March” better known as Darth Vader’s Theme Music from Star Wars. Traveling to Alabama vs. Southern Miss just two days later in Tuscaloosa was like being in a library by comparison.
Things didn’t start well for the Cards. False start, sacked (Quarterman missed block), short punt. Miami was only 40 yards away from the endzone to start its first drive. But the Canes felt confident on 4th & 1 from the 3-yard line to go for it with Frank Gore, and Robert McCune and Bobby Leffew stopped that for no gain and dodged the 1st bullet of the afternoon. But there would be more.
Backed up on the 3-yard line Louisville quickly punted back to Miami giving the Canes a shot at yet another short field. When Brock Berlin hit Greg Olsen for a 9-yard TD to take a 7-0 lead, the noise and the quick biting sound of the Orange Bowl was beyond description. Louisville needed to respond, but things weren’t looking good when 11 minutes into the game the Cards had yet to cross their own 35 and a Stefan LeFors fumble played with the hearts of Louisville fans. Huge plays by JR Russell & Michael Bush shook Louisville out of the beginning of the game funk before Lionel Gates tied the game scoring just the 2nd Touchdown Miami had allowed all season.
Kerry Rhodes intercepted Brock Berlin two plays later and gave Louisville the ball in Miami territory. Josh Tinch was HUGE in this game, but the Cards had to settle for an Art Carmody FG after a throw from Bush to Brohm (trick play was off target). The Cards took a 10-7 lead and would extend that lead on the next possession when Stefan found Tiger Jones with 10:03 to go in the 2nd quarter.
THIS IS WHEN THE CHANGE BEGAN……..Louisville now had the attention of the nation and the respect from Miami. This Miami team wasn’t just the #3 team in the nation, this was a team that was 50-4 in their last 54 games! Stefan LeFors had started 10-11 in the air prompting Kirk Herbstreit to quip “That’s a good line against AIR”. Miami continued to stall, and Louisville & LeFors kept making plays. Two huge plays to Lionel Gates one for a TD pushed the lead to 24-7 just before halftime. Up 17 ESPN was shocked, Canes fans were shocked and the nation had halftime to consider what had just taken place. Louisville had arrived. But it wasn’t over.
Devin Hester nearly struck right out of the gate of the 2nd half opening kickoff. Hester went the distance on the opening kickoff but a holding call on Buck Ortega on Preston Smith nullified the play. Miami didn’t get the instant impact of the Hester return, but the Canes would score on the drive churning out a 5 minute capped off when Berlin his Roscoe Parrish for 14-yard to pull within 24-14. To respond Louisville had a 59-yard TD from Eric Shelton curiously called back as JR Russell was flagged for holding away from the run with 9:11 to go in the 3rd. The score would have pushed Louisville to a 31-14 advantage, but instead of punting Bobby Petrino called a classic fake misdirection punt with Michael Bush pulling the strings and slyly handing the ball off to Lionel Gates who rushed for for 39 yards and the 1st down.
Immediately after the fake punt, Tight End Adam McCauley took a vicious hit from Brandon Meriweather over the middle. The hit would be played for several years on ESPN promotional hype clips, and would be cause for ejection in today’s game with a 15-yard penalty. This was before all of that, so just hard/clean football. Two plays later, Louisville hit back with a beautiful fade to Tiger Jones to push the lead back to 17 at 31-14. Listening to the Miami radio announcer at the time who said, “This Louisville team is for real.” A Montrel Jones unsportsmanlike flag on the TD helped the ensuing Miami drive, that was an impressive display from Brock Berlin moving the football. Berlin was finally finding a rhythm and with 4:08 in the 3rd quarter the Canes Quarterback hit Akieem Jolla for an 11-yard TD.
Louisville’s offense didn’t respond and went 3 and out. But more importantly, Stefan LeFors suffered a concussion on his 3rd down incompletion to Broderick Clark. The training staff was unaware of this at the time. Before LeFors concussion would have an effect on the game. The punt following Louisville’s 3 AND OUT got Miami a 15-yard penalty for pulling an ole “Mike Tomlin” before Mike Tomlin when an individual impeded with a Louisville gunner on Punt Coverage. As a result of the penalty, Miami would begin this drive on their own 6. Berlin got the Canes out of that hole with a HUGE 51-yard strike to Greg Olsen down the seam. Louisville’s safety communication left Olsen wide open for the big gain which allowed the Canes to get into scoring position. William Gay had a tremendous pass break-up on 3rd down in the endzone to break up a Berlin/Leggett (6’4) jump ball TD which forced a Miami FG and pulled the Canes to 31-24 to start the 4th Quarter.
Clearly Miami had found some momentum. Louisville needed to answer, and as Stefan LeFors entered the game with an unknown concussion one of the games’ biggest movements occurred when Stefan LeFors fumbled the snap with 14:05 remaining in the game and gave the ball to Miami on the 22-yard line. Losing the ball hurt and the Canes settled for a FG, but losing LeFors was a huge blow as he had been OUTSTANDING against the Miami defense. Stefan would not return and finished with 17-22 for 242 yards and 3 Touchdowns with 14:05 still remaining!
Despite the fantastic field position, Miami did settle for a FG as the Louisville Defense held and the Canes moved to 31-27 with 12:03 to play, but the 6 quick points for the Canes absolutely played a huge role.
Enter Brian Brohm
Normally in 2004 Brohm would get a series in the 2nd quarter. Not with 12 minutes to play in the Orange Bowl against Miami. The true freshman took the field and looked the part. I’ll probably never understand the holding called on Jason Spitz that negated a 16-yard Joshua Tinch reception, but Brian got some of those yard back and a 1st down with an uncharacteristic 16-yard scramble. But an Adam McCauley penalty for holding doomed the drive forcing a punt and a Lee Corso comment: “People will think Miami is getting a HOMER job, which they are famous for.”
The game plan handling punting has been well-documented in the last decade. Brent Moody was instructed to punt to the sideline and out of bounds. Petrino was determined to not allow College Football’s (and later the NFL’s) most dangerous return man have a chance to return. As it was Moody punted to the middle of the field, with the coverage going to the right sideline, directly to Devin Hester. Hester took the ball straight up the middle of the field and with the absence of Lousiville’s coverage really only needed to beat Moody himself to the house. Miami took a 34-31 lead with 8:11 remaining in the game. Brent Moody would never punt in another Louisville Football game and would later transfer.
True Freshman QB, 4th Quarter, Down 3, at Miami. This is not typically a great situation. But Louisville answered and in doing so the perception of LOUISVILLE FOOTBALL CHANGED. Brian Brohm connected with Montrell Jones and then a BIG run by Lionel Gates set the table for a crossing route for Broderick Clark a the 1-yard line. Gates finished things off from the goal line for the Cards to take a 38-34 lead with 4:30 remaining in the ball game. Now the Louisville defense needed to hold.
Another huge return by Devin Hester gave the Hurricanes fantastic field position and plenty of time to answer. But the game could have easily been sealed on the 3rd play of the drive when a Brock Berlin pass sailed over his intended receiver of Roscoe Parrish and into the chest of Kerry Rhodes……which bounced into the ground with 3:26 remaining in the game. HEARTBREAKING.
Despite the drop by Rhodes, the Cards had forced a 3rd & 10. Maybe it was the deflating nature of the previous play or just a great play by Miami, but Berlin was able to take advantage of Gavin Smart playing much too softly on Lance Leggett for an easy completion for a 1st down. Elvis Dumervil was a step late from a sack that would have gotten the Cards to 4th & 10 from the 45.
As it was a new set of downs allowed Miami grind more clock on their march towards the endzone. With 1:52 remaining, the Cardinals had another shot to close the game on 4th & 4 Miami had no choice but to attempt a conversion from the 8-yard line. Darnell Jenkins had a small opening over the middle and Brock Berlin hit him as did Brandon Johnson & Robert McCune immediately right at the first down marker. So close, but 1st down for Miami and it took just a few yards of work for Frank Gore to put it into the endzone to take a 41-38 lead with just 49 seconds remaining.
Despite the limited time Louisville did have 3 timeouts. A 14-yard rush by Brohm and a 17-yard 4th down converstion by Montrell Jones moved the ball to mid-field. With 5 seconds remaining the Cards were out of field goal range and needed one fianl heave towards the end zone which was intercepted by All-American Antrell Rolle with 0:00 on the clock. Miami wins.
Louisville Wide Receiver J.R. Russell, who had tussled with Rolle all night, slammed Antrell to the ground and both teams squared off in disagreement similar to how the two teams squared off to begin the game 2 years later in Louisville at mid-field.
After the Game
It was a loss. But Louisville Football and its perception had changed. Miami was the big kid on the block. Louisville was from Conference USA and an outsider. The Cards had taken the Canes to within an inch of defeat on its ‘virtually unbeatable’ home turf.
As we were exiting the stadium countless Miami fans approached us and offered praise for the Louisville program and good luck for the rest of the season. All expressed shock and remarked at how ‘lucky’ the Canes were to escape with the victory. In the end, Canes fans offered expressions of respect. And in the parking lot the ‘U’ faithful that opened their tailgates to us Card fans were the same in the end we shared a great night of football. Louisville gained by somehow losing a game that they should have won.
Predictably though, the players in the game were devastated in the loss. As was my custom, I traveled down to the players’ exit tunnel to speak with my good friend Chad Rimpsey following road games, “Kerry has hands like glue. He never drops a ball like that and I’ve seen him make so many much more difficult catches……he has hands like glue.” There was a lot of disbelief, talk of the Rhodes drop, Stefan’s concussion, punting to Hester, wondering if the Cards had subbed enough prior to the 4th quarter…among other things.
But there was RESPECT. In the AP Poll, Louisviille moved UP from #18 to #14 after a LOSS. Unheard of.
Alabama game two days later I was in Tuscaloosa, AL for Alabama vs. Southern Miss (one of the benefits of playing Week Night Football is the ability to see new places) and the Bama fans kept commenting on just how surprisingly good Louisville was on Thursday Night. College Football was watching and Louisville Football was changed. It finally had the game’s respect.
Louisville would cap off their 12-1 season with a thrilling victory over future BCS Buster Boise State in what was an outstanding and overly unappreciated game. The Cards finished #6 in the Nation in 2004….it’s only loss was on October 14, 2004.
Schellenberger Era (Bill Olsen AD)
Every program has its milestones. For Louisville the first step is often cited as the (1990 season) 1991 Fiesta Bowl when the Cards thrashed the Alabama Crimson Tide 34-7. It was a milestone victory over a traditional program in an iconic bowl, the Cards finished the season 10-1-1 and were ranked (#14) in the Final AP Poll for the 2nd time in history (previously in 1972, 9-1 team coached by Lee Corso finished #18, did not go to a bowl). But like in ’72, the ’90 success was not sustained. The Cards went 2-9 in 1991 and then 5-6 in 1992. Alabama on the other hand finished #5 in the Nation in 1991 and won the 1992 National Championship.
Louisville remained an Independent in College Football and were at the mercy of which programs would agree to schedule them. The win over Bama brought instant euphoria to the program and was the 1st indication that Howard ‘The Pipe’ Schnellenberger’s “Collision Course” with the national championship might actually be a mountain worth climbing. But conditions with Louisville’s place in the evolving College Football Landscape was NOT advantageous.
In 1992 the Bowl Coalition was put in force wherein 5 conferences (SEC, Big 8, SWC, ACC, Big East and Notre Dame) aligned with the sport’s most elite group of bowls. This was the 1st step toward the College Football Playoff that will begin with the 2014 season. The Bowl Coalition evolved into the Bowl Alliance (after the Big 12 was formed & the SWC disbanded), and when the Big Ten & PAC-10 got onboard the now defunct BCS ruled college football from 1998 through the 2013 season. The Bowl Coalition and the need for Conference Affiliation to earn bowl berths ended the Howard Schnellenberger era at Louisville.
Howard left the Cards to coach the Oklahoma Sooners after the 1994 season and later recalled: “I didn’t leave because of money. I wasn’t looking to go anywhere until that president (Dr. Donald Swain) pulled that baloney and put us in that conference that I didn’t want to be in. I wasn’t going to coach in a conference where I didn’t have a chance to compete for the national championship.” Howard left behind a vision for the program that included both the ‘Collision Course’ & a new facility.
The Big Transition
Ron Cooper to John L. Smith, Bill Olsen to Tom Jurich, Independent to C-USA, Cardinal Stadium to PJCS
Athletic Director Bill Olsen used some of Schellenberger’s momentum following the Fiesta Bowl & the 1993 Liberty Bowl to obtain permission & private funds to build Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium. Shovels hit the dirt on June 19, 1996 following Ron Cooper’s 1st season (7-4 in 1995) and Louisville’s last year before joining Conference USA. Current Louisville Athletic Director Tom Jurich was hired on October 21, 1997 in the middle of a 1-10 season with Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium set to open the following Fall. Jurich made the switch to John L. Smith and the Cards quickly turned around going to 5 consecutive bowl games under John L. and finished in the Top 25 for just the 4th time in school history in 2001 (17th).
It was announced that Louisville would join the Big East on November 4, 2003. Louisville nearing the end of the 1st year of the Bobby Petrino era in which the Cards would finish 9-4 with a loss to Miami (OH) & Ben Rothlisberger in the GMAC Bowl. Petrino would take college football by storm while at Louisville with the maximization of talent and fantastic preparation. Petrino would later accept the Atlanta Falcons Head Coaching position for double the salary than Louisville and a chance to coach Michael Vick. Petrino had previously entertained offers from the Oakland Raider, Notre Dame, LSU, Auburn, and others and chosen to remain at Louisville.
Petrino 1.0 at Louisville finished 41-9 with 5 of the losses by 3 points or less.