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Sunday, March 3, 2024
The Observer

Adams: Sights and sounds: Louisville fans longing for success

Guys playing cornhole. Others tossing a football. Streets lined with cars and signs advertising parking. Scalpers on street corners. The Goodyear Blimp overhead. These were the goings-on outside of Cardinal Stadium before Notre Dame’s season opener at Louisville. It seemed to be a typical day for college football.

However, the University of Louisville, following an array of scandals and disappointments — being named in an FBI investigation of college basketball bribery; being sanctioned by the NCAA and losing head basketball coach Rick Pitino for hiring strippers to help recruit players; and university sponsor and founder of Papa John’s pizza John Schnatter being embroiled in a scandal over racist comments — looked to turn the tide of their misfortune on Labor Day.

As a reporter for Notre Dame football, I’ve grown accustomed to the hot-cold relationship people have with Notre Dame football: Everyone either loves or hates us; there seems to be no in between. At times, it can seem like only Notre Dame students, alumni, parents and possibly Catholics are the only people who don’t think the No. 8 Irish are overrated.

Emma Farnan | The Observer
A Louisville fan painted to look like a cardinal watches his team’s 35-17 loss against Notre Dame at Cardinal Stadium on Monday.

However, it turns out that a rival program, after reaching the pits of despair, can actually give Notre Dame some validation. The Cardinals, or “Card Nation” as they prefer, showed out in force, with a record-breaking crowd filling the stadium for the season opener against the Irish.

These were not the apathetic fans disillusioned by former head football coach Bobby Petrino’s second tumultuous stint with the Cardinals. These were 50-some-odd-thousand fans, all dressed for a blackout, hoping and praying that their team could pull off a miracle upset to start head coach Scott Satterfield’s tenure off right.

Women wore red earrings, had red toenail polish and some even dyed their hair red. If fans couldn’t find a black Louisville shirt, a black Michael Jordan Bulls jersey or Oakland Raiders t-shirt sufficed, but everyone wanted to be a part of it. Both Irish head coach Brian Kelly and senior quarterback Ian Book described it as a “great environment.”

Before kickoff, a video played on the stadium monitors. It said that when the hour was “dark” for the Louisville program, “Card Nation” wanted to rise up together. It featured clips of various coaches at their introductory press conferences, including Satterfield talking about competing for championships and head basketball coach Chris Mack saying he would “work [his] a-- off” for the program.

The Cardinal mascot came out to center field, was broadcasted on the video board and led the crowd in a cheer. They progressively clapped faster and faster before chanting “C-A-R-D-S, Cards!” The marching band’s three drum majors went out to midfield and danced. A baton twirler danced at center field and flag wavers waved on either side as the band formed into the shape of an “L” and the fleur-de-lis.

The “Call to the Post” was played on a trumpet before the start of both halves as it is every year at the Kentucky Derby. The excitement of having college football could be seen in how loudly everyone cheered after the national anthem, simply thrilled to have that tradition back.

The anthem was followed by the playing of “My Old Kentucky Home,” to which the cheerleaders swayed and held up an “L” with their thumb, index and middle fingers. The band then played “All Hail U of L” (spelling “U of L” on the field), followed by “Cardinal spell-out” (where the band members formed five groups and ran into position to spell out “C-A-R-D-S”). They concluded their opening performance with “All Hail Fanfare” and “U of L Cheer.” While a bit drawn out, the fans enjoyed the performance.

A hype video played with four minutes left before kickoff, featuring highlights of past Louisville teams and clips from Satterfield and the team at summer camp, trying to show the hard work and rejuvenation of the Cardinals. The Cardinals ran out through the stadium tunnel with flames spurting and the band lined up a couple of rows deep, flanking the players on both sides.

The University also sought to keep the fans excited during the game by honoring Louisville’s swimming, diving and baseball teams during the contest, as well as by inviting former Cardinals wide receiver Deion Branch, running back Reggie Bonnafon and guard Jamon Brown. Former quarterback Teddy Bridgewater filmed a short message for the fans, and his mother, Rose Murphy, was in attendance. Throughout the game they would occasionally play highlights of Louisville’s 2014 win over Notre Dame on the monitors.

As for in-game traditions, much like Notre Dame students chop their arms on a first down, Louisville fans did so three times while shouting “Cards! First! Down!” Also akin to Irish tradition, rather than doing pushups in the air like Notre Dame students, the mascot and ROTC members would run into the end zone and do pushups after a touchdown. They also had “kids of the game” run on the field after a kickoff to remove the kickoff tee.

Aside from that, the gimmicks were pretty typical. The 20-time national champion “Ladybirds” dance team performed. Specially themed cameras such as the “Future Cardinals Cam” for little kids and the “Bud Light Dilly Dilly Cam” for those drinking were played. The screens also projected a virtual noise measurer to try and get the crowd to be loud, and the University honored a current military serviceman.

Also of note in the game, the announcer could not pronounce Irish graduate student receiver Chris Finke’s last name properly, and senior quarterback Ian Book accidentally broke a Ladybird’s nose with a throwaway pass out of bounds. It certainly was an eventful opener.

While the game began with high hopes, which were only fueled by Louisville taking a 14-7 lead in the first quarter, it was a disappointing conclusion to the opener for Card Nation. Fans began to leave in the fourth quarter with a score of 28-17 even before the Irish put the game away with another touchdown.

The Cardinals had five fumbles during the game, losing three of them, in what was the inevitable crumbling of an inexperienced team. Despite the collapse of the team in the second half, there are signs for optimism, according to Satterfield.

“I’m extremely proud of the way our guys played,” he said. “The fight and the energy they had was awesome to see. The one thing coming into this game that we didn’t know about was, when we face adversity, how these guys are going to react to it, and they did a great job.”

Last year, the problem for the Cardinals was that they quit when things took a downturn, and with their commitment, so went that of the fans. This is the first game in a long season, but the way the overmatched Cardinals performed is promising, as was the large contingent of Louisville faithful that stayed until the final seconds.

“I told our football team, ‘We’re not into moral victories, we’re trying to win football games,’” Satterfield said. “And we wanted to win bad tonight. Despite all the odds and all this-and-that, we wanted to win bad.”

Card Nation feels the same.