The building of a football tradition requires surviving games in which such things as self-respect, prestige and honor are on the line.
Louisville’s 26-20 overtime win in 2002 against a highly-ranked Florida State team was such a game.
The 44-40 victory over 10th-ranked Boise State in the 2004 Liberty Bowl was another.
The Blackout Night game in 2006, the 44-40 win against third-ranked West Virginia was a classic, as was UofL’s 40-34 overtime win over Kentucky in 2000.
The drama and energy surrounding such games permeate the senses, locking themselves into one’s memory for instant recall for savoring over and over. But few of them held the uncertainty and drama of Thursday’s 20-17 win over Rutgers.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater, hindered by a broken wrist and a sprained ankles, on the sidelines with a conference championship and a BCS bowl bid on the line. Coming off two humiliating losses in a row after nine consecutive wins.
Louisville stunned with with an 85-yard touchdown on Rutgers’ first play from scrimmage. Then again on a 68-yarder in the second quarter, limping to the locker room behind 14-3 at the half.
Will Stein, believing everything that had been said about him the last two weeks, struggling to run the offense, forced to throw sideways to get anything, managing a non-productive offense. No semblance of consistency or optimism in reach.
Coach Charlie Strong forced to call on the hobbling Bridgewater, playing with one hand, one good leg, but playing more ably than most quarterbacks could ever aspire. Somehow completing 20 of 28 passes for 283 yards.
His offensive line, the one that couldn’t protect him against UConn, giving up only a couple of crushing sacks this time around, Bridgewater slowing pulling himself up, giving his teammates the heart that seemed to have been missing most of the season despite all the wins.
The young guys on defense, watching the offense struggle, starting to come around the past two games, getting emotional, gaining maturity, realizing all those early wins may have come too easily, learning how to earn and appreciate what it really takes to win.
All of this occurring in the shadow of the red-lighted Empire State Building, reminding observers of a heartbreaking overtime loss in 2006 that robbed that team of a chance for a shot at the biggest game of them all.
Just another BCS game at stake this time around, but any BCS game is to be treasured. The tale of what it took for Bridgewater to make that happen is a story that will be retold time and time again … a legendary tale about a football hero who ingrained himself UofL football lore on an unbelievable night in late November.