Yes, I probably will… And it won’t be because my favorite team may be on the wrong side of the NCAA bubble or because they may go down to a #1 team looking for revenge. No, the reasons are far deeper than that
Today marks the end of an era. That’s a phrase often overused in sports, but it’s true today. This will be the last game played in Freedom Hall. It’s been referred to by everything from Cheat-em Hall to any number of expletive-laced comments. The old stately building in the middle of a quickly sinking state fairground will always be a monument to college basketball. History itself has passed through the stately halls and beautiful court.
Seven Final Four teams have called that home, including 2 national champions. Two Hall of Fame coaches have paced the sidelines. One has his name on the court. There are four retired jerseys from names that will forever echo in Cardinal faithful: Griffith, Tyra, Unseld, and Ellison. Several names are honored also, and I still wait for my favorite player DeJuan Wheat to receive his honor. There are 2 huge banners from the 80 and 86 seasons. There are dozens of conference championship and conference tournament championships. There are years of NCAA Tournament appearances recorded. And the building itself was host to several Final Fours in the days before TV demanded the Superdome. The High Five was started there, and Dr Dunkenstein put on shows that Cardinal fans still talk about. You can find the Cardinal Cha-Cha, and the constant barrage of fans spelling out C-A-R-D-S! It never gets old, no matter how many times… And if I here someone go “oooooh…” it comes natural.
And somewhere in the midst of all that in the late 80s and early 90s was a wide-eyed little boy who got to go to games with his dad. Sure they were exhibition games or games against lesser teams, and the seats were often so high up that it would require a climb, but that was because tickets were in such high demand it was hard to go to games. That little boy would watch the big men run up and down the floor, shooting and dunking and stealing. And beside him would be his dad, and in his hand would be a hot dog and a Pepsi (the official drink of Cardinal sports). It would be a big deal to get to go, homework would need to be done before tipoff, and driving to the stadium and seeing the bright lights was a highlight of the trip. Walking in you could hear the pep band playing, the smells of old men and their cigars, the sight of red and black everywhere, and next to that little boy was his dad. He always knew where to go, where to sit, when to stand, and when to boo a bad call. And when it was over and the Cards had taken down yet another team, there was much celebration and shouting of “GO Cards!” in the parking lot. That little boy and his dad would go on Saturday mornings as part of the Junior Cardinal Club and get to see the behind-the-scenes of Louisville sports. Secretly, it was probably more for the dad than the son, but the son didn’t care.
I took my wife to a couple games there, and showed her all around the hallowed halls. She did well to tolerate it (she grew up in Wildcat country), but could see the childlike excitement I still had every time I walked into the Hall. I wish I could one day take my kids there, just like my dad did with me, but today marks the end of an era.
The team will be the same, the new arena will be beautiful, and I cannot wait to build my own tradition of taking my kids to see their favorite team play. But, deep down in my heart, I know nothing will ever replace the atmosphere in Freedom Hall when the Cards got on a run, how loud it can get, how everyone claps in unison when the starting lineups are announced, and what a roar comes when Denny Crum, Darrell Griffith, Marques Maybin, or any of the others who dazzled on that court are announced.
So today Cards, win one. Send that beautiful building out by knocking off the #1 team in the country. The future of UofL basketball is bright, but today will be a hard day.
Because deep down, that 8 year old boy is crying because part of his childhood is passing on.