On April 16th 2016, I took my son to Papa Johns Cardinal Stadium for the annual football Spring Game. The weather was absolutely perfect. Early reports from the local talking heads and many people around the program were that the attendance would likely eclipse the record of approximately 33,000. With the weather forecast being phenomenal, the rumblings of how Lamar Jackson had improved by leaps and bounds as a passer and the overflow of positivity from the victory over Texas A&M in the Music City Bowl, I too expected a record crowd.
In the days after the game, all I heard and read was about the disappointment and frustration pertaining to the spring game turnout. Cardinal Sports Zone’s own Terrance Sullivan wrote an article asking where you were. I read that article, agreed with it and shared it on social media. I too was frustrated with the attendance. Not frustrated at any one individual but the U of L fans as a whole. This was a perfect situation for us as a fan base to show everyone how much we care about football and that we are a program worthy of being mentioned in the same breath as our ACC mates, Florida State and Clemson. So in posting that article on social media I received immediate feedback. After reading the feedback I decided my reaction was impulsive and my strong desire for the Cards to be thought of as an elite program helped fuel my frustration. I decided I need to step back, wait a few days and reevaluate the attendance controversy.
After taking some time to reflect back on everything, I am still a little disappointed in the attendance but I have come to terms with who were are as a fan base and as a city. While Louisville is a college town, the culture of this city is not only about college athletics as it is on other cities. We don’t schedule events around the spring game like they do in other cities with major football programs. It was brought to my attention that all the little leagues in Louisville had their opening day on the same day as the spring game. I will NEVER fault anyone for missing any U of L event for family obligations or responsibilities. In Columbus, OH the spring game is like a right of passage. When little leagues, churches and/or any other organization in Columbus begin planning an event in the spring, the first question at the planning meeting is ” What day is the Ohio State Spring Game?” It would be blasphemy to schedule an event on the same day as the OSU spring game. In Louisville, the only event we schedule around is The Kentucky Derby. Why do you think that is? I’m glad you asked.
History and tradition is why. If you google Ky Derby history, you will easily find that the first Ky Derby was held in 1875. If you google Ohio State Spring game history, you will easily find the first spring game was held in 1946. If you google Louisville Spring game history you probably won’t easily find its origination. Or at least I couldn’t find it. The University of Louisville spring game is still in its toddler stage as far as I am concerned. I don’t recall my dad ever taking me to a spring game. Of the top schools on the list below, I would be willing to bet that most people who attended those spring games can tell stories of when their dad took them to their first spring game and you can probably find pictures on social media of three generations at their respective schools spring game. The Louisville spring game is a work in progress. Over time we will build a tradition. Will we ever shut down the city for the spring game? Probably not but I would guess that eventually we can build up to an average attendance number that makes everyone happy. I look at this list and of the schools ahead of us I see one school who, in a pathetic attempt to earn the respect of their conference foes or maybe to prevent embarrassment, inflated their attendance numbers. I see another school in Notre Dame who has as much if not more national exposure, respect and tradition than any football program ever and they only had about 28,000 people at their spring game. I can tell you that at the Louisville spring game, the attendance was announced at 16,500 but there were at least another 10,000 who never made it into the stadium. With the addition of those who came out but never made it in, our attendance was close to Notre Dame’s. Those 10,000 that never made it inside the stadium, stayed outside to party and tailgate on that beautiful day. I can’t blame them because basically the majority of those who never made it into the stadium were college kids and realistically the spring game is just a glorified practice. So why leave the party to go watch a practice? That’s just a college kids mentality and it makes sense to me.
But I am no longer in college. I am a father and I decided to take my son to the spring game. Maybe someday years from now, my son will take my grandson to the game and maybe, if God is so willing, I will get to take that picture of three generations at the Louisville Spring football game. That would truly be a dream come true for me if that ever happened.
I also think another reason I was perturbed with the turnout was because there were so many people who complained last season about the noon games and that several of our games were not on ESPN or a major network. I felt this was a chance to show the schedule makers and the television networks that we will watch and watch in large numbers. I guess I felt that we missed a golden opportunity and that frustrated me. Realistically, it probably doesn’t matter. If we want to be televised on prime time then we need to win a few more games and we have to beat FL State or Clemson every once in a while to establish a rivalry that everyone will want to watch.
The silver lining in the lower than expected turnout for me was the fact that I had fewer people to navigate around, I parked closer, I sat closer and had better access to the players and coaches. My son got to freely run around on the field after the game and didn’t have to worry about thousands of people in his way. He made memories that will last a lifetime. Hopefully someday my son will tell his grandchildren stories of a time long ago that you could actually go down on the field after the spring game and get autographs.
Tradition is defined as a belief or behavior passed down within a group or society with symbolic meaning or special significance with origins in the past.
Let’s pass the spring game down and make it a tradition.
As Always, GO CARDS!