Blame it on:
- Frank Camp, the winningest coach in the athletic history of the University of Louisville.
- Maury Wolford, who made tears come to the eyes of Coach Camp when he told him that he wouldn’t be able to play football after returning from the service.
- Will Wolford, Maury’s son, the new coach of the St. Xavier Tigers who has the formidable task of remaking St. X a rival of mighty Trinity, now a national power for the second year in a row. I met Maury and his wife at Baptist East’s Cardiac Rehab and he told me that when he was called to Camp’s office, the coach told him that the Cardinals really needed him. Maury said that he had a job driving a beer truck and needed the money to support his family. That’s when Camp started crying. That was too much for Wolford, who said, “OK, coach, I’ll suit up for you.”
- Blanton Collier, who was a college rival of Camp, who much later was coach of the Jimmy Brown-led champion Cleveland Browns.
- Director of athletics Tom Jurich, who was lured by Harry Jones (a former UK player under Paul “Bear” Bryant) and another heavy hitter UofL fan. He has made UofL not just a basketball powerhouse but also a national contender in several Olympic sports – and yes, in the penthouse level in football, perhaps as high this week as the top 20!
Unless you admit to 50 or 60 years on this Earth, you probably won’t be able to appreciate the impressive growth of UofL football.
When I think of the early days, I always come back to an old, old photo of Collier holding a clinic in the shabby office of Camp at Parkway Field. With them were Camp assistants Clark Wood and J.D. Dunn, and a couple more assistant coaches. No fancy coaching practice apparel. No TV screens to show game film.
UofL DID own Parkway Field, but it was more renowned as the home of the Louisville Colonels baseball team.
When the football Cardinals moved to a new baseball field at the Kentucky State Fairgrounds, UofL fans thought they were in clover – until those sitting under the pressbox got soaked in sewage from a broken pipe. Shhoo-wee!
But the Cardinals did get a decent practice field when an auto race track was demolished.
Then something happened that I never thought would. Director of athletics Bill Olsen talked Howard Schnellenberger into returning home to coach the Cardinals.
Howard, an All-American at the University of Kentucky, didn’t stay long before Oklahoma wooed him away, but he did stay long enough to get the movement started that resulted in the new Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium.
Earl Ruby, The Courier-Journal sports editor, had been a football star at duPont Manual High School in the early 1920s and cast his lot with the Cardinals. He told me about having to practice on a rocky field that was otherwise a vacant lot. Ruby said that more Cardinals were hurt by the rocks than by game injuries.
No one contributed as much to UofL football as Frank Camp. Without him, football would have been chased off several times, but the faculty thought enough of Camp that he saved the sport on Belknap Campus.
Cardinal fans should remember that current coach Charlie Strong could have been coaching the UK Wildcats just as easily as the Cardinals. Seth Hancock, owner of the fabled Claiborne Farm in Paris, Ky., had met Strong in Florida and was so impressed that he tried to get UK to hire him as the Wildcats’ head coach three seasons ago.
Strong and his staff have assembled a talented group of players who have propelled the Cardinals to the upper echelon of NCAA football.
A record crowd of 55,386 filled Papa John’s Sunday, and the fans were rewarded with possibly the most impressive quarterback play since Brian Brohm took Wake Forest apart in the 2007 Orange Bowl which the Cards won 2007. Brohm connected on 24 of 34 passes for 311 yards.
The current Cards may have a sophomore quarterback who may have the makings of another Brohm or even John Unitas. Nobody else wanted Unitas and all he turned out to be was arguably the greatest and toughest quarterback in the history of the NFL.
All Teddy Bridgewater did in leading the Cards over the Cats was connect on 19 of 21 passes for 232 yards.
Photos by GARRY JONES and MARY JONES | Contributing Photographers