The great risk when the SEC and ACC moved the Kentucky-Louisville football game to the season's final week is that our state's marquee pigskin game would get buried beneath an avalanche of hoops hype. That is why what happened last Saturday in Louisville between UK and U of L was so important if you are invested in college football being a big deal in our state.
The first game in the modern Cats-Cards series to be played as the regular season finale, a wild and woolly 44-40 shootout won by U of L, checked every box it needed to check.
For a successful season-ending rivalry, you really do need to be able "to throw the records out."
Kentucky traveled to The Ville on a five-game losing skid. Having lost their prior two games by a combined 113-47, Mark Stoops' Cats were a two-touchdown underdog. Louisville was coming off a victory at Notre Dame. The Cards were ranked 22nd in the country.
My sense was most UK backers were fearful of being blown out by Bobby Petrino's Cardinals. Instead, we got a wildly entertaining, back-and-forth game that went to the final minute in doubt.
For a successful season-ending rivalry, you need performances from star players people will long talk about.
There were two players in the game, Kentucky senior defensive end Alvin "Bud" Dupree and Louisville wide receiver DeVante Parker, who are apt to hear their names called in the first round of the next NFL Draft.
Dupree was a disruptive force. He had seven tackles, three for loss, and forced not one but two Louisville fumbles. Parker, to use a basketball term, was unguardable. He had six catches for 180 yards and three touchdowns.
They both played exactly how you want a star to perform in the game that matters most to their team's fan base.
For a successful season-ending rivalry, you need performances from unexpected heroes people will long talk about.
When former Lexington Catholic star Kyle Bolin drove to the stadium last Saturday, he was a little-used U of L redshirt freshman quarterback who had thrown seven career passes. When he left, having been pressed into action by an injury, Bolin was the talk of the state, having thrown for 381 yards and three TDs.
A Lexington kid knocking his hometown team out of bowl-eligibility had a Hollywood elan to it.
Mostly, for a successful season-ending rivalry, you need conflict and controversy that will animate football discussion all winter.
Long before the game started, there was conflict on the field. It started in the pre-game warm-ups, with several shoving matches between Cats and Cards (one of which, thanks to a Kentucky Kernel photograph, we know included Petrino and UK football aide Dan Berezowitz).
From my vantage point, UK appeared to be the instigator in most of the pre-game ruckus. Not a big fan of that. That said, the trash talking/shoving may have allowed Kentucky to regain a certain swag that it had lost during its five-game losing skid.
In the stands during the game, apparently there was conflict. Based on what I heard afterward, it was Wildcats fans who were on the receiving end of abuse.
Several UK backers who were in attendance last Saturday described having chants that began with the F-word directed at them. One said his girlfriend was verbally harassed. Another that he was embarrassed to have subjected his parents to the language in the stands.
Several UK fans who contacted me vowed never to return to Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. My question on that: If Kentucky backers allow themselves to be driven out of attending games in The Ville, are not the Louisville fans the winners in that?
As for the football rivalry, for a variety of reasons unique to our state, I always thought the game did the most to promote football as the season opener. Fact is, one year is not enough of a sample to produce a lasting judgment on Cats-Cards as season finale.
Still, last Saturday's fireworks between Cats and Cards were a strong start in cutting through the non-stop college hoops hype that is the sound track of Kentucky winters and making a season-ending UK-U of L football rivalry a resonant event.
So football fans, independent of the outcome, did you like Kentucky-Louisville as the season's ending game?