Sunday, March 7, 2010

Freedom Hall: The End Of An Era

I think I would be remiss in not saying something about the end of Louisville Cardinal basketball at Freedom Hall. The finale oozed excitement even before the game began.  I have been in the building for some pretty big games and I have been there for some really "live" crowds, but today it went up a notch. The atmosphere was truly one of those rare and special moments that come along just often enough for us to recognize as historic and meaningful. The Cards won a game they badly needed to win against the top ranked team in the country with two national championship teams, a record crowd, a swarm of media, and countless Louisville legends on hand. The ending to the Cardinals fun in Freedom Hall was story book.

There were only a couple of lulls in the electricity that filled the air during the game on Saturday. It was almost like a family atmosphere. All the fans were really embracing each other as much as the team, the legends, and the building. High fiving people I didn't know. Screaming and dancing with everyone in the general area. Just a fantastic feeling that I wasn't sure I could get anymore out of an event crowd. It really was a culmination of the history of the building. The entire thing just seemed to go right yesterday. Everything felt natural, important, and memorable. There was a real connection among everyone who was in the building.

Yesterday was one of those rare moments in life, where you just let yourself be open to take in your surroundings and take stock in what something has meant to you personally. Memories surged through my mind and I thought of how much fun and enjoyment (and at times frustration) I have had over the years (been going to the Hall since 1983) watching Denny Crum pace the sidelines with his program and the Sprite under his chair. Watching blocked shots from Pervis, Charles Jones, Holden, Samaki, and Spencer. Seeing wide open acrobatic dunks by the likes of LaBradford, Harmon, Maybin, Sims, Minor, Sullivan, and TWill. The pleasure of long jump shots hitting the bottom of the net from the hands of Dwayne Morton, DeJuan Wheat, Dean, Payne, Wagner, and Jerry Smith. Teams that were spurred on by the play and leadership of Garcia, Thompson, McCray, and Gaines. Some players we still consider Cardinals despite their brief Louisville careers, guys like Jason Osborne, Scott Padgett, Marvin Stone, Muhammad Lasege, BJ Flynn, and Kevin Walls. There are many players we will remember just as fondly as the greats, players that put on the UL uniform and represented the program well, despite not getting the playing time that others got. Fan favorites, Olliges, Webb, Fraley, Pulliam, Beau Zach Smith, Robbie Valentine and Mike Abram. I'll never forget some of the local guys who got to fulfill their dreams of playing in Freedom Hall, players that had solid careers and won lots of big games, like Tony & Keith Williams,O'Bannon, Kimbro, and Crook. There are players like Kiser, Ellis, Luke, Sanders, Hall, Palacios, McGee, and Knowles who played the game hard and were vital to their teams success, even when statistics lied about their value. And I even remember seeing a few oddities on the floor at Freedom Hall, in the persons of little Charlie Taylor and big ole' Troy Jackson.

The face of Cardinal basketball will always be Denny Crum, but Freedom Hall has many faces. The faces of fantastic players, excited fans, and caring coaches. May the cheers and wins echo through our memory and hearts as it did in Freedom Hall.