The University of Louisville might not be a traditional college football power the likes of Alabama, Michigan, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State (thank God), Texas, USC or the like, but the school’s seen a number of great quarterbacks. Johnny Freaking Unitas went there, sadly few people saw him because nobody was televising U of L games in the 1950s. There was a bit of a gap but then we saw the likes of Browning Nagle, Jeff Brohm, Chris Redman, Dave Ragone & Stefan LeFors, all of whom were solid players & made the professional level. I still believe Brian Brohm would have been a very good pro player if not for that senior season where he had to suffer through Steve Kragthorpe coaching. Erik Watts even played there, and his father was my favorite pro wrestling promoter ever.
Teddy Bridgewater came along in 2011, blew those non-Unitas guys out of the water and was the best pure passer I’ve seen at U of L during my lifetime, along with being the most beloved U of L player in any sport in recent memory. You saw the reaction in Minnesota when he went down to injury not long ago. It was like the reaction in Dillon, Texas when Jason Street got paralyzed on the field. He’s just a great guy and people that know him love him. Y’all saw my column I wrote after that injury, obviously Teddy is a guy that I hold in high regard.
But as much as I love Teddy Bridgewater…I can’t say he’s the most exciting Louisville Cardinal that I’ve ever seen play quarterback. That title belongs to our current QB.
Lamar Jackson. Dustin James, the esteemed owner of this website and a card-carrying member of the college football writing community, went so far as to call me a homer because I questioned the lack of Lamar Jackson in his top ACC players in the preseason. I mean, the guy only went for over 200 yards in both passing & rushing in the Cards’ Music City Bowl victory over Texas A&M in his official introduction as U of L’s QB1 after a season of musical chairs at the position that made most Cards fans’ head spin. But to be fair to Dustin, it took a full season for Lamar to wrest the position from Kyle Bolin & Will Gardner. You could see the flashes of brilliance from Jackson, but there were also the rookie mistakes. There were times when Louisville fans felt a lot better about Lexington Catholic’s own Kyle Bolin being in there. We still feel great when Kyle comes in…that means the game is over.
We’ve seen players like Lamar before. Michael Vick would be the most famous example. The quarterback that runs around like a maniac when there isn’t anybody to throw to, or even when there are people that could theoretically be thrown to. Vince Young. Johnny Manziel. You could even go back to Kordell Stewart & Antwaan Randle El. I can’t say for sure whether Lamar will exceed all of their accomplishments, but Michael Vick says that Lamar’s already better than he was when he was at Virginia Tech.
Michael Vick never beat Florida State, never mind making them look like a Pop Warner team like Lamar Jackson did.
It’s easy to get wrapped up in the Lamar hype, but it’s important to remember that the rest of this team is pretty darn good. The defense shut down FSU’s highly-touted offense & made us forget Dalvin Cook existed. Brandon Radcliff has been really darn good running the ball. James Quick and the other wide receivers are there to catch Lamar’s passes & take them to the end zone. Three weeks in, and everything has clicked like Bobby Petrino planned. Louisville is being recognized as a contender not just for the ACC Championship, but for the National Championship.
I try not to over-react early in a college football season. We’re only three weeks in. Louisville could fall flat on its face this week at Marshall. Sure, the Thundering Herd is coming off a loss to the Akron Zips, but you know the Huntington faithful will be out in full force Saturday night. This was already going to be their Super Bowl before the FSU blowout, now it’s going to be their Super Bowl, World Cup, WrestleMania & Stanley Cup Final all wrapped up into one. And after that, the Cards head to South Carolina to play Clemson in ABC’s Saturday Night showcase game. Clemson’s really good and has a special quarterback of their own that’s also a Heisman contender. But we can’t worry about them until after the Marshall game.
It’s fun, though. I remember the hype of Johnny Football. The deification of Tim Tebow. College football has a knack for building legends, it goes back to the days of the Four Horsemen, Red Grange, Mr. Inside & Mr. Outside, and so on. Louisville has had some legendary players, but they’ve never had the one player that everybody in the country was talking about. Now they do.
Hopefully we’ll still be talking Lamar Jackson & the Louisville Cardinals in January.