“Revenge is a dish best served cold.”
That sounds like something a character from Shakespeare might say, although he didn’t. Anyone who has read Titus Andronicus knows Shakespeare preferred his revenge served hot, in a large casserole. The adage is older than that in several cultures.
But is 27 years and counting too long, the revenge, if you consider it that, spoiled and inedible, tossed out with some late-night chow mein containers that had homestead rights in the back of the refrigerator? That’s how long it has been since Louisville thumped Alabama in the Arizona desert, the finale of the 1990 season.
It wasn’t the only time the two schools have played — Louisville came to Tuscaloosa a couple of times in the mid-1970s and suffered the same swift and unpleasant fate as every other visitor to Bryant-Denny Stadium in that decade. The Fiesta Bowl was a different situation and Louisville was a better team but, after 27-and-a-half years, I don’t think the thirst for revenge rages in Tuscaloosa.
Earlier this summer, the Louisville Courier-Journal interviewed me about memories of that game. Instead of rushing off to Google the details, which isn’t any fun, the reliance was on memory: a trip to Kentucky to visit Howard Schnellenberger in his office tucked away in Freedom Hall, plotting like he was Richard the Lionheart about to lead a Crusade, or the Martin Luther King Day controversy, or the natural emotional letdown for Alabama after it ended a four-year losing streak to Auburn.
The game itself was easy enough to remember since nothing that happened in the final 45 minutes was memorable, or even relevant. Louisville came out firing, Browning Nagle hit on a couple of long touchdown passes. Then the Cardinals blocked a punt for a touchdown at the end of the first quarter to take a 28-0 lead and that, as they say, was that. Gene Stallings was a fine, championship-winning coach but his team was not built for overcoming from a 28-0 deficit any more than hippopotamus on roller skates is built to win the Tour de France. Louisville cruised over the last three quarters, winning 34-7 in an upset.
But was it a “momentous” upset? Or was this a game that ultimately meant far more to one side than the other. For Louisville, it definitely mattered. Ultimately, it was one of 100 stepping stones, some in football, some in basketball that eventually allowed the Cardinals to join a major conference (the ACC) and therefore be a “Power Five” team and if you don’t thank that matters, then ask Louisville’s former peers at Memphis or Cincinnati.
For Alabama, the outcome rankled for an offseason and was quickly put away. That’s not to say ‘forgotten’ — no losses are forgotten in Tuscaloosa, not the ones to Southern Miss or Louisiana-Monroe, Utah or Louisiana Tech. But two years after losing to Louisville, Alabama was hoisting a national championship trophy and those do seem to have magic healing powers.
Could it happen again? Could there be a second win against Alabama for Louisville to celebrate? That’s possible, under a certain set of circumstances in a shootout-style game. A 27-point Louisville win would push the boundaries of belief.
This week’s game — since we can finally call it that — is important to Alabama for many reasons. But a 27-year grudge isn’t one of them.
Reach Cecil Hurt at firstname.lastname@example.org or 205-722-0225.