After the 1998 NCAA Championship, Kentucky fans had become accustomed to winning it all. In our minds, Derek Anderson doesn’t get hurt and it becomes a threepeat from 1996 to 1998. Pitino had left for the NBA and a kind Tubby Smith came in and started off with a bang. I was in law school and all was good in Big Blue Nation.
The 13 year drought that would ensue was unexpected. Tubby’s lack of winning the big game, the style of play. He had to go. Then Billy G came and went. With the hiring of Calipari, the Nation was energized. Would we get back to the promised land? And in his third year, Kentucky hoisted the National Championship in New Orleans after watching Louisville lose in the Final Four two days earlier. We were back on top and Louisville watched us celebrate as only one could celebrate in New Orleans. It was sweet.
Then something happened.
Louisville Football made it to the Sugar Bowl to play SEC stalwart Florida in New Orleans. Surely this would be the beat down that the SEC expected from their second tier teams. It went the other way with Louisville manhandling Florida and Cardinal Nation celebrating through the streets of New Orleans like Big Blue Nation had done only nine months earlier. It was a foreshadowing of things to come.
Nerlens Noel and another heralded class of freshman started to lose. Surely they would turn it around. Then Nerlens went down with that knee injury – the best player on the team – the one with all the heart – chasing down a guard who stole the ball and even blocked the shot, but he was done. An NCAA berth seemed certain still, as the Cats would try to defend their crown. In Wiltjer and Polson we believe? It didn’t happen. Then they lost to Robert Morris – who? - in the first round of the NIT Tournament.
Louisville made it to the Final Four. Kevin Ware went down with a horrible injury and the nation saw the players on the Louisville team collapse to the floor with tears streaming down their faces as they saw their fallen teammate. Luke Hancock would hold Kevin Ware’s hand as they tended to his shattered leg and you, even you Big Blue Nation, had to feel for him and also recognize how close this team was. They went on to demolish Duke and then hoisted the National Championship trophy. The nation loved this team. The traitor, the one who left Lexington, Rick Pitino was a hero, and he had won his second National title.
2013 Preseason Football Polls had Teddy Bridgewater as a Heisman frontrunner and Louisville was ranked in the top 10 with a shot at the National Title. What was going on. When would this end.
Then it started to turn. Calipari’s entering class for the 2013 campaign was unlike any college basketball had ever seen. Six top 100 recruits that included the #1 power forward, the #1 point guard, the #1 shooting guard, and the #1 center. This would be the tallest, most athletic and complete recruiting class in the history of college basketball.
Then center Willie Cauley-Stein said he was coming back. Then Alex Poythress.
This team could win it all. The desert that was 2012 was traversed and their was an oasis in the fall of 2013. We could see it. We could hope for it. We believed it. 40-0. They could go 40-0.
Like Lawrence of Arabia fighting with all of his will to get to Acaba when nobody could get to Acaba, we needed to believe in 40-0. It would get us through football season.
We made an initial batch. No school logo. No saying on the back about the Final Four in Dallas 2014. A simple blue tee with white numbers: 40-0. You know and we know what it means.
We debuted the tee shirt the night of Big Blue Madness to start our campaign. Then a weird thing happened. Louisville lost to UCF after being up 28-7. Heisman run for Teddy over. National Championship dream for Louisville over. 40-0 had been born.