While the Cardinals failed to knock off the bullies of the college football world, the Miami Hurricanes, Thursday night in the Orange Bowl they gained much more than most would have imagined heading into the game; national respect.
Remember, this was Miami! Yes, that Miami, the most dominant program in college football since Howard Schnellenberger brought a national title to Coral Gables in 1983, followed by crowns in 1987, 1989, 1991 and 2001, more than any other program in the nation.
This was Miami, the program that owns the best record in college football over the past twenty-one years and has dropped only four games since the turn of the century.
Yes, this was also the same Miami program that has produced the most NFL prospects since the 1984 draft (74), including 42 first round selections. Players like Jim Kelly, Vinny Testaverde, Bernie Kosar, Kellen Winslow, Michael Irvin, Ray Lewis, Edgerrin James, Clinton Portis and Warren Sapp come immediately to mind.
None of that history or tradition mattered to Bobby Petrino's troops last night when they took the field in one of the most storied stadiums in college football. They came to win. They also came looking for credibility and national respect. And though the scoreboard read Miami 41, Louisville 38 when time expired, the Cardinals accomplished both goals.
Don't think this performance was a fluke, either. For one half, Louisville completely dominated the nation's No. 3 ranked team on the road. And when the Hurricanes made a furious second half comeback, the Cardinals showed courage and heart twice to answer Miami with two touchdown drives of their own, including a Brian Brohm-led scoring drive with under five minutes remaining to reclaim the lead at 38-34.
Remember, this was a Miami team with perhaps the nation's top defense entering the game. The Hurricanes came in ranked first or second in four major national defensive categories and had shutdown all opposition to date.
This was a Miami defense that had allowed only one offensive touchdown through the first four games of the season; Louisville matched that in the first quarter then went on to hang four more TD's on the Hurricanes.
This was a Miami team that hadn't allowed anyone to rush for more than 200 yards in a game since Florida State did so in 2002; Louisville had 214 yards on the night, 91 more yards on the ground than the Hurricanes mustered against the Cardinal defense.
This was a Miami team that expects to win an Atlantic Coast Conference championship and play for a sixth national title this January; but Louisville held a four point lead and the Hurricanes title hopes in their hands until Frank Gore scored with 49-seconds left.
So how did Louisville win despite losing? They battled toe to toe with the very best college football has to offer…on the road. They showed the nation and an ESPN audience they were capable of scoring on anyone. And they proved they have the fortitude to comeback from adversity.
Now, consider this. This is the same Miami program that dominated the conference U of L will enter next season, the Big East. At one point since 2000, the Hurricanes won 27 consecutive Big East games; surely Louisville's performance against Miami signaled to their soon-to-be conference rivals that they intend to become the new "beast" of the Big East.
Simply put, Louisville did more for itself and the future of its burgeoning football program in defeat last night than almost anyone could have imagined beforehand. It's unheard of for a non-BCS program to lose and move up in the national rankings; yet you can expect U of L to climb higher than their No. 17 ranking this week.
And while Louisville's BCS-busting dreams ended last night, it seems a safe bet that Bobby Petrino's program will have plenty of other BCS opportunities in the near future, especially with super-sensational freshman Brian Brohm under center.
As for the rest of this season, U of L's last in Conference USA, the Cardinals figure to be favored in each game the rest of the way. There's still plenty to play for. A third C-USA title and national ranking are high on list. But the most important aspect for the remainder of the season, now, become the implications a strong finish will have on the future.
If the Cardinals can run the table the rest of the way, they'll enter next season ranked among every preseason Top 20 poll, likely will be favored to win a Big East title in their first season and more importantly, a spot in one of the four BCS bowl games
"I think the game showed that we deserve respect," Brohm said following the game. "We deserve to be playing in these types of games and hopefully down the road will continue doing that."
Ready or not, the University of Louisville has arrived as a big-time player on the national scene!