Dear Louisville

An open letter to our Saturday opponents:

Dear Louisville,

Welcome to the Big East. It's clear that you're going to be a fine addition to the Conference.

Although we were happy to have you join us this year, we weren't so keen on the idea that you could just waltz in here from Conference USA and be the "savior" of our pilfered league. The Big East isn't just the East Coast version of CUSA, despite what some deluded folks from the southwestern corner of our state might suggest. Though you were clearly the class of your former association, some of us suspected that your transition to a BCS affiliate wouldn't be without its bumps and bruises.

Our meeting last evening was most definitely in the category of bumps and bruises for you. To dominate us so thoroughly in the first half, then lose in a barn-burner of a triple-overtime can crush the soul.

If anyone knows what that feels like, it would be us. If you haven't seen footage of some of the great heart-breakers of the modern era at WVU, we can send video from the notorious Miami punt block and the infamous Marvin Graves Syracuse game. We might even send some tape of that last Miami game, after the Quincy Wilson ESPN highlight run, when that rascal Kellen Winslow, Jr. snatched victory from the jaws of near defeat before going on to wreck his potentially-lucrative NFL career with stupid off-the-field antics.

You may already know a little something about our most recent heart-breaker, that basketball game we lost to keep us from the Final Four last spring. After a magical Cinderella run that made headlines across the nation and turned the name "Pittsnogle" into a verb, we went to the Elite Eight for the first time since Jerry West days. That Elite Eight game looked really good for a while. We were up 20 points at halftime and had started making hotel reservations for the next round. But then the opposing coach made some adjustments.

Everyone else had tried to beat us by keying on one of our outside shooters, but that never worked because we had other outside shooters who stepped up and carried the load. That opposing coach is a real smart guy; he figured out that to beat us he had to shut down J. D. Collins, our floor general. He was right. Without J.D. at full effectiveness, we weren't able to set our offense. That very worthy opponent gradually crept up on us during the second half and eventually broke our hearts and sent us home exhausted. I'm pretty sure you've seen video of that game, since you were that worthy opponent.

You might look on last night's defeat as our revenge for the Elite Eight, and that wouldn't be without some truth. But it's more than that. It's the second building block in the construction of a healthy rivalry.

Rivalries can't just be declared. They have to be developed. Some of my colleagues tried to create a rivalry with you this week with delightful prose and Elite Eight references. But you couldn't turn into the next Virginia Tech or Maryland without some hard-fought contests. That Elite Eight loss was painful, but one game in an unexpected spotlight doesn't make a rivalry.

Rivalries are a lot like friendships. Some folks might even say that rivalries are friendships of a particularly competitive sort. A wise person once defined friends as people you do things with. You aren't a friend to someone with whom you go bowling one time, or with whom you sit in the stands at one game. Friends are people with whom you develop a history, with whom you grow together, over time, that you support during tough times (such as the ACC's raid on the Big East or, in basketball, The Year Without a Home Game). Rivalries can't be declared or legislated, despite our Governor's insistence that they can. Rivalries have to be between equals, and they have time to develop. They don't exist until you have some shared experiences that you can reminisce about, some years after the fact, over a beer and brat at a Blue Lot tailgate.

We've given it a good start together. As of last night, we're 1-1 on the heartbreaks and rivalry-building events.

We saw your agony last night and even in our joy, we sympathized. You have the makings of a fine program and a worthy rivalry. Your fans travel well. We're not used to seeing such a big section of our comfortable house filled with red jerseys and loud, supportive, opposing fans. They seem like good folks, too, at least those who were genial enough to join our Blue Lot tailgate for a while, and also the ones we ran into at Dimitri's Saturday night after the game, carrying your loss like a 200-pound weight around their shoulders. And, by the way, that Michael Bush of yours is a tank. He reminds me a lot of Willis McGahee, a former opponent who gave us some heartburn here in Motown. Bush is definitely going to play on Sundays in the not-too-distant future. I really dread having to face Brian Brohm two more times; he's the real deal. You've got a smart coach on your sidelines, who knows how to have his players well prepared and executing with precision. He will make us forget all about Frank Beamer in the coming years, that's clear – although I still have trouble keeping track of which is Petrino and which is Pitino.

So welcome to the Big East. And, as Humphrey Bogart memorably said to Claude Rains in the final moments of "Casablanca," "This looks like the beginning of a beautiful friendship," or rivalry, as the case may be. We're looking forward to visiting your house next year.

Sincerely yours,


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