Sugar Bowl win hits Louisville's sweet spot


by Joe Arnold

Posted on January 3, 2013 at 7:28 PM

Updated Thursday, Jan 3 at 7:58 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- From the thousands of University of Louisville fans who turned the Superdome Cardinal red, to the millions of football fans who watched on TV, the Sugar Bowl victory over the University of Florida makes a statement.

"I think this community can be so proud of Charlie Strong and the whole darn football team," said Bob Michael at the downtown Rotary Club luncheon, "We've come a long way.  We're going further and I look for us to be on the national stage for many years to come."

"We are so excited and so proud of the University of Louisville," added Patricia Hart.

"It's an identity people will associate with," said Bill Hirtzel.  "It will be a draw card for people coming in."

"This is the biggest win, I think, in U of L history," said sportswriter Billy Reed.  "With the national stage like that, it's the only game in town against a Florida team that some thought should be playing in the national championship."

The Sugar Bowl win caps a trifecta for U of L athletics in recent weeks, the major move to the Atlantic Coast Conference, head coach Charlie Strong turning down Tennessee to stay with the Cardinals, and now, a defining win on the gridiron.

"I think just as the Louisville basketball program really certified that it had arrived when it won the national championship in 1980, I think this game certified to the national media that Louisville is there," Reed explained.  "I think Louisville is going to be ranked certainly in the top 10 maybe even in the top 5 preseason next year.  And being in that Atlantic Coast Conference, I think now Louisville is there."

"We keep talking about that next level," Reed continued.  "Well, Louisville is there now and I think Louisville is there to stay."

27 years ago, transformational coach Howard Schnellenberger said the only variable is time in the Cardinals' "collision course with the national championship."  The Sugar Bowl win is the closest step yet and a national feather in Louisville's cap.

To Mayor Greg Fischer, Louisville was already on the map.  And, the Sugar Bowl win is a sweet spot to enjoy.

"Well it makes it a lot sweeter when you win like that," Fischer said.  "When there's an underdog, you go in with no respect, and you see the great job that Charlie Strong and the entire team did.  People talking about Louisville for four hours on national TV. That's the kind of exposure we want to get everyday."

And the overnight TV ratings are huge, up a reported two percent over last year.

The Louisville-Florida game averaged a 6.4 overnight rating, nationally.  In Louisville, the 28.4 average rating is the biggest BCS Bowl rating in the 13 years ESPN has been telecasting the bowl games.

"It's an enormous branding opportunity for this community to tell people that we play at a high level," said Karl Schmidt of the Louisville Sports Commission.  "We enjoy doing it and we know how to achieve."

Reed said it's not just Louisville winning, but how they won.

"The impressive thing to me is that Louisville was in total command from the very beginning.  They seemed like they expected to win.'

A well-executed game plan that reflects the game plan of U of L athletics.

"I was at U of L and football was almost an unknown at that time, but now it's really become a strong part of the University," said Bill Hirtzel

Strong enough to convince the Atlantic Coast Conference to invite Louisville -- the Sugar Bowl win just the latest affirmation of the campus transformation led by university president Jim Ramsey and athletic director Tom Jurich.

"Jurich has done an unbelievable job," Hart said.  "He has taken our University to a high level, a much higher level.

"I've been following college sports now for over 50 years," Reed said.  "I have never seen an Athletic Director anywhere have an impact not only on his University but the entire community as Tom Jurich has."