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Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Denny turned me into a UofL fan -- WEDNESDAY CARDINAL COUPLE



Looking back at my long-time love for the Louisville Cardinals, it was Denny Crum who first drew my focused attention to that sports program for the school that lies between I-65 and 4th street. It was 1971, and it's hard for me to believe that none of my other writers here at Cardinal Couple weere even born yet. 

I was a tall, skinny kid who spent a lot of hours shooting at a basket in my parents' backyard, at the local grade school gym and in the parking lot of the high school down the street. I never attended camps sponsored by colleges and was really uncommitted to a particular college's basketball program. It was me and the other kids on the street. I had enjoyed the UCLA run in college basketball when I was younger and my first coach tried to treat us as adults on the junior varsity squad. He spoke of John Wooden a lot, so when I heard that Louisville was getting a UCLA assistant to take over there program, I was intrigued. I knew of several Cardinals basketball players by name...Wes Unseld, Butch Beard and...from the 1970 team...Ron "The plumber" Thomas, Henry Bacon and Jim Price. 

I knew of them, but just didn't find Missouri Valley Conference basketball (where Louisville played at the time) as exciting as the SEC, and neither conference was as exciting to me as watching Kareem or Jerry West in the NBA. It was three channels on the television back then...WAVE (Channel 3), WHAS (Channel 11) and that upstart on UHF....WLKY (Channel 32).

Denny changed my interests in basketball into a local rooting interest and venue to focus on. . He was bold, brash and challenged the state wide fandom of Adolph Rupp and the Kentucky Wildcats. It made me unpopular at high school, at times, how could I not love the Cats and throw my support toward those upstart Cardinals? Denny getting to the Final Four his first year just verified my belief that something good was happening in Louisville, on campus, in the city and I followed UofL more intensely than ever.. I would go to UofL basketball games if I wasn't playing on the same night and loved the majestic and rowdy Freedom Hall. Me and a buddy would stand near the entrance and merely hold up a finger, muttering "need one for the game, I need one for the game." We simply didn't have the money to buy. And, we almost always got in, the both of us. We even figured out how to get in free if we couldn't get tickets, by entering the restaurant that was attached to Freedom Hall back then, and sneaking into the Hall that way.

I wanted to go to UofL. Before I actually got to UofL as a student in 1975, I already had a "fake UofL ID" and would attend games that way. Back then, students got in free, we went one of the back doors to Freedom Hall, went up the ramp and had great seats near half court. I'll never reveal the source where I got me "fake ID" but it was a good likeness of the real thing. 

Once I got on campus as a freshman, I also started making every womens BB game I could, as well. They didn't always play in Freedom Hall, but a few of us "in the frat" would pile into a car and drive to the local high school they were playing at. We loved Valerie Owens. That's why it's so great to still see her at courtside for the women's games. It was the same with Field Hockey, we had a frat brother who dated a field hockey player and he's round us up to go watch her matches. 

Crawford Gym was the basketball facility back then for practices and it was also a big intramurals facility, too. The whole campus had access to the building with the white top. Where else could you play basketball, take a swim and shoot hoops all in the same building? You could at Crawford. 

(My green ghost by the Ohio)

You would see Denny on campus, mostly at Crawford, from time to time back then but I never really got to meet him until 1984. There was a car wash on Preston Highway near the entrance to the KFEC, and I used to take my 1969 Chevelle Malibu, which was a classic by then, there for a wash. You got out of the car, waited in the lobby and walked out anther door to get back in your vehicle when the vehicle has finished going through the wash. I drove in one afternoon, got out, and went into the lobby. I hadn't noticed the red Cadillac behind me and was quite surprised when the driver turned out to be Denny, and he wanted to chat with me about my car. Imagine that, the world-famous basketball coach chatting about my muscle car with me. 

We chatted amicably for a couple of minutes, what exactly we talked about, I don't remember but I'm pretty sure he learned I was a huge UofL fan and recent graduate and I told him my car had a 135 mph speedometer and I tried to "peg" it one night on I-71. (I was always telling people that back then). 

(I took Sonja to a UofL BB game on our first date)

Days fly by. Some memories just disappear but some remain with you, no matter how old you get. 

I remember a football road-trip to Cincinnati where I was "the quarterback" for both pre-teen groups of kids pre-game in the UC parking lot. A little dark-haired boy came up and asked if he could play, we put him on the team that was a "man short". He was Denny Crum's son and I remember he had good hands and didn't drop anything I threw him.. Denny stood there, smiling and watching. When the game broke up, I walked over to Coach Crum and told him he had a future wide-receiver there, or something to that means. I didn't bring up we had met before. Denny Crum probably met a million people in his life. 

Yes. Days fly by. 

Rest well, Coach. You are the reason I became a UofL fan, and that's never waivered. 

Thank you. 



  1. Was 10 years old when I first started actually watching college basketball, and, that was Denny's first year here, '71.
    At the time, was watching Otto Petty and Ron King from Central High School playing for Florida State, as I had seen them play lots of games while growing up in Beecher Terrace.
    Had seen many Male games also, so knew who Wesley Cox was too.
    Been a die hard Louisville fan ever since Denny's first year. Shook his hand once crossing paths at the Kentucky State fair, saw him multiple times at Crawford, used to go there thinking I might actually get to play in one of those pickup games (NEVER happened 🤣).
    Good times, good times😃

  2. Meant to mention Henry Bacon, was there when he and Male won the championship, G.G. Gordon was from Beecher Terrace, the point guard on that team.

  3. All great players. I remember trying to guard Maurice Payne at Shawnee and couldn't stop him. He put seventy some points up one night and outscored the entire other team they were playing. Maybe Portland Christian or Valley...


  4. First and foremost God bless Denny Crum it was a great coach I send my condolences to his family.

    Great pick up for Coach walz 6-6 a long 6-6.Go Cards

  5. Great story about Denny, Paulie ! I used to never miss one of his potato soup fundraising extravaganza events. Denny was the man.


  6. Hello Friends
    Arthur Here
    Paulie, you touched me with that tribute.

    Your friend
    Denny Crum fan today
    Greer, SC

  7. It sounds like we were at UofL at about the same time ( I was class of ‘81). We used to play racquetball at Crawford, and watch the great pickup BB games there. And sometimes we were able to stick around and watch practices without getting kicked out. But Coach Crum was always a presence in the building.

    1. I was released on my own recognizance in 1979. LOL.



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