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The University of Louisville football team, ranked 22nd in the Associated Press Top 25, takes on fourth-ranked Florida at 8:30 p.m. tonight in the Sugar Bowl. If the Cardinals win there's no question it would be a gigantic upset. In fact, there's no question it would be the biggest upset of all the college bowl games so far. However my question for UofL fans (and anyone else who wants to play along) is this, would a victory over the Gators tonight be bigger than the Cards' victory over Alabama in the Fiesta Bowl on Jan. 1, 1991?
No, I say.
Indulge me for a moment.
UofL, then an independent in college football, began the 1990 season unranked in the national polls after going 6-5 in 1989.
Meanwhile Alabama was ranked 13th in the preseason, coming off a 10-2 season (after which then-coach Bill Curry resigned to, gulp, become the coach at Kentucky) and with a new coach, Gene Stallings, who had played for legendary Crimson Tide coach Bear Bryant at Texas A&M.
In the Cards' first game they tied San Jose State 10-10 out in California. They then won three in a row - 68-0 over Murray State, 28-16 over Kansas and 9-7 at West Virginia - before losing 25-13 at Southern Mississippi. After that loss, though, UofL won six straight - beating Tulsa (38-14), Memphis State (19-17), Pittsburgh (27-20), Western Kentucky (41-7), Cincinnati (41-16) and Boston College (17-10) - to close out the regular season.
Meanwhile the Crimson Tide got off to a rough start under Stallings, who would lead the program to a national title two years later. Alabama lost its first three games - to Southern Miss (27-24), Florida (17-13) and Georgia (17-16) - before bouncing back to beat Vanderbilt (59-28), Louisiana-Lafayette (25-6) and upsetting then third-ranked Tennessee (9-6) and even its record. The following week, though, Penn State blanked the Crimson Tide 9-0 in Tuscaloosa. Alabama, however, finished the regular season with four straight victories - over Mississippi State (22-0), LSU (24-3), Cincinnati (45-7) and Auburn (16-7).
Despite the fact that UofL was higher ranked than Alabama (18 to 25), virtually no one gave the Cards a chance to win the Fiesta Bowl. If you remember, or don't, UofL wasn't even supposed to play in that game. The Cards had already committed to play in the not-so-prestigious All-American Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl was courting Virginia. However after Arizona voters defeated a statewide referendum to honor Martin Luther King with a holiday, the Cavaliers opted to go to the Sugar Bowl instead. That sent Fiesta organizers scrambling and opened the door for the Cards, who had only played in three bowl games in their history to that point. UofL jumped at the chance to play in a New Year's Day bowl game (back then playing on Jan. 1 was actually a big deal) and against a national powerhouse like the Crimson Tide. No one could've predicted what happened when the two teams actually met on the field.
UofL outscored Alabama 25-0 in the first quarter on its way to a 34-7 crushing of the Crimson Tide. It was a win that put the Cards' program on the proverbial college football map and actually made Coach Howard Schnellenberger's bombastic "collision course with a national championship" statement made at his hiring, appear possible.
To me it was incredible victory that wouldn't be trumped, or duplicated, by a victory tonight over the Gators. And just for the record, I don't give the Cards much of a chance. I'll take Florida, 35-14.