What I miss most during the coronavirus sports stoppage
I remember around the age of 4, sitting on my dad’s lap, intently studying him as he attempted to sketch the Louisville Cardinal mascot on a piece of paper. My dad is no artist, and he’d never claim to be, but at the time, I would have insisted he was as skilled as Charles Schulz.
I believed my dad could do anything, so I sauntered over to him one afternoon and gleefully demanded, “Teach me how to draw the UofL Cardinal!”
From what I remember, my dad pulled it off. I could have sworn he produced an exact replica of the bright-red bird. From that day forward, I tried my hardest to duplicate that sketch. I’d practice every line, over and over, and hand out copies of the Cardinal — dressed in an old-school football jersey and locked in the Heisman pose — to my mom, my brother, or my Mammaw as a gift.
That memory captures one of the main themes of my childhood. The Louisville Cardinals were the only choice when it came to cheering on a college football or basketball team. The Cards were the heart of conversation between my dad and I as I grew older. “The Kentucky Wildcats are the worst,” was a mantra my father ingrained in my head as soon as I learned how to talk. And, no matter what UofL’s record had been in the regular season, my dad and I would fill out at least one March Madness bracket, with Louisville going all the way to the national championship and pulling off the victory.
Just before Selection Sunday in March of 2020, I found myself contemplating whether the Cardinals could realistically reach the Final Four. I had lost some faith in them during the latter part of the season and began to eye Kansas (don’t tell my father) as my choice to win the title.
My dad had just organized his annual March Madness online bracket pool, with many of his family members — a majority of them Kentucky fans, by the way. But as soon as he had emailed the link to join “Gary’s Cardinal Club,” he was forced to cancel the contest.
The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken up the world in a way few imagined possible.
First came the call for limited crowd attendance at the NCAA Tournament, then came Utah Jazz star Rudy Gobert’s COVID-19 diagnosis and the suspension of the NBA season. The NHL, MLB, and MLS followed suit, and eventually the NCAA canceled March Madness.
I had just gotten over my NFL withdrawal. I needed college basketball to carry me through during football’s offseason. I had planned and looked forward to focusing on March Madness, then shifting to the NBA playoffs in April, tuning into some golf, and catching the Summer Olympics.
All of that is shelved for the foreseeable future. It’s made passing the time difficult, though I understand and endorse the choices made by sports leagues across the world to combat this global health crisis.
I hadn’t fully grasped how much sports became a part of my life, until suddenly I had nothing but ESPN the Ocho and old game replays to absorb on TV.
No longer could I anticipate a trip to Pittsburgh in late March to follow Louisville’s USL team on the road. Nor could I consider a stop in Atlanta, if the Cardinals made it to the final weekend of the Big Dance.
The modest cash I hoped to profit off my brothers via low-stakes gambling on the PGA Tour was out of the picture. (The three of us created a game, where we choose a player with long odds in each golf tournament, and whoever picks the player who finishes the highest on the leaderboard receives the pot of money).
And trash talking among UofL and UK fans had become virtually pointless.
The world is dealing with something we have never witnessed in our lifetime. We can’t afford to go on about our daily lives, as if everything is normal, even though we desperately want to.
Gobert provided a wake-up call the day he tested positive for COVID-19. Since then other athletes and coaches have confirmed diagnoses with the virus, as well.
It’s time to put normalcy on hold, so we can overcome the challenge the world is facing and come out on the other end much better.
If sports have taught us anything, it’s perseverance, how to conquer adversity, and the importance of teamwork. If I learned anything from determinedly drawing the Louisville Cardinal mascot as a kid, it's that you can do just about anything, if you put your mind to it.
We have to hit pause on the sports world, so we as a community can come together and practice the lessons we’ve acquired from our favorite athletes or teams, when their backs were against the wall.
Sports will make a comeback soon enough, and we’ll appreciate it more when they do. But for now we have to find a new game, take on another hobby, and embrace the replays of the past, as we count down the return of our favorite pastimes.