In one impressive stroke, the University of Louisville established before a national television audience that the school also has a football team of national stature.
The basketball team already was established, but based on Tuesday's Fiesta Bowl performance, the Cardinals' football team is also worthy.
Louisville (10-1-1) dominated every aspect and nearly every moment of the game, leaving Alabama (7-5) shellshocked, 34-7. The victory was all the more impressive in that it came at the expense of one of college football's more storied programs. It was Alabama's second-worst drubbing in its 43 bowl appearances. The worst was the 1971 Orange Bowl, in which the Crimson Tide lost to Nebraska, 38-6.
Later, with his team huddled around him in a disconsolate circle, Alabama Coach Gene Stallings methodically outlined his impression of the game for reporters.
"I just don't think our football team was prepared to play," he said. "Obviously, it showed. It looked to me like they (Louisville) played harder."
Stallings said he was incorrect in the way he prepared his team, with too many bowl events and holiday time off and too few practices.
"I would do it differently," he said. "I just don't know exactly what I would do."
In contrast, Louisville Coach Howard Schnellenberger goaded and nursed his 18th-ranked team to its first Bowl appearance since 1977 and the Cardinals' first bowl victory since 1957. He called his team's performance a "quantum leap."
"We had to come so far and it took so long and it was so hard," Schnellenberger said. "It was super. I'm proud of them."
Schnellenberger has proved a master at motivation and reconstruction. After leading the University of Miami to a national championship in 1983, he left for Louisville. The season before he took over, the Cardinals' defense was ranked 106th in the nation out of 108. The team was 6-5 last season, considered a great success.
In preparing his team for the Fiesta Bowl, Schnellenberger took the offensive immediately. He told the Cardinals they were "givers" because they had not been highly recruited. Alabama, according to Schnellenberger, was a team of "takers."
While Stallings chose a low-key approach, Schnellenberger had plastered the Cardinals' practice locker room with signs encouraging his team to be "arrogant." And, as if foreshadowing the team's postgame celebration, Louisville's players came into the stadium whooping and high-fiving--in marked contrast to Alabama's more sedate on-field trot.
Alabama was sedate in every way. Louisville quarterback Browning Nagle completed 20 of 33 passes for 451 yards--the most ever allowed by Alabama--and three touchdowns. Three Alabama quarterbacks combined for 12 for 35 and 94 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions. Those quarterbacks were sacked eight times.
The Cardinals had 113 yards rushing to Alabama's 95.
Louisville made the game lopsided. Lacking even a hint of drama, the game droned on, four hours worth, and the interest of the crowd of 69,098 in Sun Devil Stadium waned. So, apparently did the interest of NBC-TV, which left the game with about five minutes left and treated its viewers to pregame festivities at the Orange Bowl.
Everything Alabama was supposed to be able to do well, it did poorly. The defense that was ranked No. 3 in the nation hardly stood in the way of the Louisville passing attack.
"This was team that for most of the year was ranked No. 2 in passing defense," Stallings said. "They sure didn't look it today."
Alabama had given up only 229 yards per game, but on Tuesday yielded 257 yards in the first quarter . Alabama's secondary had given up only one passing touchdown in the last seven games. Louisville scored twice on the pass in the first quarter.
Most humiliating for Alabama was its inability to run with any success.
The Cardinals scored first, on a 70-yard pass play from Nagle to fullback Latrell Ware. Ware eluded one tackle and raced up the sideline untouched for the touchdown.
Two Alabama mistakes--a fumble and an offsides penalty on fourth and four--set up Louisville's second touchdown, which came on a five-yard sweep by Ralph Dawkins with 3:40 to play in the first quarter. The point after attempt by Klaus Wilmsmeyer was blocked, giving Louisville a 13-0 lead. It was the farthest Alabama had been behind all season, and it would get much worse.
Another turnover, this time a diving interception by cornerback William Blackford of a pass by Gary Hollingsworth, set up yet another Louisville score. The scoring drive took six plays, covered only 26 yards and nearly cost the Cardinals a player.
Louisville flanker Anthony Cummings beat defender George Teague and caught the 37-yard touchdown pass, then proceeded to crash in full stride into the goal post. Cummings bounced up immediately. A two-point conversion attempt failed.
There was one more big play for Louisville in the first quarter, when Ricky McFadden blocked an Alabama punt and Ray Buchanan recovered in the end zone. The Cardinals' two-point conversion again failed, but Louisville had a 25-0 lead after the first quarter.
Alabama had better luck against Louisville quarterback Jeff Brohm, who started the second quarter. Brohm threw an interception in his first series, which could have been more costly if Alabama's Philip Doyle had been successful on his 46-yard field-goal attempt.
Brohm again threw an interception on Louisville's next series. Alabama safety Charles Gardner returned the interception 49 yards for a touchdown when Brohm, who had the last chance to stop Gardner, missed the tackle.
Louisville, with Nagle back at quarterback, scored on a 19-yard pass to Cummings, and later got their last points on a safety.