We were somewhere near Central Avenue, on the edge of the Green Lot, when the beers began to take hold. I remember saying something like-
Wait, no, I'm not going to do it this way. Let's back up.
If you know me, my writing, or my Twitter screaming, you may well know that I'm a twice-grad of the University of Cincinnati, and a proud and devoted Bearcats fan. What the hell am I doing at a Louisville Cardinals tailgate? Louisville has had no more frequent opponent in football than the Bearcats; the Bearcats have only played Miami of Ohio more frequently. (The Bearcats lead the all-time series against Louisville 30-22-1.) As the programs rose in prominence through their shared entry into the late-stage Big East, first-run Bobby Petrino tormented us with a five-year run of dominance (the last year was under Steve Kragthorpe, but we're going to chalk that up to inertia, or possibly clerical error). One of my fondest memories during undergrad was attending this game, and booing Rick Pitino as he trudged the length of the Shoemaker Center court after being ejected. One of my least fond was learning the hard way that if you're going to dance on an opponent's midfield logo, you'd damn well better be able to back it up.
To summarize my belabored point: I am no fan of the Louisville Cardinals. So, why am I wearing red in a parking lot on a rainy Saturday morning, about to cheer myself hoarse watching them play?
I had to see about Lamar.
I'm not going to tell you anything you didn't know about Lamar Jackson. The stats border on meaningless, in the same way that the national debt blurs into an incomprehensible string of digits, or some Rovellian infoturd about chicken wings consumed on Super Bowl Sunday sheds no new light or appreciation on anything.
I had to see him play in person.
There's already a contingent of naysayers ready to label Jackson as the next September Heisman, someone who stunned us in the early weeks of the season, only to fade through the grind of the year. Geno Smith. Leonard Fournette. Hell, there were people who wanted to crown Kenny Hill after his first game at A&M. Maybe they're right. The hell do I know? I'm a terrible prognosticator.
You might've watched on TV with better angles and replays, I watched under a cloud of beer from end zone seats. We both saw a quarterback effortlessly shred one of the nation's most physically talented defenses in a game he later said he wasn't satisfied with. I watched a crowd of people who know damn well Bobby Petrino's history of climbing to high rankings and stumbling gain Alabama-like levels of confidence in the season's possibilities.
I watched Florida State get beat by 43 points, which only seems more incomprehensible because it never felt that close, even when it was 14-10.
College football, at its best, is a place where anything can seem possible. A missed field goal can be returned 109 yards to upend the title picture. A ball can be thrown 20 yards backwards over your shoulder and turn into a season-changing first down. A little-known FCS school can defeat the #5 team in the country (reset the counter, commentariat).
Anything can seem possible, but it's rarely that probable. North Dakota State can keep upsetting FBS teams, and they can keep scheduling them for some damn reason, but the sport's highest rarely accepts new members. No school's won a first-time national championship since Florida's first in 1996. Last year's playoff foursome has 30 recognized titles between them.
Plenty can keep this order in place - plenty can happen between Louisville and a title. Jackson's numbers could return to earth. Georgia fans could be proven right about Todd Grantham's defenses after all. Injuries could sap their depth. Road games to 2015 runner-up Clemson or 2016 Group of Five darling Houston are entirely plausible stumbling blocks - and Mark Richt's Miami could give them a run in a hypothetical ACC title game. Or, they could saunter into the playoffs, undefeated and emboldened, and get steamrolled by Alabama or Michigan or Ohio State. Everything will seem as though This Is How It Was Always To Be.
I root for a team that came from the same place this team did. I root for a team that's made the Orange and Sugar Bowl this decade, a team that came one-extra-second-in-Texas-Nebraska away from playing for a title in 2009 and's still searching for a life raft to keep from drifting back to irrelevance in 2016. I want to believe that college football is still a place of possibility. I want to believe one player like Lamar Jackson can be that possibility.
It was awfully hard to sit in that crowd Saturday and not feel like anything was possible.