It's funny how, as a sports fan, certain years just stand out.
You have obvious ones, like 1999 for the UConn Huskies Men’s basketball team...the first year they won a National Championship. I was on campus when it happened and the celebration was....everything I had imagined it would be.
I also remember 1996. That was the first time the New York Yankees won a World Series in my lifetime (well, technically I was born in April 1978 and they won a WS in October of that year, but it's not like I have a lot of fond memories).
Then of course there was the 2011 UConn football season, the one that included "the kick" to send the program to its first ever BCS game (its only BCS game as it turns out, since the BCS will go the way of the Dodo bird next year).
Yet 2009 in football has always stood out for me.
It wasn't a great year, record-wise. UConn was 8-5 overall. But it included very memorable games, like beating Notre Dame at ND and then meeting and beating South Carolina in the PapaJohns.com Bowl, in a game that was pretty one sided in favor of the Huskies.
It seemed UConn lost every game that year by a field goal or less, and looking back now at the scores, it proves my recollection was pretty accurate. They lost their five games by scores of 10-12, 21-24, 24-28, 24-28, 45-47.
It was also the year Jasper Howard was killed by a few gutless thugs during a fight on the Storrs campus. You hate for any season to be memorable for that, but it was a moment no UConn fan will ever forget...and no matter what we may feel about Coach Randy Edsall now, his handling of that situation was nearly flawless.
The homecoming game that year was against Louisville. Now, by 2009, UConn and Louisville had developed a small rivalry, mostly off of the GREAT "Non-Fair Catch" game in 2007. That's one that still lives in UConn lore, and I'm sure it still pisses Cardinals fans off...a lot.
Anyway, Louisville walked into Rentschler Field to play UConn in front of a packed house and a fan base somewhat disappointed by the team's 3-2 start. They had just lost to Pitt the week before on the road...in a heartbreaker game. Now, it was time to take on the Cardinals.
I didn't go to the game, but I did watch, and there are a few things that I've always remembered. One was that running back Andre Dixon was a man child, as he so often was for UConn. Dixon was one of my favorite players of all time. I used to describe him as the Jeff Adrien of UConn football. He wasn't the most athletic guy. If you had a good defense with fast defenders, he probably wasn't making the edge and taking it to the house a la CJ Spiller. But, man, did he run hard. He was a sacrifice-your-body kind of guy, and those long dreads sticking out the back of his helmet just helped the cause. You didn't need to see his face to be intimidated.
It was also a game where Jordan Todman showed a little bit of what he could do. Todman scored one touchdown in the fourth quarter, but had big runs throughout the game, only getting the ball 8 times but accumulating 63 yards. It was the perfect ground-and-pound game, meaning Cody Endres, always serviceable but never very good, just had to be the classic "game manager."
The other thing I remember about this game was that UConn took control in the third quarter. It was a back-and-forth game before that. The halftime score was 14-13 UConn, after the Huskies gave up a late-in-the-second quarter touchdown to tighten the contest.
Remember, by this time UConn had lost a 2-point game to North Carolina and a field goal game to Pitt, so giving up a late first half TD had everyone thinking UConn might be in store for another close, disappointing loss.
Then, the third quarter hit, and so did UConn. It was a combination of offense and defense. On offense, their first three drives resulted in two TDs and a field goal. The field goal drive might actually have been their most impressive as they just ran the ball down the Cardinal's throat for one of those patented, old-school 80+ yard drives that ate up clock. They were stopped on a third and short, and took the points, but UConn was clearly the physically dominant team by that time. On D, they forced two fumbles, including one at th 4 yard line as Louisville appeared poised for a touchdown, and grabbed an interception.
By the time the third quarter ended, what had been a 14-13 UConn lead had turned into a 31-13 Husky advantage.
Even before Aman asked us to come up with some recollections about homecoming games, I was thinking about this 2009 matchup, because it really is remarkable to think about where these two teams have gone since then. It was only four years ago, but it feels like a lifetime.
It's easy to forget now, but UConn was favored BY 11 POINTS in this game. Imagine that? UConn a big favorite over the Cardinals? Had the Huskies lost, it would have been an upset, almost on par with UConn beating the heavily-favored Cardinals last year.
It's also interesting to point out that Louisville, with its loss, had fallen 9 out of their last 10 times playing FBS teams. They were on their way to a 1-6 record in the Big East and a 4-8 record overall.
UConn, by contrast, won their last three games, including one against the Irish in South Bend and another close game against USF (it's like a law UConn has to break USF's heart). And then easily handled SC in the bowl game.
That was just four years ago. Had anyone suggested Louisville was a better football program than the Huskies at that time, they probably would have been laughed out of the building.
That was UConn. A great running game, a physical offensive and defensive line, and a team that could take a lead and build on it. UConn was a program on the rise, and Louisville was looking for answers.
Again, I'll reiterate...that was only 4 years ago.
No need to talk about what's happened in the years since. You only need to look at the polls, conference alignment, and team records to know.