The event—the Cardinals' home opener—was the thing. Temporary seats were added, and the game was the first sellout in Cardinal Stadium football history. The Cardinals even outdrew the Rolling Stones, who played the 35,500-seat stadium the previous Tuesday. On Saturday two helicopters landed on the field before kickoff. The first discharged Louisville's redbird mascot, the second honorary team captains Johnny Unitas ( Louisville, '55) and Sam Huff ( West Virginia, '56).
The event had to be the thing because few suspected that Louisville could stay with the Mountaineers. If Schnellenberger started from scratch in Miami, he started from below scratch in Louisville, and he has gone about assembling a contender the same way he did with the Hurricanes: with refugees, reprobates, rejects and retreads. For instance:
?Higgs is from the Bahamas. After attending Kiski Prep outside Pittsburgh and tearing up his shoulder, he received no offers from major colleges. So, heeding an uncle from Minnesota who said, " Louisville is a nice town," he decided to walk on. Forty-eight hours into Schnellenberger's two-a-days, Higgs walked off. "It was tougher than anything I'd ever done," says Higgs. "I checked into a motel for two days. They called me and talked me into coming back." Two weeks later he was offered a scholarship.
?Starting left tackle Jerry Crafts transferred from Oklahoma just before this season. Craft, who wants to play pro ball, was worried that his pass-blocking skills were stagnating at Oklahoma, which runs an option offense. Because the Sooners are on probation, Crafts did not have to sit out a year.
?Carwell Gardner transferred from Kentucky after the '87 season. Despite earning All-SEC honors as a defensive end for the Wildcats, Gardner wore out his welcome in Lexington with a series of disciplinary lapses. "I did everything wrong," says Gardner, "but I got all that wild stuff out of my system." Schnellenberger has switched Gardner to fullback, and he has 238 yards on 46 carries. Gardner undoubtedly would have more yardage if he did not seek out defensive players to hit.
? Ted Washington, a 6'5", 290-pound junior defensive tackle, and a likely future NFL star, arrived at Louisville almost by accident. "I liked the place when I visited," he says. And where else did you visit? "Nowhere." Why? "I wrestled in high school, and I usually had matches on weekends, which is when you go on campus visits. But the weekend Louisville asked me, I didn't have a meet." So if McNeese State had invited you on that weekend, you probably would have signed with McNeese State? "Probably."
? Nagle's route to Louisville meandered through Morgantown, W.Va., lending another subplot to Saturday's game. In the spring of '87, Nehlen decided to install a mobile offense tailored to Harris's myriad gifts. The other redshirt freshman quarterback on campus was Nagle, who is a drop-back passer. "I got the message," says Nagle, who left West Virginia in the summer of 1987. Pondering his next stop, he recalled that Louisville had recruited him out of Clearwater, Fla. He also remembered Schnellenberger's words to him at the time. According to Nagle, Schnellenberger said, "I hear you're going to West Virginia. Well, I think we've established a good relationship, so if things don't work out for you there, keep us in mind."
Thanks to that gracious gesture and to his reputation as a groomer of NFL quarterbacks—Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde all played for him at Miami—Schnellenberger found Nagle on his doorstep. Coming into last week's game, Nagle had thrown for 438 yards and four touchdowns in the Cardinals' wins over Wyoming and Kansas. On Saturday he led Louisville on touchdown drives of 49 and 80 yards in the first half, and only a bit of Harris magic kept Louisville from taking a 14-3 lead into the locker room at halftime. Late in the half Harris marched the Mountaineers 91 yards in 4:09. On the 11th play of the drive, with first-and-10 from the Louisville 23, Harris dropped back and was immediately clotheslined by Dan Gangwer. Somehow Harris eluded him and, with linebacker Mark Sander's arms wrapped around his shoe tops, released an off-balance flutterball, which was caught by a diving Greg Dykes in the end zone. "We'd come so close to sacking him, I'd yell, 'Yeah—got him!' " said Higgs. "Next thing you know, some guy's caught the ball 20 yards downfield, and they're moving the chains."
Nagle answered Harris's heroics by engineering a smart scoring drive to open the second half. After that march, however, the Mountaineers started "twisting" linemen and linebackers—looping them through odd gaps and snarling Louisville's blocking schemes. The scheme worked, and Nagle was dropped for 40 yards in losses in the second half and suffered that toe injury. The Cardinals would muster a paltry five first downs the rest of the way.
But the Cardinals, who won four games last season on last-minute heroics, had vowed before Saturday's game that if the score was close in the fourth quarter they would find a way to win. Trailing 22-21 with 2:49 on the clock, Louisville took over on its own 37. But on his damaged toe, Nagle could not find the mark, and West Virginia took over on downs. Two plays later tailback Eugene Napoleon went off right tackle for a 46-yard touchdown.