meanwhile, fizzled to a finish that was just respectable, losing at West
Virginia, 46--44 in triple overtime, winning five straight and then losing to
Virginia Tech in the Gator Bowl. Brohm wasn't around for the finale, having
gone down with a torn ACL and assorted collateral injuries to his right knee in
a victory over Syracuse on Thanksgiving weekend.
He spent the
off-season doing what injured football players do: rebuilding the damaged
joint. "I wanted to spend some male bonding time with him, but I could
never get him out of the football facility before late Friday afternoon,"
said Oscar Brohm, standing on a sidewalk overlooking the postgame celebration
last Thursday. "For us, it's kind of emotional because we know what he's
overcome." Oscar, a stout man dressed in Louisville black with a long red
scarf, blinked back tears.
quickly. "I was throwing by spring practice," he says. But the knee
injury would be just the start of problems for Brohm and Louisville. In the
Cardinals' season-opening 59--28 victory over Kentucky, senior tailback Michael
Bush, a 6'3", 247-pound force of nature (and like Brohm, a Louisville
native who stayed home) broke his right leg and was lost for the season.
Then Brohm went
down in the Miami game, after releasing a pass and breaking his fall with his
right hand. "It didn't feel bad," Brohm says. "I stayed on the
field for the next play, but when I took the snap, the ball felt flat. I knew
it wasn't flat, so I ran over to Coach Petrino and told him I better come
crestfallen. "I'm out there thinking, Man, guys are dropping like
flies," says sophomore wideout Mario Urrutia, yet another Louisville
athlete who stayed home. "There goes our perfect season."
Brohm's doctors told him that the recovery period was four to six weeks.
Privately, another surgeon told Oscar that some patients need six weeks just to
get out of the initial cast, a piece of information that father did not share
with son. Brian, meanwhile, spent three weeks buttressing the rehab on his
still-not-100% knee. He got his 40 time back down to 4.8 seconds from a glacial
five-flat in preseason practice. Without him, the Cards easily beat Kansas
State and Middle Tennessee State behind sophomore quarterback Hunter Cantwell.
"The team grew in those three weeks," says Petrino. "That's what
happens when you have to believe in each other."
On Oct. 8, 22 days
after the injury, Brohm began throwing at practice. "Five yards, then 10
yards, it felt O.K.," says Brohm. "Not great, but O.K."
Brohm was on the
field for every snap during sluggish victories over Cincinnati (23--17) and
Syracuse (28--13), both games in doubt much longer than expected. His timing
was slightly off, and his numbers showed it: He threw two interceptions and
only one touchdown pass. But Louisville had 11 days between the Syracuse and
West Virginia games, and Brohm got sharper. "You could see it every
day," says Urrutia. "He was getting zip back on the ball."
The game against
the No. 3 Mountaineers held special meaning for Brohm. A year earlier he had
completed 31 of 49 passes for 277 yards and two touchdowns and led the
Cardinals to a 24--7 lead midway through the third quarter. Louisville failed
to convert on what could have been a killing fourth-and-one at the West
Virginia 34, opening the door to a frantic Mountaineers comeback. The game
ended when Brohm was stopped on a two-point conversion try in the third OT.
"My most vivid memory is having to walk all the way down the field after
that play, with the whole stadium singing that John Denver song [Take Me Home,
Country Roads]," says Brohm. "I watched the game on TV once last
summer; it was sickening watching them come back."
Scouting video from
this season was more encouraging. Petrino and Brohm found huge holes in West
Virginia's pass defense, and last Thursday the Cardinals exploited them
liberally. Brohm's 19 completions went to six receivers for a staggering
average of more than 18 yards a catch. Schiano watched the game from an ESPN
studio in Bristol, Conn. "We had already been working on Louisville for
several days, but they did some different things," he says. "And Brohm
is just phenomenal. I don't care how he played before the West Virginia game,
he can do things that are special."