Louisville, Memphis renew (sort of) rivalry

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett

When is a rivalry not really a rivalry? When a coach has to tell his players that the team they're playing is supposed to be a rival, that's when.

Such is the case tonight as Louisville (2-2) travels to Memphis (3-3) for the renewal of a once long-running feud (ESPN, 8 p.m. ET). The two teams have played 41 times in their history, but not since Louisville's final season in Conference USA in 2004. Before that, they had played 17 out of the previous 18 years.

The only players on either side who can remember that last game are fifth-year seniors like Cardinals center Eric Wood. It was a memorable matchup, as Louisville won a 56-49 shootout with future pros like Kerry Rhodes, Michael Bush and DeAngelo Williams making big plays.

"There were NFL players running all over the field that day," Wood said. "It was a lot of fun to watch on the sidelines."

Louisville has not played a Conference USA team in the regular season since bolting for the Big East. Plenty of Memphis backers feel their school got left out in the cold during the conference realignment and would like nothing more than to beat the Cardinals in a nationally televised statement game.

But whether this series means anything special to any of the players is another story.

"I'm not too familiar with the history of the rivalry," said Louisville safety Bobby Buchanan, whose older brother, Ray, played against Memphis. "I'm just ready to play like it's any other game, as if they're another team in our way of getting a win."

The Memphis-Louisville series has a far more colorful history on the hardwood, where the schools' basketball teams fought through some fierce and tension-filled contests over the years. A Memphis fan threw a knife on the court during one of those games, or so the legend goes.

The gridiron version does have its own interesting moments, though. There was the 1992 meeting in which the two teams fought in the end zone before the game started. The Tigers humbled Bobby Petrino's offense with a 37-7 beatdown at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium in 2003. And then there was that shootout the following year.

"I think it's important for our guys to understand this has been a great game throughout the course of the history of college football," said second-year Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe, whose experience against Memphis came when he coached at Tulsa. "Forty-one times we've played this game. And there have been some great, great games."

Cardinals offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm played in the series four times when he was a Louisville quarterback. He's been talking up the game's significance to the players.

"He's done a good job portraying that it's a rivalry," Wood said. "He's trying to relay that there's a little bit of bad blood, kind of similar to the Kentucky-Louisville [rivalry]. They haven't always liked each other."

There's little bad blood between anyone who will actually play between the lines tonight. But with another game scheduled for 2010 in Louisville, perhaps this rivalry-that's-not-really-a-rivalry will come back to life.