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For BSU Football, Redemption May Have Arrived

Pete Lembo went from unknown trepidation to savior status after the season opener

It’s rare, at least for me, that a football game creates real and genuine emotions. Sure, there’s the excitement of a last second drive or game-winning field goal, the nervous energy and anticipation of the season opener, or the frustration of losses snatched from the jaws of victory. Those are emotions, of course, but they are visceral at best and lacking any sort of substantive reality. It’s been a while, if ever, that I’ve truly felt an emotion more than a surface reaction for a football team. I sat down to write a piece about Central Michigan, but in just trying to encapsulate the game, layer upon layer of memories came back to me and before I knew it, that emotion and feeling that I kept extremely compartmentalized was beginning to seep its way into my BSU football thoughts.

It’s almost shocking to think about the roller coaster that has been Ball State football over the last two and a half years. Since 2007, Ball State football has given me the highest highs and the lowest lows, but it wasn’t until today that I sort of stepped back and noticed the forest beyond the trees of individual games and particular contests. The return to the postseason in 2007 was the start of two unbelievable years driven by excellent coaching, a large talent gap with the rest of the MAC, and our share of good luck along the way. Fans will look back through program history to 2008 and only see the 12-2 record. What the record books won’t grasp within the printed word is the dichotomy of an elated Scheumann Stadium in November as the Cardinals went 12-0 compared to a silent Memorial Stadium in September as Dante Love was wheeled off the field.

2009 and 2010 would test the mettle of the fans, staff, players, and coaches and ultimately cost Coach Stan Parrish his job. The losses? Plentiful. The wins? Rare. To say the fanbase was fractured was an understatement as the line in the sand for support of the staff was drawn quickly. There were those that wanted a complete house cleaning, others who thought the staff could turn things around, and still others who simply hoped for the best and didn’t really want to think about the things needed to fix the ever-expanding football problem in Muncie. Alas, there was to be no fairy tale ending for the Cardinals or their coaches as AD Tom Collins decided a change was due.

Enter Pete Lembo in the winter of 2011, met with a resounding mixture of “Who?” to “Who cares?”. The critics pointed to the inability of the Cardinals to make a splash in the hiring market as an indictment of the state of the program, the future success, and the general lack of commitment of everyone involved with the athletics program. Players transferred, staff left, and the voices of discontent spoke the loudest. BSU football seemed like a punch drunk fighter swaying on the ropes, in a precarious position where one more blow could be the knockout punch for this program for the foreseeable future. But a funny thing happened on the road to irrelevance for Ball State… the Cardinals swung back.

Perhaps no coach has went from uncertainty at best to savior status quicker than Pete Lembo with the defeat of Indiana in the season opener. And now, one game past midway of this season, Ball State football finds itself sitting at 4-3 facing divisional foe Central Michigan at home on Saturday. With a victory, BSU continues to control its own fate for the MAC West as well as have four games remaining to win the one game that would guarantee no worse than .500 in the first season for Pete Lembo, a far cry from the last two seasons overwhelming lack of success. The results of that kind of premier season will no doubt be felt far beyond the field of play, though, as Ball State fans and students seem to be ready to support a winning program. A coach that was met with pessimistic grumbles, a team that was burdened with reduced expectations, and a fanbase with a tremendously cancerous apathy spreading like wildfire are all reasons why this team shouldn’t be doing well. But lo and behold, they are.

This isn’t the season finale, we’re damn sure not ready to put a bow on 2011, but we’re on the backslide of this season like it or not, and to see this team and this staff achieve what they have so far is nothing short of unbelievable. After the last two years, the last regime, and the ebbs and flows of this program in the last half decade, I’m simply going to enjoy the ride regardless of the Ws or Ls at the end of the day. Still am, and always will be, damn proud to be a Cardinal fan.

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One Response

  1. A-freakin’-men.

    One of the things that drove me nuts about the 2008 season is how so many Card fans spent the season in a Whitlock-induced brainlock, fretting and bitching over whether Hoke would leave, whether Nate would go the NFL, what we’re paying our coaches, whether we should play Boise on their turf in a bowl game, etc., that they couldn’t enjoy the wonderful season we were having — a season that every BSU fan had been dreaming of for years.

    If that season taught Cardinal Nation anything, it’s to enjoy the ride, because we’re going to have just as many lows in this program as highs. It’s the nature of the MAC (indeed, with only a couple of exceptions, it’s the nature of college football everywhere in non-AQ land. Heck, it’s a fact of life at BCS schools outside of the top powers in each conference, too.)

    That’s not to say you don’t get pissed at a bad game or get caught up in the emotions of a dramatic season. It is to say just what Alan said – step back, take a deep breath of crisp autumn air, take a sip of your favorite beer and enjoy the experience. You only get so many fall Saturdays in life. It’s a crime to not enjoy them all — win or lose.

    (Apologies in advance for sounding like that Michigan tourism commercial there…)

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