By Mark Coomes
He hasn’t even played a down of his sophomore season, but word around the University of Louisville football complex is that Teddy Bridgewater is probably the best quarterback the Cardinals have ever had.
That includes you, Johnny U.
This sky-high praise is not on the record – and probably won’t be anytime soon. If ever. Coaches and insiders wisely want to avoid putting extra pressure on the young star.
But this ain’t exactly breaking news, the notion that this particular Cardinal is a seriously rare bird.
The football world has long regarded Bridgewater as a potential superstar. The Miami native was a five-star recruit in high school and an instant hit in college, stepping in for injured starter Will Stein and leading U of L to an early-season upset of UK.
At Commonwealth Stadium.
In a rivalry game.
As a true freshman playing his third college game.
Bridgewater’s rookie stats were good but unspectacular. He passed for 2,129 yards, 14 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. But numbers don’t tell the whole tale.
The kid was virtually unflappable. You could see from the cheap seats that he owned the respect and confidence of his older teammates. That’s no mean feat.
It’s damned hard for a quarterback to matriculate from high school to college and immediately rise to the top of a Division I depth chart. He must be physically strong, emotionally mature and mentally acute.
College playbooks are thick and complicated. Few rookies can assimilate the material by September.
To wit: The last true freshman to start at quarterback for U of L was Stu Stram – in 1976.
And Stram was the son of a coach. Not just any coach but a Pro Football Hall of Famer, Hank Stram, who won Super Bowl IV with the Kansas City Chiefs.
Some will say that calling Bridgewater the best QB in U of L history is grossly premature. They are correct.
For now, anyway.
John Unitas’ career at U of L was fairly unremarkable; his iconic stature was forged entirely as a pro.
Rocket-armed Browning Nagle and local legend Brian Brohm were high second-round draft picks who led the Cardinals to their greatest bowl wins (Fiesta and Orange, respectively).
Another homegrown hero, Chris Redman, owns nearly every passing record in U of L history – records that Bridgewater might never challenge.
Bridgewater, however, has shown undeniable signs of possessing the physical and mental attributes required to outdo his elders … eventually. This is a consensus opinion. It is formed as much by Bridgewater’s offseason growth as his first-season heroics.
He’s gotten better, they say. And he was already pretty good.
He was, to be sure, not perfect. His first collegiate pass was an interception. His first collegiate start was a defeat. (It’s not cool to lose to Marshall – at home – unless Matthew McConaughey is the head coach.)
But the kid was stone-cold clutch at times.
Coming off the bench to throw for two TDs at UK.
Completing 78 percent of his passes in an upset of West Virginia.
Passing for a career-high 274 yards in a gritty Belk Bowl loss to N.C. State.
Prudence says we should shelve the gab about all-time greatness for now. The sophomore jinx has derailed many a freshman phenom. And veritable armies of unblocked linebackers are aching to crumple the Big East’s biggest star.
Four weeks worth of dog days must pass before the Cats and Cards kick off.
Might as well spend the sweaty spell relishing the possibility that the seeds of greatness might sprout on our fields this fall.
About Mark Coomes: Contributing blogger Mark Coomes covered sports from 1988 to 2000 for The Courier-Journal, USA Today, Florida Today and The Monroe News Star.