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Big Men on Campus

Loyal, high-powered boosters support university athletic programs with hearts, minds and wallets
Bruce Schoenfeld
From the Print Edition:
William Shatner, Sept/Oct 2006

(continued from page 4)

Yet with all that, and a bout with prostate cancer thrown in, his involvement with the Cardinals has only grown. Sitting in the stands during an early-season game, Rechter ticks off his social activities for the previous week. "We went to an NCAA women's volleyball regional, then a basketball game, then another basketball game," he says. "We watched the football team play Connecticut on television, and now here we are at another basketball game. We go to softball games, ladies basketball, soccer games, field hockey games. Not all of them, but four or five a year." Some years, he has attended as many as 25 of the Cardinals' 28 or 29 regular-season men's basketball games, flying around the country—and then followed the NCAA tournament run.

Rechter doesn't consider that commitment extraordinary. Booster friends who offer similar support are far busier than he is, he says, and to prove it, he calls Mitch McConnell, the second-ranking Republican in the U.S. Senate. McConnell has the same relationship with Louisville football that Rechter does with Louisville basketball. "To give you a sense of what my priorities are, I missed one game [last] season," McConnell says. "It was a Thursday night and we were in session. I missed another one two years ago, when I was in Iraq. Louisville football is my major extracurricular interest."

The idea of knowing what's happening inside the athletic department holds little currency for McConnell, who is an insider on matters of national and world affairs. Hobnobbing with a football coach is hardly compelling when you hobnob with world leaders. Yet McConnell, who produces a Louisville calendar each Christmas for his friends, is as hooked as any fan and as eager to learn the latest doings of his team as someone listening to sports talk radio.

He tells of being on the Senate floor for the impeachment of Bill Clinton. During a break, the senators repaired to the cloakroom to discuss the historical events that were transpiring. Not McConnell, who would later that year read a tribute to former Cardinals football coach Howard Schnellenberger into the Congressional Record. Looking for something to clear his mind, he picked up a phone and called then-football coach John L. Smith, who was out recruiting. "We were after a big recruit, and my first thought as we walked off the floor of the Senate was, did we get him?" McConnell says.

"I couldn't believe it," says Smith, now at Michigan State. "That's the level of his concern for his school and his football program. And I say 'his' because he has a feeling of ownership, in the best possible way. You just wish you had more like him." Louisville's failures and successes can affect McConnell's state of mind, as is the case with many rabid fans, and on this occasion it almost changed the course of history. As Smith recalls, Louisville didn't manage to land its prized recruit. Coincidentally or not, McConnell voted to convict.

Bruce Schoenfeld is a Cigar Aficionado contributing editor.

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