LOUISVILLE — It may have been Louisville football pre-season media day Thursday, but Teddy Bridgewater was in late-season form at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
On Wednesday, the U of L star quarterback was drawn into the latest Johnny Manziel controversy. One of the "autograph brokers" linked to allegations that Manziel may have been paid thousands of dollars to sign memorabilia to be sold was also offering for sale around a dozen items on eBay said to be autographed by Bridgewater.
The Louisville junior QB found himself peppered by reporters Thursday with questions that had nothing to do with whether U of L can go 12-0 in 2013 against what is, on paper, a softer-than-satin schedule.
For the record, Bridgewater said he was unaware until this week that people were selling items on the Internet alleged to have been signed by him. He said he met with U of L athletics officials and head coach Charlie Strong about the matter Wednesday. Bridgewater said he's never been offered money to sign his name.
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"Nah," he said, "every time I've signed (autographs), whether it was (U of L's) Fan Day, or after the game(s), it's been for little children. Or I've signed at little children's camps."
The Louisville QB said it does not torment him that autograph hounds, video-game makers, T-shirt producers and many other commercial interests all make money off big-time college athletes while the players themselves get (more or less) tuition, books and board.
"Not at all," Bridgewater said. "I know if all my hard work at this level pays off, I'll be able to make money on the next level. I feel my education is priceless. ... As long as I'm able to get a quality education, a great education, I have no problem with guys out there doing what they are doing."
I don't agree with Bridgewater on that. As the multi-billion dollar college-sports entertainment complex keeps expanding, the players whose labor produces the show should share in more of the pie than just their scholarships.
Still, it was hard not to be impressed with the grace with which Bridgewater handled the autograph questions. The Miami product showed the same cool aplomb he did while foiling the defense of Florida's mighty Gators in last season's Sugar Bowl.
Some believe the Louisville football program crashed the sport's top tier with its 33-23 stunner over No. 4 Florida in January in New Orleans. Actually, it may be this summer that has shown that U of L football is now officially in the big time.
In recent months, Strong publicly warned agents to leave Bridgewater and his mother alone.
A key U of L assistant, Clint Hurtt, has been fighting to save his job after being alleged to have violated recruiting rules by the NCAA in its controversial investigation of the Miami Hurricanes, Hurtt's former employer..
Strong accepted former Auburn star running back Michael Dyer as a transfer. The Most Outstanding Player in Auburn's BCS championship win over Oregon after the 2010 season was dismissed after "violating team rules" at Auburn. He then went to Arkansas State, but he never played after police stopped him for speeding and allegedly found marijuana and a gun in his car.
Now, the autograph brokers have become a pest for Louisville's star player.
At the risk of seeming cynical, all that carries the feel of a big-time football program to me.
U of L certainly has a quarterback worthy of the brightest lights.
A year ago, Bridgewater threw for 3,718 yards with 27 touchdowns. As Kentucky fans remember all too well, he was rapier-sharp against the Wildcats, hitting 19-of-21 passes for 232 yards in only three quarters of work in U of L's Governor's Cup win.
It was in the regular-season finale at Rutgers when Bridgewater became a genuine Louisville folk hero. Unable to start because of a broken wrist and a sprained ankle, he talked his way off the bench and threw for 263 yards to rally U of L to the victory that earned its Orange Bowl berth.
After shining against Florida, Bridgewater begins 2013 inspiring legitimate Heisman Trophy talk. Yet Louisville offensive coordinator Shawn Watson says he does not want Bridgewater feeling he has to dazzle to succeed.
"I've tried to control those thoughts that he has to do something special, something unique," Watson said. "Just run our offense. Just manage it."
If Bridgewater handles Heisman hype this fall as adroitly as he did autograph questions Thursday, he and Louisville will be more than fine.