LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The overhead lights were off in Shawn Watson's office at the Louisville football complex. That served a dual purpose.
It enhanced viewing video of Watson's star quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater. And it inhibited viewing the tears that well up in Watson's eyes when he talks about Teddy.
"He is one of the five best people in my life," Watson says, brown eyes brimming.
The 53-year-old football lifer can get emotional about a lot of things – but with Bridgewater, the affection is always percolating just below the surface. Sometimes it spills over, and spills down his cheeks.
"We're in each other's head," Watson said. "It's a unique bond that way. We come from two totally different worlds, but we share the same love for the game."
The middle-aged white man from the Midwest wandered into a promising but foreign situation as Louisville's offensive coordinator after 14 years coaching in the Big 12 and Big Ten. The 20-year-old African-American quarterback wandered into a promising but foreign situation after an unsettled, largely fatherless childhood in Miami. They have filled voids in each other's lives with a relationship that centers on football but also transcends it.
"He understands me and I understand him," Bridgewater said. "I grew up without my father really being there for me throughout sports. Coach Watson arrived on campus around the same time I arrived, and ever since our relationship has just been tight. He took me in, and I trust everything he tells me. In our situation, it goes beyond football."
The two had their greatest moment together on a raw Friday night in New Jersey last November. That's when Bridgewater ignored a severely sprained ankle and broken left wrist to lead Louisville past Rutgers – a 20-17 victory that altered the course of the program.
It led to a Big East title and a Sugar Bowl bid – just the second BCS bowl appearance in program history, and the first such opportunity against a kingpin from the Southeastern Conference. In New Orleans, massive underdog Louisville shocked Florida 33-23 in a game that was not as close as the score indicated. That capped an 11-2 season, propelling the Cardinals into most preseason Top 10s for 2013 and Bridgewater onto the short list of prime Heisman Trophy contenders.
But back to Piscataway, N.J., and the victory that set all that in motion. After Bridgewater hobbled off the bench and led the comeback to win, photographers caught Watson and his quarterback in a long, teary embrace outside the locker room. The picture spoke volumes.
"I admire his performance that day," Watson said. "I admire his person. He's unbelievable."
Watson paused, emotional again.
"And I just appreciate him," he said. "I really do."
Teddy Bridgewater was unhappy. Shawn Watson knew it.
It was during spring practice, and something was off with the Louisville star. For two straight days, he was uncharacteristically moody.
So Watson pulled him into his office and started asking questions.
"Yes, it is. I know you too well. What's wrong?"
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Long read I know but worth it, for this guy to play like he did, ankle and wrist messed up, and to pull off his Heisman campaign like that, speaks highly of him, I'd take him 10000x times before I take Johhny Football