<span>If there's a downside to Incarnate Word kicking off football in three days, it's that school president Louis Agnese only has so much longer to boast about a certain streak.
"For the last 129 years, Incarnate Word has been undefeated. I'd like to keep it that way," he jokingly told the Cardinals following a recent practice.
That UIW's perpetually unthreatened mark in football is suddenly in jeopardy speaks to just how far the school has come in recent years.
Thanks to Agnese's vision and UIW benefactor Tom Benson's funding, the once-unlikely, years-in-the-making dream of bringing college football to UIW will become a reality when the Cardinals open their inaugural season Saturday.
They play Monterrey Tech at 7p.m. at Benson Stadium.
"We talked about it, talked about it, talked about it," Agnese said. "Now, it's finally going to happen."
Visionaries throughout the process that led them here, Agnese and Benson seem surprisingly at ease with just sitting back and watching as the season unfolds.
They'll expect little more than consistent effort and progress during the program's infancy.
"Being the first year, you can't expect too much, as much as you would love them to win," said Benson, the New Orleans Saints owner, who declined to reveal how much he has donated to the program after initially giving what he termed a "blank check."
"Now, if they fluff off, and they just don't play right, or they're not coached right, that won't be very good. ... I don't expect that at all, though."
The Cardinals will play as an NCAA Division II independent the first year, then will move, along with other sports at UIW, into the Lone Star Conference next season.
Agnese said they have long expected the first two years to be "tough." While he wants the Cardinals to be respectable early on, he acknowledged it would likely take until at least Year 3 to become "very respectable," as in contending for the playoffs.
One thing neither Benson nor Agnese is willing to concede is the atmosphere they expect at UIW games, particularly the opener.
Agnese said he expects a crowd of at least 3,600 against Monterrey Tech, which would exceed the stadium's 3,000-seat capacity. Additional temporary seating will be added behind an end zone to accommodate for the overflow, and another 3,000 seats could also eventually be added if there's enough demand, he said.
"When you go to college, going to a football game in Texas is just tradition," Agnese said. "Students that come here had given that tradition up in a sense. They'd go back to their high school games or go up to see Texas or (Texas) A&M. I just wanted them to have that same experience here."
Agnese and Benson already have caught the fever.
Benson, a San Antonio businessman whose ties to UIW date to the early 1970s when he served on the school's board of trustees, will skip out on the Saints' preseason game at Oakland on Saturday to attend UIW's first game. He and wife Gayle already have bought 60 tickets.
Benson said he will be "jumping up and down" when UIW scores its first touchdown and added he hopes to attend another game or two this season.
As for Agnese? While he knows the program's unbeaten streak is bound to end, he's already wondering if it can't be extended.
One more week, at least.
"If we win, I can see the headline in the Express," he said with a hearty laugh. "And if we lose, I can see the headline. Let's hope that it's a good headline."