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Inaugural Fenway Bowl to feature a tough-as-nails rivalry between Cincinnati and Louisville

Malik Cunningham ran for three touchdowns and passed for a fourth at Boston College in October and will try to get into the end zone again Dec. 17 at Fenway Park.Erin Clark/Globe Staff

The most important question when the Cincinnati and Louisville football teams rekindle their rivalry in Boston at the Fenway Bowl is whether the Cardinals remember where they put the Keg of Nails.

The inaugural Fenway Bowl will be played Dec. 17 at Fenway Park, and the teams were announced Sunday as the first to line up at the home of the Red Sox for an 11 a.m. kickoff.

Cincinnati doesn’t have a longer running rivalry than the one it has with Louisville. And the only rivalry that runs deeper for the Cardinals is their one with Kentucky. The Bearcats and Cardinals have met 63 times since 1966, and the winner takes the Keg of Nails back to campus, the trophy serving as a nod to being “tough as nails.”

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But the Keg of Nails has been misplaced a time or two.

There was the time when it came up missing while Louisville was doing some construction and the trophy had to be replaced. Then there was another instance when a Cincinnati media relations member, new to the job, forgot to pack it for a game and had to call a staffer to grab it at the last minute.

It’s been nine years since the rivalry went dormant. Louisville departed the American Athletic Conference for the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2013 and effectively ended the annual battle. But the Cardinals left with the keg — the reward for an 31-24 overtime win fueled by a three-touchdown performance by quarterback Teddy Bridgewater.

So Louisville is responsible for making sure the Keg (and its nails) makes it to New England safely. A spokesman for the Cardinals said the Keg of Nails will definitely be making the trip.

Cincinnati director of athletics John Cunningham said in a statement he was glad to have the rivalry renewed after an eight-season hiatus.

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“You really couldn’t ask for a better matchup,” Cunningham said. “It’s been too long since the University of Cincinnati and Louisville battled for the Keg of Nails. We are looking forward to renewing this historic rivalry that will give this game extra significance. I’m thrilled that our student athletes will get to end the season in a rivalry game and have an outstanding bowl experience at an iconic venue such as Fenway Park.”

After two years of disruptions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Fenway Bowl is finally set to kick off. The original plan called for the Fenway Bowl to debut in 2020 as the fourth active bowl game played in a baseball stadium — joining the Pinstripe Bowl at Yankee Stadium, the Holiday Bowl at San Diego’s Petco Park and the Guaranteed Rate Bowl at Chase Field in Phoenix.

Cincinnati's Ryan Montgomery celebrates with teammates after scoring a touchdown against Tulane late last month.Dylan Buell/Getty

Cincinnati will be headed to its fifth straight bowl game and 22nd overall. The Bearcats finished the regular season at 9-3 and in third place in their final season in the AAC before moving on to the Big 12 next summer. While the program searches for a replacement for former coach Luke Fickell, who took the job at Wisconsin late last month after six years with the Bearcats, assistant Kerry Coombs is serving as interim coach.

The Cardinals used a late-season push to become bowl eligible, winning five of their last seven games to finish 7-5. This will be their third bowl appearance in four seasons under head coach Scott Satterfield.

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For Louisville, this will be its second trip to Boston in 2022. The Cardinals lost to Boston College, 34-33, in ACC play on Oct. 1.

This will be the 11th time Louisville has played in a major league ballpark. The last time was in 2010 when the Cardinals beat Southern Miss in the Beef O’ Brady’s Bowl at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Fla.


Julian Benbow can be reached at julian.benbow@globe.com.