Picking up where we left off last week, my favorite sporting events of 2005:
5) Louisville 75, Memphis 74 (C-USA basketball championship, March 12) -- Tiger senior Duane Erwin was kneeling, certainly praying, merely five feet from me, at the opposite end of the FedExForum court from where DeAngelo Williams toed the free-throw line -- with time expired -- for three shots to win the Conference USA tournament and send Memphis to an entirely unexpected (undeserved?) trip to the NCAA tournament. The entire nation cringed in empathy when the freshman point guard missed the last two attempts, collapsing alone in that key before the CBS cameras. Sometimes sports must be appreciated, not so much for the big picture of championships and playoff races, but simply for the moment. And its when a game makes you feel most human -- whether it be elation or heartache -- that youre reminded why you watch in the first place.
4) UCF 3, Memphis 2 (womens volleyball, October 30) -- For the life of me, I dont understand how television hasnt found college volleyball. Forget the beach and bikini variety. Six-on-six, indoors, this brand of everyones favorite backyard party game is a frenetic two-hour whirlwind of action. And the cohesion between teammates blows away anything you see on a basketball court. Defensive players save balls slammed at them merely inches from the floor, and manage to arm their setters with a ball to place -- right there! -- for a hitter to slam back over the net. Its like going to a basketball game and seeing 50 alley-oops, some of them blocked right back in the dunkers face. Next fall, take the time to go see Christen Clayton, Melissa Nance and company do their thing at the Elma Roane Fieldhouse. Your neck will be sore from swiveling.
3) St. Louis 8, Pittsburgh 0 (Busch Stadium, June 25) -- The National Leagues preeminent pitcher in 2005 -- the Cardinals Chris Carpenter -- struck out 11 Pirates on his way to a four-hit shutout, one of four he would throw for the season. The National Leagues preeminent hitter in 2005 -- the Cardinals Albert Pujols -- drilled his 20th home run of the season (on his way to 41). For only the second time in its 40-year life, Busch Stadium was home to both a Cy Young winner and MVP. (Hall of Famer Bob Gibson won both in 1968.)
2) Memphis 27, UTEP 20 (October 1) -- Ive witnessed two Memphis sports moments that Im convinced Ill be telling my grandchildren about long after everyone else has stopped listening. The first was Albert Pujols hitting a home run to win a championship for the local Triple-A outfit (September 15, 2000). The second was the 74-yard touchdown jaunt DeAngelo Williams made through the UTEP defense on a night when the national-TV cameras were dark in Memphis. Late in the third quarter, with the Tigers leading the undefeated Miners, 10-6, Williams took a shotgun snap from center and plowed through the left side of the line for what appeared to be a workmanlike five-yard gain. Then the fun started. Williams cut right and, quite literally, ran by a half-dozen would-be tacklers on his way to the opposite sideline. Once at the sideline, Williams was kept in bounds by a block -- 40 yards downfield, mind you -- by freshman quarterback Billy Barefield (who had lined up split to the right). If you werent in the stadium that night, dont tell me you saw this run. Itll be featured in Chapter One of The Legend of DeAngelo.
1) Northfield High School 7, Oxbow High 0 (May 28, Northfield, Vermont). It had been 15 years since I saw my alma mater take the diamond at Memorial Park, so seeing the Marauders put a whipping on the Olympians was pleasing, particularly for the opportunity it provided for me to catch up with an old teammate (who also finds himself a journalist today, poor sap). Northfield went on to reach the state finals, losing the championship contest for the first time since 1987 when they had a Murtaugh in leftfield (theyve won eight titles since I graduated). This turned out to be the last baseball game I got to see with my dad. It was hot, even in Vermont, as Memorial Day approached, so Dad didnt stay the full seven innings. But he was there for a stretch, with me. And I love him for that.
Not a bad year in local sports, particularly when you consider the football programs at Tennessee, Ole Miss, Arkansas, and Mississippi State will be almost a month into their off-seasons as they watch the University of Memphis play in next week¹s Motor City Bowl. Herewith, my ten favorite sports moments of 2005 (those I witnessed personally):
10) Memphis 7, East Carolina 2 (men¹s soccer, October 9th) -- The Mike Rose Soccer Complex is to the twenty-first century soccer mom as the Briar Patch was to Br¹er Rabbit. And the stadium where the University of Memphis men and women play their home games is simply immaculate (ignore the stretch of Nonconnah Parkway on the opposite side of the bleachers). The 2005 Tigers didn¹t match the ¹04 squad, finishing 8-8-2 and failing to return to the NCAA tournament. But on this overcast Sunday, the Tiger stars did what stars do. Senior Dayton O¹Brien (the program¹s alltime assist leader) scored a goal and added two helpers, while senior Andy Metcalf scored twice with an assist. For good or ill, there was plenty of room for my daughters to scamper about those bleachers.
9) University of Memphis Athletic Office Building (January 14) -- It came down to the NFL versus the city of Memphis . . . and Memphis won, hands down. You had us at I¹m staying, DeAngelo. Even before his heartfelt explanation, Tiger football star DeAngelo Williams turned a midwinter press conference into, yes, a sporting event, with cheers loud enough to shake FedExForum, let alone this little room on the second floor of an administrative building. When I sit down with my grandchildren to help share the Legend of DeAngelo, his exploits on the field, quite honestly, will begin to blur. But the day he told a university and a city that he loved them, too? That¹ll be the bedtime story.
8) Evergreen 21, Grace St. Luke¹s 19 (May 12th) --In an early-season showdown
at the Grace St. Luke¹s athletic complex in Midtown, Evergreen
Presbyterian¹s T-ball squad took the field against an imposing Grace St.
Luke¹s nine. In the top of the second inning -- with the bases loaded --
rookie infielder Sofia Murtaugh snagged a line drive off the bat of a GSL
hitter, then managed to tag an overzealous runner between second and third.
Turned out to be the only unassisted double-play in Evergreen¹s 12-game
season. And a highlight that nearly had this reporter in the hospital, heart
pumping with a rooting interest only known by that breed of sports fan more
typically called Dad.
7) Grizzlies 108, Timberwolves 96 (February 8) -- With the reigning NBA MVP
in town, Memphis took an early lead and never slowed down. Kevin Garnett
scored his 24 points for Minnesota, but it wasn¹t enough, not even on a
night when the Griz were led in the scoring column by a mere 18 points from
Stromile Swift and Lorenzen Wright. The Grizzlies¹ 28th win matched their
season total from 2002-03 . . . with more than two months left to play.
(Come April, it was Minnesota on the outside of the playoffs looking in.)
6) Redbirds 1, Nashville 0 (August 14) -- In seven innings against the
Sounds, Anthony Reyes -- the top-rated prospect in the St. Louis Cardinals¹
farm system -- set a franchise record by striking out 15, while giving up
only two hits and nary a run. Alas, he didn¹t factor in the decision, as
Memphis scored the game-winner after Reyes was relieved. The big righty had
made his major-league debut exactly a week earlier in Milwaukee (Nashville¹s
parent club), earning a victory after six innings of work. This will be the
game I¹ll remember when Reyes is in the St. Louis rotation next season.
Come back next week for the top five.