Monday, September 14, 2009

Memphis Athletes of the Decade: Number 4 — Danny Wimprine

Posted By on Mon, Sep 14, 2009 at 10:06 AM

Before Danny Wimprine threw his first pass for the Memphis Tigers in 2001, the school record for passing yards was 4,311. Wimprine finished his career with 10,215. Until Wimprine took his first snap, Steve Matthews held the records for completions (341) and touchdown passes (31). Wimprine connected on 808 passes, 81 of them in the end zone. Danny Wimprine is to the U of M passing record charts as Wayne Gretzky is to scoring standards in the National Hockey League.

Wimprine’s only shortcoming? He was merely the Tigers’ second-best player with the initials “D.W.” over his last three seasons.

“I don’t think Danny gets enough credit,” says his former coach, Tommy West. “He’s thrown for double what anyone else had thrown for here. Are you kidding me? I think the reason is that he played with DeAngelo Williams. I hope as the years go by, his numbers stand out more. Danny led us to a bowl victory when DeAngelo didn’t play. Unfortunately, DeAngelo was so great, he took away from Danny.”

As a redshirt freshman in 2001 — West’s first as head coach in Memphis — Wimprine took over from senior Neil Suber and passed for 1,329 yards and 14 touchdowns, with only four interceptions in nine games. But the Tigers struggled mightily, losing four of their last five games after starting the season 4-2. The next year was even worse in terms of the team’s record (3-9), but Wimprine broke the school record for single-season passing yardage (2,820) and touchdown passes (23).

Everything changed in 2003, when Williams took over full-time duty at tailback, and Wimprine became merely a complementary record-breaking quarterback. But even as Williams churned out weekly 100-yard-rushing games — and quite often, 200-yard games — Wimprine managed to exceed 300 yards through the air twice in 2003 and four more times in 2004. Better than numbers, though, were the wins that started coming with Wimprine under center.

After starting the 2003 season 3-3, the Tigers enjoyed their first five-game winning streak in 11 years, topping 35 points in four of the wins and ending a three-game losing streak to Cincinnati in the other. A final record of 8-4 earned the U of M its first bowl berth since 1971, a game the Tigers would be forced to play North Texas without an injured Williams. Wimprine completed 17 of 23 passes for 254 yards and was named the game’s MVP, the Tigers winning 27-17.

Before his senior season of 2004, I interviewed Wimprine for a cover story in Memphis magazine. He knew he’d be remembered most for what he did last as a Tiger. And he was up to the challenge of having to meet a new standard. “I want to be in the position where I can take control of the game, where I can go out and win the game. We now have the weapons here — especially on offense — where we can take control by scoring points. So my biggest challenge ... is to limit my mistakes.”

Wimprine opened his senior campaign by leading Memphis to a victory over Eli Manning and Ole Miss at the Liberty Bowl. If there was a signature game to the season, though, it actually was a Tiger loss: the epic, nationally televised 56-49 defeat at the hands of 14th-ranked Louisville in the Liberty Bowl. Wimprine passed for 361 yards and four touchdowns, a nice supplement to 200 yards rushing by Williams. Alas, the Cardinals scored with 37 seconds left in the game for the win. The ’04 Tigers went on to win eight games, falling to Bowling Green in the GMAC Bowl (despite 324 yards and four more touchdown passes from Wimprine).

Brief stints in the Canadian Football League (with the Calgary Stampeders in 2005) and the Arena Football League (with his hometown New Orleans VooDoo in 2008) were hardly what Wimprine envisioned upon completing his college career. He’ll have to settle for being merely the finest quarterback the University of Memphis has ever seen.

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