Thursday, November 14, 2002

U OF M FOOTBALL: WHERE THERE'S LIFE...

At 2-8, the football Tigers are seriously on the skids, right? Not exactly.

Posted By on Thu, Nov 14, 2002 at 4:00 AM

WAITING FOR ... JERIAH JIP? "You're out of your mind. You're absolutely out of your mind..." So spake my good friend Gordo McAlister, late last Saturday night from the cell phone in his Lexus, somewhere in East Memphis. Myself, I was in a late-night bistro in Tampa, Florida, dining alone and nursing the wounds caused by yet another Tiger defeat -- our sixth in a row, actually -- this time a 31-28 coup de grace administered by the South Florida Bulls, a now 7-2 outfit with more than a few reasons -- talent and excellent coaching, for starters -- to be bullish about its football future. The Tigers' future, on the other hand, appears decidedly bearish, so bearish in fact that our own bear of choice must of necessity be "polar." How appropriate, then, that the Blue Boys were clad all in white on this meteorologically splendid but existentially gloomy night. "You know, you were freaking there, in freaking Tampa!" Not for the first time, Gordo was on a rant. He had once been a dyed-in-the-blue University of Memphis football fan. Now he played a lot of golf and tennis in the fall, and took great delight in tormenting me. "At least I didn't have to see the game. Whooh, boy, that must've been a real treat. It was bad enough on radio, let me tell you..." To this point, I had, literally, not gotten a word in edgewise. "Gordo, I hope you're sitting down." "I am. It's hard to drive standing up. So what?" "'Cause I've gotta tell you something. The second half of that game tonight? That was the greatest gut-check performance by a Tiger football team since November 9th, 1996." Gordo no longer went to Highland Hundred meetings, but he knew full well the significance of that date, the date of our historic (and only) orange-crushing of the University of Tennessee. "What are you smoking down there, friend?" Gordo was not even slightly amused. "I'm not smoking, Gordo. I'm eating." "Well, be careful: something's eating your brain, man!" I let the compliment slide. "Listen, the Tigers were down 28-7 at the half, with absolutely nothing to play for. Wrap it up, pack it in, mail it home, right? "Yes, but..." "No buts. We had nothing to play for. We were in an existentialist void. We were waiting for Godot, Gordo. Just waiting for Godot." My friend was a graduate of a prominent Eastern university, so I knew my use of five-dollar words and my reference to Samuel Beckett's melancholy classic would get his attention. "Okay. I agree. They were lower than pond scum. So what's your point?" "My point is this: Somehow, some way, the coaches got them up for the second half. And the players -- nearly every one of them on the field -- delivered. Delivered in spades. With nothing whatsoever on the line, the guys went out and kicked butt. And kicked it almost as far as a victory." "Give me a break!" Gordo was not going gently into the night. "Almost, buddy, only counts in horseshoes and hand grendades, you know." "Maybe, but you should have seen the transformation. The defense played with real fervor. And Danny... well, it was like Jeriah Jip in action." "Jeriah Jip." Gordo was silent for a moment. "Don't think I know him. Is he a linebacker? Maybe a freshman?" I knew I had Gordo where I wanted him. "And you tell me you're an educated man?" "Oh, I see. This is one of your silly quizes." He was correct; I was prone to stunts like this, especially when cornered. "Jeriah Jip, yes. Just like Danny Wimprine," I repeated. And then so did Gordo. "Jeriah Jip. Hmmmm...." It is not generally known around town that he had been the first-ever medieval philosophy/twentieth-century world drama joint major at his very prominent college, although just about everybody is aware that he was captain, his senior year, of the varsity football team. A true Renaissance Man, that Gordo. "Think about it," I said. "Wimprine came out swinging, like some kind of Wild West gunslinger. Everybody in Raymond James Stadium knew he was throwing, including the janitors. The whole USF defense keyed on him, every single play. He got the stuffing knocked out of him a couple of times, but took to the sidelines for a play or two, caught his breath, and came back out for more. All told he threw 52 passes and completed 32: both all-time U of M single-game records. And..." "Stop! I've got it!" Light, I could tell, had dawned on Marblehead, at least as far as Gordo was concerned. "Jeriah Jip. Bertolt Brecht. "A Man's A Man." That weird pacifist play from the 1920s. Jeriah Jip, formerly Gayly Gay. Jeriah Jip. "The Human Fighting Machine."" Not just everybody is aware that the Jeriah Jip was the hero of German dramatist Brecht's 1926 tragicomedy about a meek dockworker who transformed himself into a macho war hero, but I knew Gordo might be. Nevertheless, even I was impressed at his near-total recall of this obscure classic. "Well, he certainly took a licking and kept on ticking, that Jeriah Jip," Gordo mused. "Just like Danny, Gordo; just like Danny. He's a human fighting machine, trust me. You should come out some time and see for yourself, see how close the resemblance is. Bertolt Brecht would get it, I feel certain." "I'm sure he would, although being German, I think he was probably into soccer. You remember, of course, that Jeriah Jip came to a bad end?" "That's only fiction, Gordo. Make-believe. This is real life, Gordo." "Sure, Ken, sure. That's what they all say." I could tell Gordo was using irony, and using it well. After all, who understands irony better than a U of M football fan? Who better to blur the distinction between life and death? Between victory and defeat? Between a half-empty bottle and a half-full one? "Tell you what. I have an extra ticket for the Army game. Come on out and see for yourself." Gordo was silent for a moment. "I'll think about it. I really will." And then he hung up, without even saying goodnight. I could tell I hadn't convinced him, but this was probably asa close to a yes or no as I would ever get from Gordo.
READER REACTION
  • Keep us on track, Mr. Neil, keep us on track. There are those of us who publically admit to having "given up on the Tigers", but in private still truly lurk about the TV or radio, waiting for the WORD, waiting for SOMETHING TO HAPPEN, and that something to be GOOD about Tiger football. To paraphrase, Oh ye of little Tiger Football faith, give heed to Mr. Neil's words. Bill Butler

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