Lots of exciting sports over the last year. Herewith, five of the ten most memorable events I was lucky enough to attend. (Check in next week for the top five.)
23, Memphis 20 (November 18) -- Over the course of a completely
dreadful football season, the University
of Memphis had one shining moment, albeit during their 10th loss of the
campaign. With Houston lining up for a game-clinching field goal, I reached the
Tiger sideline just in time to witness (from about 20 yards away) the team's
biggest play of 2006. Brandon McDonald -- one of 19 seniors honored before the
game -- stormed in from the left side and blocked the field-goal attempt. Better
yet, Greg Jackson picked up the ball and galloped 80 yards to tie the game
against the heavily favored Cougars. Let's leave this memory at that.
Memphis 88, Tennessee 79 (January 18) -- This was likely the biggest showdown on the hardcourt in the 17-game history between these two programs. The Tigers entered the game ranked fourth in the country, with a record of 15-2. Tennessee was 11-2, having beaten Texas, one of the two teams to have knocked off the U of M. In front of 18,144 fans at FedExForum, the stars came out. Tiger freshman Shawne Williams led a surge over the last 10 minutes of the game, scoring 21 points and grabbing 14 rebounds. Rodney Carney drained six treys and scored 22, while Darius Washington hit 12 of 14 free throws to finish with 17. Dane Bradshaw -- an alum of White Station High School -- led the Vols with 21 points and 10 rebounds. (UT, of course, turned the score around -- and then some -- on December 6th.)
Omaha 7, Memphis 6 (April 16) -- On a gorgeous Easter Sunday at AutoZone Park, the biggest highlight for one family took place an hour before the first pitch. Among the three Redbirds signing autographs in the plaza as the crowd filed in was Alan Benes. Once one of the top pitching prospects in baseball (he won 13 games as a rookie with St. Louis in 1996), Benes suffered a major shoulder injury and has hopped between Triple-A and the big leagues for nearly a decade now. My three-year-old daughter, Elena, approached Benes for what would be the first autograph of her life. A big deal by the usual standards. But get this. On September 6, 2002, Alan Benes pitched for the Chicago Cubs against his brother, Andy, and the St. Louis Cardinals. The only time in their careers that the Benes boys opposed one another in a major league stadium (the Cards won, 11-2). Earlier that very day, Elena Louise Murtaugh was born. Perfect Easter story, no?
Memphis 2, Albuquerque 0 (June 22) -- Tough-Luck Tankersley . . . now there's a baseball name for you. No one suffered the Redbirds' poor run production in 2006 like pitcher Dennis Tankersley. But on this night, his lineup did him right. In seven innings against the Isotopes -- with old Memphis friends, Scott Seabol and Mark Little -- Tankersley gave up only three hits and struck out nine. Making the atmosphere in the AutoZone Park press box positively electric was the telecast from Chicago of a one-hitter thrown against the White Sox by the Cardinals' Anthony Reyes. Reyes had been promoted from Memphis that very day, relief for a pitching staff that had given up 33 runs in two days to the world champions. Alas, the lone hit was a Jim Thome home run; Cards lost, 1-0.
Memphis 3, Southern Miss 0 (October 22) -- This is the second straight year a Tiger volleyball game has made this list, and there will be more to come. This is a sport made for television, just missing the big-buck sponsors to get it on your screen. And Memphis had quite a team in 2006. Senior libero (defensive specialist) Christen Clayton dug countless balls mere inches from the hardwood at the Elma Roane Fieldhouse. Junior outside hitter Ashley Liford would leap skyward with visions of Rodney Carney in her head, then slam the ball downward at a mere Golden Eagle defender across the net. My family of four enjoyed this matinee for all of seven dollars. And in a refreshing twist on modern spectator sports, the entire team gathered courtside after the game to sign autographs. That, you see, is how you make future volleyball stars.