"DANNY'S OUR GUY!"
It was late summer, 2000, when I wandered into my colleague Dennis Freelands office to talk a little sports. The Redbirds and Cardinals were both headed for the postseason and I was interested in Dennis viewpoint on their respective chances. His mind was elsewhere, though.
What, Dennis wondered, is Rip Scherer thinking, Frank? Hes got this quarterback who just might save his job, but instead, hes saving him for his replacement! Be it baseball season or the holiday season, Dennis thoughts never strayed far from University of Memphis football. He was the most passionate authority on Tiger football these parts have seen in some time, and on this afternoon more than three years ago, he had a bone to pick.
Memphis finally lands a blue-chip quarterback, he continued, and our coach is so timid with him that hes gonna redshirt the guy. This kid is a winner, won every game he played in high school. What is Scherer waiting for? Actually, Dennis, Danny Wimprine was only 53-2 at J.T. Curtis High School in New Orleans. But those two blemishes aside, you were (as usual) right on the mark.
Those 2000 Tigers were coming off a 5-6 season (Scherers fifth straight losing campaign), one in which they averaged all of 158 yards passing per game. The quarterback position was turning into a battle between a talented but raw athlete (Travis Anglin) and a big, strong, but equally raw pocket passer (Neil Suber). As the fates would have it, injuries to the two primary candidates left the job in the undersized hands of the coachs son, Scott Scherer. Scott had the heart of a lion . . . but nowhere near the physical standards for a Division I-A college quarterback. My friend Dennis wanted Wimprine behind center, and now!
Dennis was diagnosed with brain cancer during the summer of 2001. He fought and fought his deadly invader through the 2001 football season, doing all he could to stay in tune with developments in Tiger Nation. Sure enough, Coach Scherer had lost his job (Memphis having gone 4-7 as Wimprine redshirted). Tommy West took over the program and had no problem handing the Tiger offense to his Louisiana stud. The Tigers averaged 190 yards passing that year -- a 40-yard improvement on 2000 -- and only a heart-breaking loss to Cincinnati in the season finale kept Memphis from a bowl berth. Less than two months after seasons end, Dennis lost his battle.
Cutting to the present, my old friends impatience for Danny Wimprine seems all the more poignant. The 22-year-old junior has just about demolished every passing record in the Tiger book. In terms of yardage, Wimprine has exceeded the number-two passer in Memphis history (Danny Sparkman) by more than 2,000 yards. His 56 touchdown passes are almost double the number of his closest follower (Steve Matthews with 31). All he did Saturday in the biggest Tiger football win over Louisville -- ever -- was rush for a touchdown, throw a touchdown pass, and catch a pass for a two-point conversion. Think we should keep him?
A telling moment in the growing Wimprine legend came after the Tigers 38-16 win over Arkansas State September 27th. West was asked if he considered removing Wimprine after the quarterback threw an interception deep in ASU territory, the Tigers trailing by 10 points at the time. Thats the worst time in the world to go to the other guy, proclaimed West. If we were battling for whos gonna be our quarterback, then yeah, thats the time. But Dannys our guy and thats the time you gotta give him the chance to go back in and correct it. And he did go in and move our team.
The irony of all this is that, were Dennis here today, hed be applauding that redshirt year Scherer imposed on Wimprine in 2000. I can hear his thoughts loud and clear: As great as Danny is now, well have him as a 23-year-old senior in 2004, a luxury this program has never enjoyed. Skys the limit!