In the spirit of Turkey Day, there are a few tasty morsels from the world of sports (near and far) for which Im eternally thankful.
Im thankful for the college football overtime format. I was a naysayer when this system was adopted a few short years ago, but wow, is there a more exciting slice of action in all of sport?! Tennessees nail-biters against South Carolina and Alabama will be remembered almost as long as the Vols two trips to Florida this fall. And when Arkansas and Kentucky put up more points on the gridiron than their basketball brethren . . . weve got entertainment. Heres hoping the Sugar Bowl (this years national championship game) hits six or seven OTs.
Im thankful Oklahoma wasnt on the U of M schedule. Did I see that right? The Sooners scored 77 points (in three quarters!) against Texas A&M?
Im thankful for Josh Beckett. That Game 6 performance in Yankee Stadium to win the World Series was the kind of drama wed expect from Seaver, Carlton, Gibson, maybe Clemens. But a 23-year-old Florida Marlin? How about a new nickname for this rising star: Ghostbuster.
Im thankful for diplomas. A colleague recently shared a report on college football graduation rates as they pertain to the recent shakeup involving Conference USA. Theres been a lot of local griping -- some by yours truly -- about the raw deal the University of Memphis will get in losing the likes of Louisville and Cincinnati to the Big East. But try this factoid on for size: C-USAs football graduation rate will improve from 42 percent to 57 percent once the Cardinals, Bearcats, and South Florida are replaced by Rice, Tulsa, and SMU. This ties C-USA with the Pac-10 for second nationally, behind only the ACC (59 percent). Theyre STUDENT-athletes, folks. Worthy of a cheer.
Im thankful for Shane Battier. Hes not playing quite as many minutes, and seems to be filling a role for the Grizzlies, as opposed to leading the action on court. But doggone it, this guy is special. Role players in the modern NBA are easy to move, one club to another. Standards, however, are very difficult to establish. The Grizzlies have a walking, talking, defense-first model in Mr. Battier.
Im thankful thankful for DW DW. Danny Wimprine and DeAngelo Williams. Talk about catching lightning in a bottle. What are the odds of these two landing in the Liberty Bowl for the same magical season (or three)? Can you imagine the challenges Williams would have faced behind, say, Bernard Oden? Or what about Wimprine looking downfield, knowing his best running option was . . . Sugar Sanders? Butch and Sundance are Memphis Tigers, and have their posse aimed straight for postseason play.
Im thankful for Bill Parcells. How nice to see an overpaid, ego-heavy coach sweep into town and actually make a difference. Parcells is living proof that a football coach has an incrementally larger impact on his team than do his counterparts in baseball and basketball. Quincy Carter better have something nice under the tree for the Tuna.
Im thankful for humility, a dose of which the 1972 Miami Dolphins could use. Every fall, Nick Buoniconti and friends gather in south Florida to toast the last NFL team to lose a game (this season it was Kansas City on November 16th). This prolongs the Ô72 Dolphins legacy as the only undefeated team in NFL history. Swallow this with your champagne, Nick: not since BYU won the 1984 NCAA championship has a title of any value been won on a softer schedule. Those Dolphins played exactly two teams that would finish 1972 with winning records (the Chiefs and Giants went 8-6). Any number of teams over the last 31 years -- the 75 Steelers, the Ô85 Bears, the Ô89 49ers, the Ô92 Cowboys -- would clean up a gridiron with those undefeated Dolphins.
Im thankful for Albert Pujols. If you have the slightest regard for the game of baseball and you live in Memphis, you have no excuse not to make the four-hour drive to St. Louis once a summer to see this man play. Barring a tragedy (or George Steinbrenner getting his phone number . . . I guess one and the same), Pujols will someday have a statue ALMOST as big as Stan the Mans.
Im thankful for AutoZone Park. Are you kidding? Think I could get to the bottom of this list without including my home away from home? (Oh, April 2nd. How I long . . . . )
Im thankful for the three loyal fans who cheer next to me night and day, and who find a way to see through the frivolity of sport and recognize how important it can be to some. Funny how you can spend your life looking for the best team, when all the while youve got a band of champions right there in the living room.