The once-hyped 2002 University of Memphis football Tigers are in real danger of being publicly declawed, having just lost to a University of Alabama-Birmingham Blazers team regarded as a soft spot on the Tigers' schedule -- and next Tuesday night, they face what might otherwise have been regarded as a serendipity: a nationally televised encounter here with the University of Louisville Cardinals.
All the Cardinals did last week was defeat the powerhouse Florida State Seminoles on national television. Our best hope now is that Conference-USA rival Louisville is sated by its victory and won't have much appetite left for Tiger meat. But can they possibly let us down, with the nation's eyes fully riveted on them in a Tuesday-night game, with no other football games on-air to compete for attention? Again, we can only hope -- as well as summon up what remains of our belief in the Tigers' giant-killing potential. After all, then-Coach Rip Scherer's team took us all the way up the euphoria pole when they beat the Peyton Manning-led University of Tennessee Volunteers in 1996 -- a season otherwise distinguished by several unforeseen losses to other undistinguished teams.
It was back in 1960 (42 years ago!) that a Memphis State University football team coached by Billy "Spook" Murphy almost upset the top-ranked Ole Miss Rebels at old Crump Stadium and first lit the fires of national ambition in the ranks of the blue-clad in River City. Two generations of fans have come and gone since then and have witnessed the Sisyphean spectacle of expectation and disappointment reenacted over and over. The best that can be said is that they have nowhere to go but up. Again.
Meanwhile, though, there is guarded optimism for the prospects of the Calipari-led basketball Tigers this year. And don't forget the Griz! Memphis' fledgling NBA team put on its media day this week and made ready to begin a second campaign hereabouts that everybody assumes will lead them onward and upward. Eventually. After all, the Grizzlies still have last year's rookie sensations Gasol and Battier, a recovered Michael Dickerson, a host of promising new signees, and, above all, the oversight of NBA legend Jerry West, who now commands the destinies of the home team.
Yes, yes, we know, it's much ado about, well, games. But leaving aside the economic consequences for a city of athletic success (which, as we know, can be argued either way ad infinitum), there's something to be said for the soul-cleansing aspect of self-surrender. And that's essentially what's involved in the vicarious act of Giving It Up for a team. And so, at the risk of further disappointment, we make ready to stoke our hopes again, for the Griz and the basketball Tigers and ...
On national TV? From the Liberty Bowl? Let's give it up one more time. What have we got to lose that we haven't already lost? Go, Tigers!