Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Raving for Dontari Poe

Posted By on Tue, Apr 24, 2012 at 12:32 PM

Back from a brief trip to New England, my head a bit dizzy with a number of sports developments. Here are a few thoughts on three that matter:

• Memphis Tiger football fans will have the rare chance to pump a fist Thursday night, when Dontari Poe should be taken in the first round of the NFL draft. Isn’t it remarkable that the dreadful team around him could hide such a talent? (Consider a first-round pick in the NBA draft. No matter how poorly his team might play, there’s no way fans wouldn’t see the shine on his star.) I assure you, casual fans at the Liberty Bowl last fall — those loyal enough to attend — didn’t have their binoculars locked on the home team’s big defensive tackle, number 74. And honestly, you couldn’t blame them. In three seasons as a Tiger, Poe managed five sacks. His defense last season gave up an average of 192 rushing yards and 299 passing yards, neither the kind of figure you expect if a future NFL star is dominating the line of scrimmage.

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But now Poe stands to gain a seven-figure contract when he’s picked anywhere from 12th to 20th (based on the mock drafts I’ve seen). Here’s hoping Poe finds a good fit and begins a lengthy pro career Thursday night. An historical note: Memphis has only produced five first-round picks, and only two of them were taken earlier than 20th (Keith Simpson was the ninth pick in 1978 and Derrick Burroughs was the 14th in 1985).

• I watched the end of the Red Sox-Yankees game on Fenway Park’s centennial last Friday from a tiny pub in my hometown of Northfield, Vermont. The old yard was treated right, though the price I paid for bleacher tickets in the late Eighties would likely get you a bag of (unsalted) peanuts today. The retro, numberless uniforms were cool. And the appearance of Red Sox heroes, from Yaz to Pedro, was nice to see.

But here’s a fundamental difference between the romanticized “Red Sox Nation” and the following enjoyed by this region’s favorite franchise, the St. Louis Cardinals. On every occasion the Cardinals have to celebrate — including Opening Day earlier this month — the greatest living collection of Hall of Famers appears at Busch Stadium in their bright-red sport jackets: Whitey Herzog, Bruce Sutter, Ozzie Smith, Red Schoendienst, Lou Brock, Bob Gibson, and the greatest Cardinal of them all, Stan Musial. If one of these legends has missed an Opening Day, All-Star Game, or World Series at Busch, I’m unaware.

Yet for Fenway Park’s centennial, Wade Boggs wasn’t among the guests. (He was hosting a charity golf tournament in Florida.) A first-ballot Hall of Famer who won five batting titles for Boston, Boggs had better things to do on a day Tim Wakefield made sure he was on hand for the pregame ceremony. And this points out the magic of Cardinal Nation: You get the sense the players — past and present — love the fans as much as the fans love them. The biggest moments aren’t to be missed.

• My trips to New England always boost my love of hockey, and this year’s Stanley Cup playoffs will see a pair of not-far-from-Memphis teams battling among the Western Conference semifinalists. The Nashville Predators are back in the second round after falling to Vancouver in the same round a year ago. And the St. Louis Blues won their first series in 10 years to advance to a second-round battle with the L.A. Kings. Take my word for it: no sport gains more when seen live (in the arena) than hockey. Should you have the chance and the means to head east (or north) for a Stanley Cup playoff game, do it.

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