Little Boys Lost ... Again 

Is there any curse quite like the Tiger football curse? See last Saturday.

I must admit: I was sorely tempted not to write anything at all about Saturday's debacle at the Liberty Bowl, where the U of M Tigers ruined a beautiful early fall afternoon with an inept performance that left most attendees both speechless and borderline nauseous. But my editor insists: I have to say something about last Saturday's stinker.

Okay, boss, here goes: Proving that they learned nothing from opening with a singularly miserable first half against Arkansas State -- a weakling against whom such a misstep could be overcome -- the Tigers came out against UAB Saturday even more discombobulated, digging themselves into a steep 17-0 hole by half-time.And while the second half showed clearly why ours is the better team on paper, that hole proved way too deep to crawl out of, given that we were up against a well-coached and well-disciplined opponent -- as Watson Brown's Blazers invariably are.

So U of M fans are now facing a blue and gray autumn. What else is new? After raising our hopes with that impressive victory over Ole Miss, the Tigers have now stumbled back into their usual rut, on course for yet another losing season, unless Tommy West can pull a rabbit or two out of his hat on this upcoming three-game road trip against Mississippi State, Houston, and Tulane.

With this cursed team, you must admit, just about anything -- bad -- seems possible.Last year, remember, our fatal flaw was punting. We had to resort to Danny Wimprine kicking on the run. This year we can kick, we've got a 100-yard-per-game running back (DeAngelo Williams), and a veteran quarterback (Wimprine) who, in his junior year, has already broken nearly every school record for passing. So how can this team put up a goose-egg in the first half? What gives here?

How inured are Tiger fans to these kinds of frustrating defeats? Well, consider this: I'm gonna cheat and go home by simply finishing this column by plagiarizing myself, citing certain post-game comments I made in this paper after last September's UAB debacle down in Birmingham.Hey, they still seem appropriate. And what can the editor do? Fire me? I wish.

Last year, like this one, remember, the UAB game was crucial. The Tigers went in cocky as all get-out, having smashed Tulane the week before and knowing that a win in Birmingham would put us on course for a winning season. You know what happened next, of course: We got our clock cleaned, 31-17, before what was virtually a home crowd in near-empty Legion Field.And now that I reread that column from last October, I can see that this year's clock-cleaning was clearly, as Yogi Berra likes to say, "deja vu all over again."

Here's just a sample from last year's report: "Bad bounces notwithstanding: I have watched Tiger football for over two decades and never, ever, seen a more dispirited effort or, for the fans, a more disheartening performance."(Gee, how much longer can I keep using that line?)This year, like last, Watson Brown and his staff clearly out-thought and out-maneuvered their Tiger counterparts.So how about this for a reusable concept? "What has offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner been doing to mess with these guys' heads since the Ole Miss game?"

This year, inspired perhaps by the announcement that assistant coach Pat Sullivan was seriously ill with cancer and was leaving the team, the entire UAB squad seemed to be moving as one, with and without the ball.The Tigers seemed confused and disoriented, especially in the first half. There seems to be no point, therefore, in changing last year's column headline: "Little Boys Lost."

Coach West and his staff have a mountain of work ahead of them. More than anything, they have to rejuvenate a talented squad's confidence before this season slides down the same slippery slope into despair that so many have in the past. We can only hope these Tigers can learn from their mistakes.

We all make 'em, though, and I'm trying to learn from mine. Last year, for example, I expressed dismay about our "losing to a bunch of pissants from Birmingham." The next week, a not-so-pleased UAB fan correctly pointed out that pissants don't beat you three times in a row. Not to mention four.

Me, I only wish they could make humble pie a little bit more tasty.


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