Yesterday was my finest moment in more than 30 years of following Memphis sports. The University of Memphis has traditionally been a basketball school, so it’s rather ironic that this moment of triumph came at a football game. Yesterday, the Memphis Tigers defeated the thirteenth-ranked Ole Miss Rebels 37-24. It was our first win over a ranked team in 19 years. It might be the greatest win in the history of the program, or at least in the top five. It was so remarkable that the fans stormed the field after the game.
Memphis does not have a strong football pedigree. In fact, we have, for the most part, fielded a losing team. What makes yesterday’s win so remarkable isn’t just the win, but the memory of where we were not long ago. You see, from 2009 through the first half of 2012, the Memphis Tigers were a cumulative 5-37. We were among the worst teams in Division I, and at times were considered the worst. I could write reams about what our coach Justin Fuente has done for the program, for the players, for the fans, the school, and the city, but you sort of get the idea by now. The Tigers are currently 6-0 and are riding a program-record 13-game winning streak. When the polls come out today, we will be ranked in both of them (which can be just as much a curse as a blessing).
Even though the basketball program has given us many more highs than football, and as good as we have been over the years on the court, basketball has never made me feel the way the football team did yesterday. My son and I and the rest of the Tiger faithful have sat through some bad football over the years to get to yesterday’s triumph. Granted, we didn’t win the national championship. But we did experience a rare moment of glory that only comes along maybe once in a generation. And we were there sitting in the third row watching it unfold, yelling, screaming, sometimes lightheaded, often scared that the moment might slip away in defeat. Except that it didn’t. It ended the way everyone dreamed it might. It really happened.