(I worked as a Sports Editor from late 2004 until the summer of 2006. This is one of the many columns I was able to save that were originally published in The Sun-Times of Heber Springs, Arkansas.)
Have you ever been forced to sit in a room with a person you barely knew who wouldn’t shut up about something you could care less about? Like if you hit your favorite restaurant with your wife and her friend from work just happens to be there with her husband, and you’re forced to wolf down your chicken parmesan while listening to him drone on about office politics at the Waffle House?
I imagine reading this column is sometimes like that. (Before I go any further, I must state for the record that all of my wife’s friends and their husbands are all wonderful human beings whom I would never lie to about being so sick I can’t watch the fireworks.)
Because I incessantly have to bring up everything Memphis, I probably alienate more readers than I endear. I realize that we’re almost 150 miles from that magical place, but it only feels like a couple of hours.
Besides, Heber was named after a Memphian, so it’s only right that I keep reminding people that I’m from there too. And there are a lot of transplanted Tiger fans here, so hopefully a few of them can feel my pain.
Or the joy it is right now to be rooting for the Blue and Gray. Even though they didn’t get invited to that other tournament – which, by the way, is crazy with great games and “upsets” this year – Memphis is playing their best basketball of the year.
I had the pleasure of going to the Tigers’ second round NIT game Saturday against Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech finished tied for fourth in the ACC, boasted the ACC Coach of the Year in Seth Greenberg, and had beaten the likes of Georgia Tech, North Carolina, and the mighty Duke Blue Devils.
I was pumped not only for post-season Tiger hoops, but also for a chance to see the FedEx Forum for the first time. Let me just say it was on par with the first time I saw the Death Star blow up.
Where the Pyramid was cramped and made you feel like you were going to fall headfirst down it’s never-ending flight of stairs, the Forum felt like walking into the most comfortable living room you’ve ever hung out in.
Everything is bigger and better in the Grizzlies new digs that they let the Tigers play in, including the player introductions. There was a huge jumbotron with four sides that played a video of the Memphis players looking mean and dunking while Marilyn Manson’s ‘Personal Jesus’ played over the loudspeakers.
I don’t particularly care for Marilyn Manson, but after the P.A. finished calling the Tiger starters, I was so geeked I was in my Anfernee Hardaway throwback uniform trying to set a screen.
No. Not really. I’m just kidding.
But any adrenaline that was rushing to my head was quickly killed by the delay in waiting for the TV timeout to be over, which was filled with yet another rendition of Survivor’s ‘Eye of the Tiger’.
The game finally got going, and I quickly realized that watching the Jumbotron was like watching from home, due to an instant replay of anything remotely cool or uncool that happened.
I noticed during timeouts that Memphians have now been infected with what I ingeniously call “Jumbotron-it is”. It’s a sickness that causes fanatical parents to stop feeding a hungry toddler and puppet the terrified child into waving to its own howling, sobbing, distorted image on a 45-foot screen.
It had been so long since I had been to a Tiger game, I forgot about the love fest that occurs between the crowd when the team is cruising. It’s like a collective; when you’re in it, you don’t ever recall thinking about when to clap or stand up or chant defense, it just happens.
Everyone is in agreement, and strangers smile and high-five each other in enjoyment. If I could bottle the good energy from a game like that, I could solve all the world’s peace problems – and become a very, very rich man.
There were about 15 Hokie fans in attendance, and they cheered loud and proud until the Tigers started running away with the game. Memphis won easily and is one game away from making the poor man’s Final Four.
(And it just occurred to me that two of my teams have given Virginia Tech a loss in the post-season. First Auburn in the Sugar Bowl, now Memphis in the NIT. My message to the Hokie fans is a simple one: Don’t hate me because I root for winners. There are plenty of other reasons.)
Maybe they will win the championship and I can write a big, long think piece on how the NIT champ should play the NCAA champ. It would make a better read than the all-out attack I’m plotting on Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa and the idiots that cast Jessica Alba as the Invisible Girl.
Whatever the case, you won’t have to sit through too many more Tiger basketball columns in the near future. I’m sure that will be a relief…until I bombard you with honorific tales about how the Grizzlies are the new Boston Celtics.