Those Memphis Blues Again

By David Scott - April 09, 2008

Author's Note: I wrote this for a Boston-based website, but it has resonance beyond Beantown, I think. This will be my final post at Hang Time and I hope you've enjoyed the ride as much as I have. Hope to see you all again next basketball season, somewhere, somehow.

They have Gus's fried chicken, we have Kelly's roast beef. They've got Elvis, we've got Aerosmith. Visitors there can see where MLK was killed. Visitors here can see where JFK was born.

We love our dirty water. They have (quite literally) the Memphis blues again. They are FedEx and Sun Studio. We're Reebok and Berklee.

And on Monday night, in the blink of an eye, we became sister sports cities who will forever be linked by both a phone conversation involving Bob Kraft and an improbable two-minute comeback by a fabled franchise complete with "miracle" plays and astounding shifts of emotion.

Geoff Calkins meet Bob Ryan. Marc Iavaroni meet Doc Rivers. And John Calipari meet (once again) Bill Belichick.

The team that won the most games in a single college basketball season, the University of Memphis Tigers, suffered a crushing defeat in Monday's national title game that - in recent history anyway - can only compare to the stunning loss endured by the team that won the most games in a single NFL season, your New England Patriots.

Their mortal enemy now is a kid named Chalmers. Ours is a man named Tyree. Their almost-legend is Derrick Rose. Ours is Randy Moss. Their clock read 2:12 when it all turned bad. Ours showed 2:42 when things went south.

A national writer buddy of mine came up to me a few minutes after the (burnt) confetti had fallen to the Alamodome floor and made a bee-line for my spot in front of an emotionally overwrought trio of Calipari children and their superwsweet mom, Ellen. He wanted perspective.

"Have you ever seen a collapse like this?" he asked.

Not since February, I wanted to say.

But he was looking for a college hoops equivalent and I'm not historically based enough to offer such an example.

"The Patriots," I mumbled.

"No, in college ball," he said.

He wanted better and walked away. I wanted something too - a different ending.

It's about here where I should mention that I'm currently at work on a motivational-type book with Calipari. It's scheduled for release in September of 2009 and the deal was struck about a month ago after a lengthy proposal process and a rapid shopping from one of the industry's best literary agents. The outcome on Monday night had everything and nothing to do with the future of the project. The publisher, Simon & Schuster's Free Press, had not mandated that Calipari's Tigers win the championship for the book to be a "go." There was no Final Four-must and no posion pill to kill the deal if they were upset by a 16-seed. Our advance was never in jeopardy and I am still as excited to work on the book as I have been to do anything in my 17 year-career.

But it doesn't take a Publisher's Weekly senior editor to figure out that being able to stamp "National Champion Coach" on the jacket of a business-geared title would boost sales upon release and give the book a bit more oomph.

So there I sat on Monday night in my role as a live-blogger in the very position that sports journalists should never find themselves in: rooting for one side from courtside. Was I waving a pom-pom or clapping at the Rose blossom in the second half? Of course not - I'm not like the a-holes on press row from Kansas who were doing everything but that on both Saturday and Monday nights in support of their Jayhawks.

I kept decorum. I wrote what I saw and I posted throughout the game. I sat behind the Memphis bench, not on it.

But when the nine point lead shrunk to seven, then to four, back to five and six, down to four, then two, up to three and eventually to zero to force overtime - well, I'd be lying if I didn't say I started getting as queasy as a Calipari, who after the game used the only word appropriate to describe such sudden reversals of fortune: "I'm numb," he said more than once.

He wasn't alone.


Their NBA loyalists spill out onto Beale Street after their (ex-Boston guy and team GM) Chris Wallace's Grizzlies lose another one in the FedExForium. Our NBA followers pour onto Causeway Street following another win by Danny Ainge's Celtics at the TD Banknorth Garden.

It was a couple of Saturdays ago when Calipari mentioned, on the eve of his team's Elite Eight win against Texas that he had received a phone call from Kraft not too long after the Tigers had their perfect 200708 season ended by intrastate rival Tennessee. The two men had become casual acquaintances when Calipari was resurrecting UMass and Kraft was beginning to rebuild the Patriots.

"We talked for about 20 minutes," Calipari told an entranced gathering during his March 29 press conference. "I said, 'We were chasing that same thing.'

"He said, "You're better off. Go do it now," Calipari said. "It was interesting, though."

Not half as interesting as it became on Monday night when an all too familiar frenzied, broken play resulted in a once-in-a-lifetime athletic endeavor that sent one team's blue and red clad fans soaring and another team's logi-emblazoned denizens sulking. As was the case with the David Tyree catch, the game wasn't ended on the particular play, but for all intents and purposes, the game was over because of the specific episode. The New York Giants still had to get the ball in the endzone and the Kansas Jayhawks still had to put together a 12-5 run in overtime, but the momentum of a monumental catch and a monumental shot were enough to suck the life out of each eventual loser.

They send their tourists to get Rendezvous ribs. We shuttle ours to lap up Legal's chowder. They like fried pickles, we like fried clams. They say "y'all" and sip sweet tea. We say "pissah" and slurp Dunkies iced coffee.

There were what-ifs and mysteries in both games, too. The what-if of Derrick Rose's (correctly) adjusted 3-point bucket that only counted for two. The what-if of the Pats' last offensive series. Was Tom Brady still hurting? Was Derrick Rose still sick (and did his cramping affect his OT performance)? The Tigers' what-if of free throw shooting and the Patriots what-if of its overmanned offensive line.

In both instances a city's (most?) legendary coach found himself being second-guessed and chided the day after. Plans for books from both city's major papers were already in the works. Championship t-shirts were already nearing the sidelines. Exultant fans were making post-game plans via text message and sharing in-venue scenes.

They were both so close to near-perfection or perfect perfection. Steps from the champions' stage, moments from immortality and then it was gone. All gone.

It was all new stuff to the Memphis faithful. Their city hasn't won much of anything and the school's national champions are its dance and cheer squads (not that there's anything wrong with that). They rallied around their 2007-08 history makers like no team before. Boston had mostly been there, done that with its champions, but still, the 2007 Patriots pursuit of perfection was something that once again rallied Beantown into a frothy lather.

Now, they both share the bitter pain that so few cities' royal rooters can ever fathom. The day after Super Bowl Sunday, Pats fans by the thousands tossed and turned all night, tried to hide under their covers all morning and wondered, "Did that really happen?"

The day after Championship Monday, Tigers fans by the score did the very same things and asked the very same question, "Did that really happen?"

Maybe it is better to have been blown out, both sets of fans contemplated. But how could you ever trade the magical ride up until the nightmare ending? 'Tis better to have loved and lost and all that jazz. You start to see the bright side of things in a few days. The stories you couldn't read on Tuesday get more palatable by Friday. That crumpled Final Four t-shirt in the dirty laundry pile will be washed and worn again. It will fade, sure. But it will get its share of wear. Trust us.

The pain subsides even if the hurt never goes away.

We're here for you Memphians. Just a 508, 617 or 978 phone call away.

And Bostonians, if you see that 901 area code pop up on caller ID, it's your civic duty to answer the call.

That's your newest sister calling and she needs you.

Posted by David Scott at 01:45 PM on April 09, 2008

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