A Long, Hot Afternoon

Memphis gives it the old college try on and off the field.



College football doesn't need more hurry-up offense. It needs more hurry-up games.

Sunday's nationally televised game between the University of Memphis and Ole Miss started at 2:30 p.m. and ended shortly before 6 p.m. If you parked, walked, arrived on time, stayed for the final ticks of the clock, and battled the traffic jams — admittedly a welcome problem to have at a football game — you put in a five-hour afternoon, six if you tailgated.

The French eat lunch, go home, make love, and smoke a cigarette in less time than that, and there's more action.

The busiest guy on the field was the one in the red shirt charged with halting and starting the game around the commercials. Nothing like 22 finely tuned athletes and a team of officials standing idly at the line of scrimmage for two minutes several times a quarter to shift the crowd's attention to their cell phones. Blessedly, neither team used all of its timeouts in the first half or the game might have ended in darkness.

Hockey and soccer, two sports that get their share of criticism for being un-American and low-scoring, at least keep the puck or ball moving for several minutes at a time. Soccer is basically two 45-minute halves with a 10-minute halftime. Hockey has three 20-minute periods of up-and-down action and two Zamboni breaks.

Televised college and pro football has become the glacier of spectator sports. Nobody watches just one game on television, of course. They switch back and forth between kitchen and television(s), watching two or three or four different games, while keeping an eye on the scroll at the bottom of the flat screen to see who's doing what to whom somewhere else.

The University of Memphis is in a tough spot. There are no more nationally ranked or Southeastern Conference teams on the home schedule this year. Ole Miss fans in red clustered in the north end zone appeared to be outnumbered at least three to one by U of M fans in blue, but 10,000 or so visitors is still a nice bump in a stadium that seats 60,000 and change.

Super-fan Harold Byrd and the Bank of Bartlett hosted 3,000 people for blues and barbecue at a pre-game party at the old cattle barn. "On a Sunday when it was hot as the devil and the game was televised, I was proud of that," Byrd said.

The stadium staff did a good job of getting people in and out. We were out of range of the scalpers and outside the crowded Gate 1 off of Hollywood by 2:15 p.m, through the turnstile at 2:20 p.m., and sweating profusely in our sunny-side seats by 2:25 p.m. (and moved to the abundant empty seats on the shady upper west side by the middle of the first quarter). The concourse was clear, the rest-rooms reasonably clean, and there were plenty of concessions if you didn't want Hawaiian shaved ice. Beer was on sale for the first time at $7 a can, which tends to tamp down on overindulgence. The marching bands did the first of what will surely be 1,000 tributes to the music of Michael Jackson, and the U of M golden girl was the best of the baton twirlers.

The "jumbotron" screen at the south end zone, however, is as outdated as a 24-inch television set. Most of the skyboxes on the east side had tenants, but they're a long way from the field. My colleague Greg Akers, who covered the game, said the press box did not have wireless, and the revamped media room looks like it used to be a visitor's locker room with old wood cubbies and folding chairs. The Americans With Disabilities Act-mandated handicapped seating, the focus of much attention and expense, was at most one-third full. The stadium surroundings leave much to be desired. There are still remnants of the fairgrounds and not much green until you get over to East Parkway. A walk through the Grove (or the very attractive U of M campus) this was not.

Memphis, even if it can't execute a quarterback sneak, has some good players like running back Curtis Steele and defender Deante' Lamar and a decent team. But decent won't be good enough to draw anything close to 45,000 with Tennessee-Martin, Marshall, and UTEP next up on the home schedule. The scalpers' profits will sink like a subprime mortgage, and we'll be bemoaning the lack of traffic jams soon enough.

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