MOMENTS TO LAST A LIFETIME (PART TWO) We pick up where we left off last week, with the top five moments in Memphis sports history. Your favorite moment missed the cut? Send me the tale.
5) June 8, 2002 -- The Rumble on the River? This may not have been anything like Ali-Foreman (or Ali-Spinks, for that matter), but when Lennox Lewis and Mike Tyson got it on for the heavyweight championship OF THE WORLD, The Pyramid -- and Memphis -- had an unprecedented spotlight in the world of sports. Better yet, when Good (Lewis) knocked out Evil (Tyson) in a clean, eight-round bout, the Bluff City made its mark in sports history without marking the police blotter. Oh, and this was the premiere of Tysons elegant face tattoo. Again, history.
4) September 15, 2000 -- The day AutoZone Park made its premiere as downtowns newest crown jewel (April 1, 2000) was rather special. But it cant top that seasons final game. Taking a cue from the likes of Bobby Thomson, Bill Mazeroski, and Joe Carter, a relatively unknown outfielder by the name of Albert Pujols drilled a 13th-inning home run just inside the rightfield foul pole to set off delirium and win a Pacific Coast League championship for our Redbirds in only their third Memphis season. When Pujols enters the Hall of Fame in, oh, 2022, Ill be there with my ticket stub from 9/15/00.
3) November 9, 1996 -- Someday, the right local filmmaker will do this movie. The hard part will be convincing an audience it really happened. Entering the game with an 0-15 record against the mighty University of Tennessee (ranked sixth in the country at the time and led by superstar Peyton Manning), the University of Memphis ignored the odds for three hours and left the Liberty Bowl in a kind of euphoria the 31-year-old stadium had never seen before. Keyed by an acrobatic 95-yard kickoff return by Kevin Cobb -- which later earned National Play of the Year honors from ESPN -- the Tigers roared back from an early deficit and won the game, 21-17, after Chris Powers snagged a touchdown pass from Qadry Anderson. For one night, at least, Rip (Scherer) was Rocky.
2) November 1, 2001 -- The Bluff City became Big League on this night, when our Grizzlies hosted the Detroit Pistons in the first regular-season NBA game at The Pyramid. A capacity -- and quite loud -- audience of 19,405 saw the debut of Pau Gasol (he scored four points in but 17 minutes of play) after Isaac Hayes and Justin Timberlake starred in the pregame festivities. The 2001 college Player of the Year, Shane Battier, joined native son Lorenzen Wright among the Grizzlies inaugural Starting Five. The next morning, a city long devoted to basketball was able to find its name in the NBA standings. Never in the history of Memphis sports has a score (Pistons 90, Grizzlies 80) mattered less.
1) March 26, 1973 -- No, those Memphis State Tigers of Bartow, Finch, and Robinson didnt beat Goliath (read: UCLA). But mark this one down: however many championships Memphis teams are destined to win, none will be OURS like this squad. Recalls point guard Bill Laurie (now owner of the NHLs St. Louis Blues): For the city of Memphis, besides Elvis, that [game] was the largest event that had ever taken place. Larry Finch remains the preeminent star in this citys sporting galaxy and his 29 points in that losing effort three decades ago cast the Orange Mound hero in his brightest glow. A seed was planted this night for a program that has since drawn Keith Lee, Elliot Perry, Penny Hardaway, Lorenzen Wright, and John Calipari to the basketball capital of the Mid-South. The 1972-73 Tigers remain kings without a crown.