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The Big Game

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It came and went — the hurricane that was the UT vs. University of Memphis basketball game last Saturday night. Like the windstorms and hard rains and tornadoes that preceded it in recent years, this latest freak of Memphis history left its residue behind, but, unlike those other prodigious occurrences, the after-effects of the Big Game were entirely positive, consisting of economic benefit, enhanced pride, and good PR. For a change, the word "Memphis," as a signifier both of the game's venue and one of its contestants, was without negative connotation. Or almost so: Regrettably, at least one national pundit reportedly waxed cynical at the expense of the spirited ballers wearing Tiger blue.

Tiger blue: There was a veritable tide of it in FedExForum Saturday night, as there has been for most of this season's Tiger games. That act speaks to the grave disappointment felt by so many when the game ended with the orange-clad Vols from Knoxville ahead by a scant four points. But the Vols had their local supporters, too — a legion of them, in fact. And why shouldn't they, given the fact of so many prominent and loyal UT alumni here? And many more, fans of the Tigers and the Volunteers, came from elsewhere in the state and beyond just to be part of the event.

It's over now, but the partisans of both teams and both universities can take pride in a game that was hotly and honestly contested and that proved to be one of the all-time sports thrillers. And who knows? With the NCAA tournament just around the corner, and with both teams destined for top seeds, maybe there'll be a rematch. Maybe one for all the marbles, in fact.

Billy "Spook" Murphy

A sad preamble to Saturday's spectacle at FedExForum was the news two days earlier of the death of former University of Memphis football coach Billy "Spook" Murphy. Murphy, who died at age 87, did as much as any other individual to launch the athletic programs of the University of Memphis toward competitiveness at the highest levels.

Murphy's near-win in 1960 over an Ole Miss football team then ranked number one in the nation was one of the two major preambles to the Tigers' on-again, off-again flirtations with excellence. (The other early peak was the second-place finish by the basketball Tigers in the 1957 NIT tourney.)

As has been documented many times, it was Spook Murphy who became something of a scourge to the mighty Southeastern Conference, turning the formerly weak-sister Tigers into a true rival to that conference's powerhouses and beating several of them over the years — including Ole Miss in years when the Rebels were still a football colossus. Considering the outcome of Saturday night's cage encounter at FedExForum, it is satisfying to remember, too, that Murphy had been present at pre-game practices and at the Liberty Bowl for the Tigers' incredible 21-17 victory over the Peyton Manning-led Volunteers in 1996.

He will be missed — and fondly remembered.

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