As we count down the last days of 2008, enjoy a countdown of the 10 most memorable sporting events I attended this year. (Check in next week for the top five.)
10) Memphis 9, Ohio U 4 (March 2) -- One of the sunniest and windiest days of the winter provided the setting for my first baseball game at Nat Buring Stadium. With my mom visiting from frigid Vermont, this was as close to spring training in Memphis as we could imagine. Having split the first two games of their series with the Bobcats, the Tigers matched their run total from those games in just eight innings at the plate. Sophomore Trey Wiedman (a graduate of Houston High School) homered and drove in three runs, and freshman Robby Graham (a product of Cordova High School) made a pair of diving catches in front of my family's perch beyond the leftfield wall. (There was a time when Memphis kids filled the Tiger basketball roster, but these days, if you want to cheer Memphians, go see a baseball game. No fewer than 22 players from greater Memphis were in the Tiger dugout.) My 8-year-old daughter retrieved a ball hit over the centerfield wall by a Bobcat player, and I told her she could keep it if she could get a Tiger to sign the ugly off it. Thanks to Mr. Graham, that ball now sits in her playroom.
9) Memphis 3, Omaha 1 (July 11) - A pressbox is a comfortable place to watch a sporting event. And all too taken for granted by most members of the media, be they scribes or camera-toting talking heads. But to a 9-year-old girl, a press box -- as described by dad -- is a mysterious concoction of luxury, pressure, and technology, with free popcorn. On this night, I escorted Sofia Murtaugh -- with the blessing of the Redbirds' staff -- for her first inning in a press box. Hard to say if she was impressed, or merely distracted by the gargantuan bowl of popcorn. Later in the game, she was quite impressed when DeAngelo Jimenez fouled a ball directly into the second-level suite where we enjoyed most of the game. Jimenez later delivered the go-ahead RBI, cementing himself in at least two reflections of a baseball game begun in a press box, but finished where cheering is, indeed, encouraged.
8) Alabama 29, Tennessee 9 (October 25) -- Their rivalry is among the most fierce in the country and, even with the Crimson Tide ranked second in the nation and the Vols in a two-month death spiral, you had the impression on this fourth Saturday in October that another special chapter might be written. More than 100,000 fans were there. The Pride of the Southland Marching Band never looked better. You even had a reunion on the field of the 1998 national champs: Tee Martin, Al Wilson, Peerless Price and friends. After UT failed to punch the ball in after recovering a fumbled punt in the first quarter, the outcome was never in doubt. This was Phil Fulmer's 200th game as head coach at Tennessee. He would get to coach only four more.
7) Woodland 7, Second Baptist 2 (November 8) -- The six- and seven-year-olds of Second Baptist put up the best fight of their eight-game soccer season on this crisp Saturday morning in east Memphis. Having scored but a single goal in their first seven matches, the black-and-gold-clad "bumblebees" buried two in the final half of the season against a strong Woodland team. The final tally of the season was scored by rookie forward Elena Murtaugh, her first career goal . . . and with Grandmom in the stands.
6) Louisville 35, Memphis 28 (October 10) -- If Florida and Florida State can play one another every season despite being from different conferences, why can't Memphis and Louisville? While the gridiron rivalry is merely a stepchild to the version we know and love/hate from the basketball arena, it remains one of the few tilts that creates a vibe at the Liberty Bowl when no SEC team is on the field. On a Friday night, and on national television, the Tigers scored two third-quarter touchdowns to tie the Cardinals at 28 before Louisville returned a fumble 21 yards for the game-winning score. Memphis left the field a loser despite outgaining their opponents 481 yards to 299. Remarkably 11 Tiger players caught at least one pass in the game, including the U of M's starting quarterback, Arkelon Hall.