I like to contribute to Elvis Week each summer by dedicating a few of the King’s hits to local sports personalities. These are carefully considered, and dedicated with all heart, some grit, and a little grind.
To Marc Gasol, “If I Can Dream”: Sure, $110 million helps one dream a little. But Gasol — first-team All-NBA center — is not still a Memphis Grizzly if he didn’t dream big, and dream about an NBA championship parade on Beale Street. His free agency was blessedly, pleasantly brief, with not so much as a blown kiss toward another suitor. He clearly feels a commitment from owner Robert Pera, from point guard Mike Conley, and from a fan base that adores every big stride he takes at FedExForum. “Got to be birds flying higher in a sky more blue.” If Gasol can dream of a better land, well, so can errbody else.
To Jacob Wilson, “Can’t Help Falling In Love”: There have been other University of Memphis alumni to suit up for the Redbirds. Mark Little played for the 2000 Pacific Coast League champs and Scott McGregor pitched at AutoZone Park just last year. But this Bartlett native has made a quick impact on the St. Louis Cardinal system, just three years after being named Conference USA’s Player of the Year. He took over third base for Memphis in May and is fourth on the team in homers (10) and RBIs (41). Wilson also leads the club in promotional jersey giveaways. He’s as Memphis as Graceland and will be ours until the Cardinals call him north.
To Justin Fuente, “Tiger Man”: This song can be nonsensical. Something about getting up on a mountain and calling a black cat. “I am the king of the jungle / They call me Tiger Man.” Whatever its actual message, let it be said there is one king of the Tiger kingdom these days, and it’s fourth-year football coach Justin Fuente. As recently as 2011, Memphis led conversations about the worst college program in the country. Since the Tigers’ win in the Miami Beach Bowl last December, they’ve been a Top-25 team. That’s the stuff of fiction. “If you cross my path / You take your own life in your hands.” Sing it, Coach.
To Josh Pastner, “Are You Lonesome Tonight?”: So long Pookie Powell. All the best, Nick King. Austin Nichols ... you leaving, too? The Memphis Tiger basketball program — meaning, really, its head coach — has endured a mass exodus of players expected to carry a team back to the NCAA tournament after a winter of discontent (18-14). The offseason has been less about who’s arriving (say, McDonald’s All-American Dedric Lawson) than about the kind of friction that leads to a pair of native Memphians (King and Nichols) deciding the U of M is not for them. Fame can be a lonely place. So can the head coach’s seat in the Tiger basketball offices.
To the 2014 Memphis Tiger football team, “Promised Land”: In 2011 (Larry Porter’s last season as head coach), the Tigers won two of 12 games and were outscored by an average of 35-16. Last fall (Justin Fuente’s third season as head coach), the Tigers went 10-3 and outscored their opponents by an average of 36-16. That, friends, is a turn-around . . . and a Top-25 finish is one way of defining “the promised land” for a long-suffering program. This tune was written by Chuck Berry, then given new life by Elvis on an album released in 1975. Which means the Tigers had more wins last season than in any since the King himself belted out this tune.
Happy Elvis Week everybody.