My annual column of gratitude for the little extras — in the world of sports — that enrich my life.
• I’m grateful for eight years with Zach Randolph and seven years with Tony Allen . . . and these two personalities sharing a locker room at FedExForum for a seven-year playoff run. Winning may be everything, but doing so with character, exuberance, zaniness, and style is the stuff of Hollywood. No movie will ever be made about the Memphis Grizzlies’ “Grindfather” years. But we don’t need one, do we? We lived it.
• I’m grateful for Tony Pollard returning kickoffs.
• I’m grateful for a top-20 football program at the University of Memphis. And the chance to see the Tigers play for the American Athletic Conference championship (December 2nd).
• I’m grateful for Anthony Miller on a post pattern. And at the sideline. And in the corner of the end zone. And on a slant.
• I’m grateful Tennessee didn’t see Riley Ferguson the way Memphis did.
• I’m grateful for a college football world that considers the Memphis coach a hot commodity.
• I’m grateful for Stubby Clapp and a championship season for the Memphis Redbirds that was worthy of a backflip. The most wins (91) for a Memphis team in 69 years and a 13-0 record in extra innings. Remarkable baseball team.
• I’m grateful for Phil Mickelson on the weekend at Southwind.
• I’m grateful for Tyreke Evans off the bench.
• I’m grateful for the Mid-South Coliseum, while it’s still standing.
• I’m grateful for the lack of Lawson family drama in the U of M basketball program.
• I’m grateful for the vivid appreciation of past Tiger basketball greats at the palatial new practice facility, particularly salutes to Larry Finch, Keith Lee, Elliot Perry, and Penny Hardaway. Now, for that Finch statue . . .
• I’m grateful for a banner at the Liberty Bowl honoring the six Tigers to have their jerseys retired. It was a long time coming.
• I’m grateful to live in a world where the Kansas City Royals, Chicago Cubs, and Houston Astros can win the World Series.
• I’m grateful for 94 years (so far) of Red Schoendienst.
• I’m grateful for Wilfredo Tovar and Breyvic Valera. If you know who they are, you love them as much as I do.
• I’m grateful for the sports journalists who have helped spread the word about my novel, Trey’s Company: Greg Gaston, Eli Savoie, Don Wade, and Dave Woloshin. It’s almost as hard to sell a book as it is to write one.
• I’m grateful for this region’s 5K scene. Every weekend you’ll find a race in one pocket of the community or another, each raising money for a worthy cause. These have given me a chance to get a bit healthier while watching my wife kick ass and take names (well beyond her age group).
• I’m grateful that NFL stars aren’t immune to punishment for domestic abuse.
• I’m grateful for the NBA returning the Grizzlies’ MLK Day game to, you know, MLK Day. The 2018 event should be especially memorable as the city salutes Dr. King across a half-century.
• I’m grateful for four decades of professional tennis at The Racquet Club of Memphis. Connors, McEnroe, Borg, Sampras, Agassi, Lendl, Roddick. The sport of tennis has changed, more international than any this side of soccer. But it grew through a little club on Sanderlin in Memphis, Tennessee.
• I’m grateful for the 2017 White Station High School softball team, the first in Spartan history to advance to the state sectionals (“Sweet 16”). For one magical spring a senior Murtaugh (centerfielder Sofia) and freshman Murtaugh (pitcher Elena) shared a dugout, along with the ups and downs — there were more ups — of a group cause. The older I get, the more seasons will fade in my memory. But I’ll never forget this one.