Picking up where we left off last week, my favorite sporting events of 2005:
5) Louisville 75, Memphis 74 (C-USA basketball championship, March 12) -- Tiger senior Duane Erwin was kneeling, certainly praying, merely five feet from me, at the opposite end of the FedExForum court from where Darius Washington toed the free-throw line -- with time expired -- for three shots to win the Conference USA tournament and send Memphis to an entirely unexpected (undeserved?) trip to the NCAA tournament. The entire nation cringed in empathy when the freshman point guard missed the last two attempts, collapsing alone in that key before the CBS cameras. Sometimes sports must be appreciated, not so much for the big picture of championships and playoff races, but simply for the moment. And its when a game makes you feel most human -- whether it be elation or heartache -- that youre reminded why you watch in the first place.
4) UCF 3, Memphis 2 (womens volleyball, October 30) -- For the life of me, I dont understand how television hasnt found college volleyball. Forget the beach and bikini variety. Six-on-six, indoors, this brand of everyones favorite backyard party game is a frenetic two-hour whirlwind of action. And the cohesion between teammates blows away anything you see on a basketball court. Defensive players save balls slammed at them merely inches from the floor, and manage to arm their setters with a ball to place -- right there! -- for a hitter to slam back over the net. Its like going to a basketball game and seeing 50 alley-oops, some of them blocked right back in the dunkers face. Next fall, take the time to go see Christen Clayton, Melissa Nance and company do their thing at the Elma Roane Fieldhouse. Your neck will be sore from swiveling.
3) St. Louis 8, Pittsburgh 0 (Busch Stadium, June 25) -- The National Leagues preeminent pitcher in 2005 -- the Cardinals Chris Carpenter -- struck out 11 Pirates on his way to a four-hit shutout, one of four he would throw for the season. The National Leagues preeminent hitter in 2005 -- the Cardinals Albert Pujols -- drilled his 20th home run of the season (on his way to 41). For only the second time in its 40-year life, Busch Stadium was home to both a Cy Young winner and MVP. (Hall of Famer Bob Gibson won both in 1968.)
2) Memphis 27, UTEP 20 (October 1) -- Ive witnessed two Memphis sports moments that Im convinced Ill be telling my grandchildren about long after everyone else has stopped listening. The first was Albert Pujols hitting a home run to win a championship for the local Triple-A outfit (September 15, 2000). The second was the 74-yard touchdown jaunt DeAngelo Williams made through the UTEP defense on a night when the national-TV cameras were dark in Memphis. Late in the third quarter, with the Tigers leading the undefeated Miners, 10-6, Williams took a shotgun snap from center and plowed through the left side of the line for what appeared to be a workmanlike five-yard gain. Then the fun started. Williams cut right and, quite literally, ran by a half-dozen would-be tacklers on his way to the opposite sideline. Once at the sideline, Williams was kept in bounds by a block -- 40 yards downfield, mind you -- by freshman quarterback Billy Barefield (who had lined up split to the right). If you werent in the stadium that night, dont tell me you saw this run. Itll be featured in Chapter One of The Legend of DeAngelo.
1) Northfield High School 7, Oxbow High 0 (May 28, Northfield, Vermont). It had been 15 years since I saw my alma mater take the diamond at Memorial Park, so seeing the Marauders put a whipping on the Olympians was pleasing, particularly for the opportunity it provided for me to catch up with an old teammate (who also finds himself a journalist today, poor sap). Northfield went on to reach the state finals, losing the championship contest for the first time since 1987 when they had a Murtaugh in leftfield (theyve won eight titles since I graduated). This turned out to be the last baseball game I got to see with my dad. It was hot, even in Vermont, as Memorial Day approached, so Dad didnt stay the full seven innings. But he was there for a stretch, with me. And I love him for that.