Every year, when it's time for our Memphis Tiger football cover story, I jokingly threaten to make the cover an image of Lucy from "Peanuts" pulling the football out from under Charlie Brown, as the poor fellow yells, "Arrghhh!" But that would be wrong.
The Flyer has a history with Tiger football that dates back to the early 1990s, when then-editor, Dennis Freeland, began covering the games in a weekly column and writing preseason cover stories about the team. Freeland truly cared about the program and wrote about it with dedication and tempered affection.
Just prior to Freeland's sad passing in 2002, publisher Kenneth Neill, a longtime Tiger football fan, took on the job of covering the team's games for a year. Perhaps his most memorable moment came in a column after a Tiger loss to lowly University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB), in which he bemoaned "losing to a bunch of pissants." Needless to say, UAB Pissant fans were not amused, though it's certainly a better team name than Blazers.
Since then, Frank Murtaugh has covered Tiger football and basketball for the Flyer. This week's issue is his 11th preseason football cover story. He covered the Coach Tommy West "glory years," when the team went to five bowls in the mid-2000s; he covered Coach Larry Porter's sad-trombone "revolution," when the team won three games in two years. (In one of his more foolish moves, Porter famously built a wall around the program's practices and kept the media at arm's length.) Foot, meet bullet.
When current coach, Justin Fuente, was hired three years ago, the hope was that the team would soon turn things around. Fuente has gone 7-17 in his first two years, in the process losing to such traditional powers as Middle Tennessee, Tennessee-Martin, and Temple. Attendance is lagging, cynicism about the program abounds. But hope springs eternal: The university's slogan for the 2014 season is "Wait 'Til This Year!"
That audacious slogan aside, it's a football program that direly needs wins — and fans. So when the Flyer, which has covered the program for 20 years, asks for a few minutes with the coach or a couple of players for a cover photo for a story coming out the week of the team's home opener, you'd think that program would be falling all over itself to cooperate.
But no. No posed photos allowed, says the university. Seriously? With 200,000-plus weekly readers, the Flyer is the second-largest print medium in Memphis. Wouldn't a snazzy, clever Tiger football cover in hundreds of Flyer racks and boxes all over town help get people excited about the season? Might it not even put a few more butts in seats in the cavernous Liberty Bowl on Saturday? Come on, son, think. The Crimson Tide, you're not.
I swear, if the team doesn't win and/or lighten up on its photo policy, next August, I'll be the one saying "Wait 'til this year, Charlie Brown." And they'll be the ones saying, "Arrghhh!"