Sports » Sports Feature

Little Boomer

Eli's coming, along with the Tigers, to Oxford next Saturday. It should be a donnybrook.



Okay, so Murray State was a Division 1-AA opponent. Okay, so the last time we witnessed a sports mismatch this bad here in Memphis was that steamy Saturday night in June when a guy named Tyson had his clock cleaned by a Jamaican Brit whose other sport was chess, not football.

As the dust settled after the U of M's 52-6 victory, it was hard to imagine that the last time the Tigers played Murray State in football, back in 1985, the two teams battled to a 10-10 tie. Then as now, in the sorry-ass Rey Dempsey era, the two schools were an NCAA division apart. But last Saturday, the two teams were worlds apart, not just divisions. The game wasn't as close as the score.

And while the 30,000 in attendance were dazzled by such unusual phenomena as a freshman tailback (DeAngelo Williams) who looked like, well, he was running on electricity and a freshman place-kicker (Stephen Gostkowski) from so far out of left field (he's attending the U of M on a baseball scholarship, fittingly enough) that his name didn't even appear in the game-day program, there was never any question who the real star of this opening-night gala was.

After two years of being the U of M's quarterback of the future, Danny Wimprine emphatically delivered the message Saturday night that the future had indeed arrived. Not that Wimprine himself ever doubted he'd get there. I remember him standing alongside Rip Scherer, clipboard in hand, for every game of his redshirt year two seasons ago and that he appeared way more into the game than most of the players actually on the field. He screamed, he shouted, he jumped and down -- the exact same qualities he brought to the starting quarterback's job when his turn finally came to run the squad mid-way through last season.

Oh, yes, and the young man can also throw the ball well enough to break every freshman U of M passing record in just seven games as a starter, with 14 TD passes last season. With five TD's last weekend, he's over one-third of the way to that total after just one game this season.

Watching Wimprine dissect the Racers last Saturday, I kept thinking he reminded me of someone, and I kept trying to remember whom. Then it hit me: Boomer Esiason, the NFL Hall-of-Famer out of Maryland who ran the Cincinnati Bengals offense during the 1980s. Sure, Boomer was a leftie, and Danny isn't, but the swagger, the strut, and, most of all, the arm that is part cannon all call to mind the phrase that always seemed to accompany Esiason's name in print during his glory years: "swashbuckling blond bomber."

Okay, so beating Murray State senseless hardly qualifies as the stuff of legend. And, so far, the only aspect of Esiason's character description that Wimprine can legitimately lay claim to is the swashbuckling part. But next Saturday's encounter down in Oxford will go a long way toward helping us see if our guy is the real deal.

Ole Miss fans have had no trouble canonizing their guy after an even more stellar freshman season than Wimprine's. After all, Eli Manning's resemblance to past and present NFL quarterback greats is based on bona fide genetics, not just demeanor on and off the field.

Still, I fancy Little Boomer's chances. For one thing, the Tiger receiver corps this year seems deeper and more talented than at any time since Isaac Bruce and company were catching Steve Matthews' bombs. For another, for perhaps the first time in living memory, the U of M looks like it has a decent passing and running game at the same time. If Dante Brown and DeAngelo Williams aren't at least as good as Louisiana-Monroe's Bryant Jacobs, who racked up 103 yards rushing in Oxford last weekend, then my view of football is severely skewed.

The big imponderable, of course, is the weather. You all know the line about how only mad dogs and Englishmen are crazy enough to go out in the midday sun. Thanks to the ridiculous demands of the television gods, the Tigers and Rebels will join the crowd, kicking off at the unseemly hour of 11:30 a.m., suggesting that fitness may be a more important factor than talent in determining the victor. And that's for the players, not those of us who'll be suffering in the stands.

But don't be too distressed. Grab your sun block and your Panama hat and get with the mad dogs and Englishmen. The game promises to be a classic.

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