by Howard Robertson —
Maybe you, like me, have joked and made fun of long suffering major league or collegiate sports teams and fans in cities like Detroit, Cleveland, Cincinnati or our nemesis city of Atlanta. But if you are a Memphian, like me, we all need to pump the brakes and check ourselves, because these cities are long-suffering between championships.
Memphis has never won even our first national championship in a major collegiate sport or major league pro sport. We are the longest suffering MFs.
I’ve been a long-suffering MF for well over half a century. I was not long-suffering growing up in the 1950s and 60s back when there was only the Memphis State Tigers and the Memphis Chicks. My favorite teams mirrored my dad’s and we didn’t root for either of them initially because they had no black players. But as soon as Memphis State began playing and recruiting players that looked like us, my daddy and I became avid, game-going fans.
Our fan loyalty transcended the Tigers as well, to include Memphis’ professional debuts, like: Memphis Tams basketball, Memphis Showboats and Memphis Grizzlies football. By the way, the football Grizzlies, hold the distinction of Memphis’ only professional sport national championship, in the long-defunct World Football League (WFL).
Long-suffering MFs, like me, are the loyal fans that have spent time, money and devotion to Memphis teams for years and years. Their support is entirely why and how teams yet exist. Those who own, manage, coach or play a major sport in Memphis, in addition to gratitude, owe the long suffering something…wins. They owe a commitment to winning regular games. They owe a commitment to winning big games. And yes, they owe a commitment to winning championships.
I’m not just talking about getting close either. Close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, birdie or par putts. The long-suffering know “close” all too well. We came close in the ’73 NCAA Finals against UCLA. Could you be closer than 92 seconds, as we were in the 2008 NCAA Finals? The Grizzlies have come close but have never won big games. The U of M football Tigers have been to bowl games 7 of the last 11 years and are 1 for 6, including a 2017 Liberty Bowl close loss (21-20) to Iowa State.
Mediocrity and sub-mediocrity won’t cut it. Memphis sports teams need to produce winners. How is it that Memphis has a winning legacy and tradition on national and global platforms in business, music, the arts and culture, healthcare and food…but never sports?
My diagnosis is that Memphis, Memphians both the city and citizens suffer from SAD (Sports Adequacy Deficiency). Because of SAD, we’re just happy to be in the game. Due to SAD, we’re more about the journey of getting to the big game than we are about winning it. Although we’ve emblazoned the word on signs, growl towels and t-shirts, thanks to SAD, we don’t really…Believe.
Long-suffering MFs, like me, have rarely been given a reason to believe that we’re champions from our Memphis sports teams. We’re SAD.
I predict, however, that the championship salve for our long-suffering souls will be applied within one to three years, by our very own, homegrown Coach Anfernee Penny Hardaway and the University of Memphis Basketball Tigers. My sincerest hope is that all of us long-suffering MFs are yet alive to see and celebrate.
Oh, by the way, MF is my acronym for Memphis Fans.
What? Did y’all think it stood for something else?
(Howard Robertson is the co-host, along with Larry Robinson, of “R&R on Sports,” which is available on the Sirius XM network, iHeart Radio, Apple Podcast, Spotify, Stitcher, Tune-In Radio and other podcast providers.)