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magazine home > archives > winter 2004 > features

In a historic moment for U of M football, thousands of Tiger fans traveled to the Big Easy to watch Memphis top North Texas 27-17 in the third annual New Orleans Bowl.

Bowled Over
by Greg Russell

The little lady wearing Tiger blue didn't seem to be a match for the thousands of Mean Green fans rushing to get into the New Orleans Superdome.

 
Tiger fans parade around New Orleans
 
Bourbon Street becomes a sea of blue during the U of M parade the night before the New Orleans Bowl.

"I just had foot surgery," said the fan, Ann Martin, as she hobbled through a massive wave of North Texas and Memphis supporters near a stadium entrance.

That wouldn't stop the elderly lady — obviously in discomfort — as she rolled left, threw a stiff arm and disappeared into the stadium with a move that even Tiger coach Tommy West would have appreciated.

"You do what you have to do," Martin said. "Even with a broken leg, I would not have missed this game for the world."

Martin and her husband, Gene ('76), were just two of the more than 12,000 Tiger fans doing what they had to do to witness the U of M's first bowl appearance in three decades, a 27-17 victory over North Texas in the New Orleans Bowl. Not since a 28-9 Pasadena Bowl victory over San Jose State in 1971 had Memphis played in the postseason.

Tiger supporters arrived by plane, train and automobile to turn the Crescent City into a sea of blue. A U of M parade the night before the Dec. 16 game closed several arteries in the city as Bourbon Street became "Tiger Central."

"We were going to go to the bowl wherever the team went," said Ann Williams (BBA '63), echoing the sentiment of most Memphis fans.

"We have been there through thick and thin so this makes it even more special," added husband Wayne ('73). "And this won't be the last bowl — Tommy has the program headed in the right direction."

U of M alumnus Chris Williams knew when he picked up a Memphis newspaper in early December and saw mention of Tiger football that the program had reached new heights.

"You get so used to seeing a small article near the end of November with the headline, 'Tigers Lose Again,'" said Williams (BEd '88), a former equipment manager for the Tiger football team. "That would be it until the following football season."

Ray Daniels ('57), a past president of the Highland Hundred, noted, "Tiger football has been like a salmon swimming upstream — we have had to start over so many times. But the wait has been more than worth it."

 
Coach Tommy West
 
After the Tigers' bowl victory, the team hoisted Coach Tommy West on their shoulders.

Former Tiger tailback Leo Cage (BSET '80), one of dozens of former players to attend the game, said, "Words can hardly describe what this team has done. If we keep Joe Lee Dunn and Tommy West, we will build a powerhouse."

Memphis began the contest playing like a dominating force, jumping to a 17-3 halftime lead on the strength of game-MVP Danny Wimprine's 7-yard TD run and 10-yard TD pass. A 42-yard field goal late in the contest by Stephen Goskowski helped the Tigers thwart a North Texas comeback.

"This has been a long time coming for this University," said West. "We fulfilled two of our goals tonight. We got to a bowl game and we won. It is just another memory to add to the collection."

The victory concluded a memorable season for the Tigers. Victories over Ole Miss and Louisville and a late season six-game win streak propelled Memphis to a 9-4 campaign.

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