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Sunday, January 07, 2007

Memphis Fans Irked by Larry Finch Event at Cincy Game

U of M fans irked by Finch event

By Dan Wolken
January 6, 2007

The University of Memphis billed Thursday as "Larry Finch Appreciation Night" at FedExForum.

One day later, what exactly that meant was a point of contention among the Tigers' fan base, which bombarded Internet message boards with outrage about the lack of, well, appreciation for Larry Finch.

Though donation cards to contribute to a charitable fund for Finch's medical care were given out to the season-high crowd of 16,223, there was no real public acknowledgement of the former Tigers player and all-time winningest coach during the game, much less a ceremonial event to dedicate the game to him.

Friday, Memphis athletic director R.C. Johnson said a public tribute to Finch was never the intention of "Larry Finch Appreciation Night."

"That wasn't our plan," Johnson said. "The plan was really just fiscally driven. And we have done things in the past and will probably continue to do things in the future to always acknowledge and express our appreciation for Larry and what he has done, because you can't ever do enough of that.

"The focus was really to try to generate dollars, and I'm not sure we won't do something again because it's ongoing. And we wouldn't do this for just anybody, but he certainly is worthy. At the end of the year, maybe we'll try another something to see if we can't try to help him. I think right now the dollars are more important than the recognition."

Though the UofM's athletic department only began promoting "Larry Finch Appreciation Night" on Tuesday when it sent out a press release dedicating the game to him, it had been in the works for months.

Johnson said he and Kenneth Moody, chairman of the Friends of Larry Finch Foundation, met "in the fall" and agreed on the Cincinnati game as an appropriate time to raise funds for Finch, who has been disabled by a heart attack and several strokes.

"We all picked the Cincinnati game because we thought that was kind of a tie-in and made sense with the great rivalry all those years, and we thought that would be one of our better crowds," Johnson said.

It was Memphis' best crowd of the year so far, promoting coach John Calipari to pay tribute to Finch and then joke that the next event to get people in the seats would be an Elliot Perry night, referencing another former Tiger great.

Fans who came for nostalgia, however, would have been sorely disappointed Thursday because there was no video highlight reel of Finch's playing or coaching career. No real organized opportunity, even, for fans to stand and cheer for perhaps the most beloved sports figure in Memphis history.

Bob Winn, Memphis' associate athletic director for external affairs, said the focus was instead placed on handing out the pledge cards and selling the replica Larry Finch jerseys for $100 apiece, with all proceeds going to the foundation.

"Our greatest hope is that fans walked out the door with that card so they can today do something for Larry that they really want to do," Winn said.

Moody, who said he could not attend the game due to a prior commitment, said it was too early to say how much money was raised for Finch on Thursday. He said he preferred not to comment on the lack of ceremonial activities at the game.

"The main thing was to hand out the pledge cards," Johnson said. "That was the key component. The main function of the whole evening was to raise money for him. That was our primary purpose. Our whole focus had been to get the pledge cards out. It was that more than retiring a jersey or anything like that."

-- Dan Wolken: 529-2365


Next for No. 22 Tigers

Opponent: Houston

When, where: Thursday, 8 p.m., at Houston


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