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Sunday, January 06, 2008

An unsung hero keeps the Tigers on the ball

An unsung hero keeps the Tigers on the ball

By Geoff Calkins
Sunday, January 6, 2008

The small voice came from out on the court, just after the Memphis Tigers defeated Pepperdine, 90-53, for their 40th straight win at FedExForum.


Yes? Who's that?

The ball.

You're over near the ball?

No, I am the ball. The actual basketball.

Whoa. Basketballs can talk? Who knew they had mouths?

How do you think we dribble?

Har. But what should I call you?


And why are you talking now?

Because it's a proud day for me. A proud day for the entire ball family. This may the biggest day for balls since ...

New Year's Eve?

No, dummy. Since my cousin, Wilson, got a starring role in "Cast Away."

But he was a movie star. You're just a ball.

Just a ball? And I suppose the Patriots are just a football team?

They're undefeated.

Exactly! Just like I am. On Jan. 2, 2006, the Tigers lost to Texas. Jimmy Ogle, the scoreboard operator, got rid of the Texas ball and picked me to start the next game.

Memphis beat Middle Tennessee.

Yes. I did great.

Memphis won the next game, too.

Also my work.

And the next game.


And the next game ...

What part of undefeated don't you understand? It's been me all the way. Me being dunked. Me being swished. Me being heaved toward the rafters in victory after victory.

But how do we know this? Aren't there a bunch of game balls in the rack before each game?

Fifteen, to be precise. But Ogle is a superstitious sort. When I started winning, he scrawled an "A" on me, for Andre Allen.


Memphis didn't lose another home game that first year. Last year, I won 16.

But Memphis won 19 at home last year.

True, but Conference USA didn't let them use me during the conference tournament. They used some ball called "The Rock." Why would they name a ball "The Rock?"

It's an expression. Pass the rock. Score the rock.

It's still stupid. Balls are not rocks. Rocks are not balls. Nobody plays "Ball, paper, scissors," do they?

You have a point. Which is unusual for a ball.

At least Ogle appreciated my talents. He took me home with him last summer.

He did not.

Yes, he did. He asked the university's permission.

Where did he keep you?

On his dining room table.

All summer?

All summer.

But now it also says "Frayser" on you. And "Buddy." What's with that?

Well, Buddy McEwen -- the longtime pro at Davy Crockett Golf Course in Frayser -- was a huge Tigers fan. McEwen had cancer. When Ogle learned McEwen wouldn't be able to come to the games this year, he wrote "Frayser" on me. Then he took a picture and sent it to McEwen.

That's very sweet.

McEwen died in December. So Ogle added the word "Buddy" right before the Georgetown game.

And Memphis won.

That's how I roll.

I have to say, you're remarkable.

Last year, I scored Jeremy Hunt's 1,000th point. This year, I did the same for Chris Douglas-Roberts.

You're a piece of history.

That's why Ogle now brings me home after every game. He even bought a special sack to carry me.

But how long can you keep this going?

Not sure. The jobs has its perils.

Such as?

Memphis free throws. Those tend to hurt. Plus, one of these days, Joey Dorsey is going to swat me all the way to Fayette County.

Do you have to pass inspection or anything?

Before every game. Ogle tosses me to Andre Allen, then Willie Kemp, then Derrick Rose. All the point guards. The other team gets to take a look. The referee always checks me out.

Any close calls?

A couple weeks ago, Curtis Shaw -- he's a ref -- thought I was too puffed up. He asked Ogle for a needle to let some air out of me.

Well, the needle snapped off while it was still inside me. This was right before the tip. Shaw had to grab it with his teeth and yank it out of me.


Like an old Western, really. But I bounced back.

Of course you did. Any final words to the Memphis fans?

I just hope people are enjoying this as much as I am. Forty is a big number, you know. No Memphis team has ever won 40 straight home games before this one.

So make sure you enjoy it while it lasts. Don't take this glorious streak for granted. Every time I come to FedExForum, I know I'm going to have ...


A ball, silly.

To reach Geoff Calkins, call him at 529-2364 or e-mail calkins@commercial You can hear his radio show, "The Geoff & Gary Show," from 7 to 9 a.m. Monday through Friday on ESPN 730.

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