It’s Memphis week. And with that so much history has to be shared. I could put together a montage of photos, videos, and newspaper clippings and still that wouldn’t do this rivalry justice. I’m 30 years old, and there is so much more to this rivalry than I can personally recount. What a lot of Kentucky fans don’t realize is that we don’t dislike John Calipari because he is the Head Coach of the University of Kentucky. Louisville fans already disliked John Calipari because he used to be the Head Coach at Memphis.
Memphis and Louisville have played each other on the hardwood 85 times since 1949. Louisville leads the series 51-34, but the two schools haven’t met since the 2005 Conference USA Championship. It would be the Cardinals last game in C-USA, and it was an epic battle where the Cards would win a 1-point thriller. A little back story:
The John Calipari coached squad was led by a dynamic point guard, and early chest bumper, Darius Washington. Washington, currently playing in Turkey for Türk Telekom, has bounced around Europe, after playing in the D-League for awhile, and also spent some time with the Spurs after not being drafted in the ’06 Draft. Washington of Winter Park, Florida also was granted citizenship in Macedonia, and joined the Macedonian National Team. Darius Washington was fouled with no time on the clock on a 3-pointer by Francisco Garcia, with the Cards up by two. Here is what happened:
Generally speaking, I would really feel bad for a freshman being at the line with no time on the clock, and missing 2 out of 3 and causing his team to miss the NCAA Tournament. But this was Memphis, and Washington pumped his chest about a million times seemingly after every successful dribble. Also, John Calipari did just about everything possible to re-energize a rivalry that was for all intents and purposes a rivalry that was mostly remembered in black and white stock photographs.
John Calipari arrived at Memphis for the 2000-01 season, and in his second season Calipari, Milt Wagner, Worldwide Wes converged for the first recruiting splash that would rock the Cardinal fanbase. When Dajuan Wagner was in the 8th grade he had Louisville fans salivating over the potential to have Cardinal Favorite Milt Wagner’s son relive the magic and re-open the ‘Camden Connection’ to Louisville. Instead, Milt Wagner was hired as an assistant to Calipari’s Memphis staff and Dajuan’s high school teammate Arthur Barclay was signed a a scholarship, and the following year Dajuan Wagner was a Memphis Tiger. It was here that Calipari and the Worldwide Wes connection was made.
The Photo Here is of Milt Wagner hitting game winning free throws in Freedom Hall in 1986 over Memphis. There was no 3-point shot in ’86, but the situation was almost exactly the same as Darius Washington would face nearly 19 years later. Wagner was fouled with almost no time left on the clock, Wagner walked around the floor prior to his Free Throw attempts flashing the ‘V’ for Victory sign to the crowd. Milt would hit both free throws and Memphis would miss a last second heave and Wagner would go on to become a fan favorite, and earned his nickname, “Ice Man”. That end of season crowd in Freedom Hall was so electric a man actually had a heart attack in the stands. Earlier in 1983, Wagner would hit a 16-footer in the final second that would seal the game at 64-62 in overtime over the #17 Memphis State Tigers in Freedom Hall.
But the rivarly goes back even further than 1983. In, 1971 during the Missouri Valley Conference Memphis’ Fred Horton was so angry with Louisville’s Al Vilcheck after Vilcheck had punched him during a fight during the first half, that Horton grabbed a chair off the bench and began swinging it wildly in his direction. In an interview with Horton 40 years later with the Memphis Commercial Appeal Horton said, “Both teams always played each other hard. We didn’t want to lose. If I had to do it all over again, I probably would do the same thing. It’s a good rivalry. Two good schools, and I’m glad they’ve picked up the baton to continue it.” Horton was handcuffed and removed from Freedom Hall.
The rivalry probably has it’s best (term used loosely) memories from the 1970s & 1980s. The rivalry was already boiling, but reached peak temperature during the 1979-80 season when Dana Kirk (a former Denny Crum assistant) became the head coach of the Memphis State Tigers and made it his goal to torment his former boss. In 1980 the Cards played the Tigers 3 times during their first championship season, and while UofL did win all 3 matchups the vitriol was evident especially in the first game in Memphis where the Tigers were pegged with 4 technical fouls and also had to dodge projectiles in the stands. Throwing paper cups, popcorn boxes, balled up paper, and coins toward Roger Burkman after Burkman fouled Memphis’ Jeff Battle a little harder than the Memphis fans may have liked. Darrell Griffith & Tony Branch routinely tell of Memphis fans throwing baby shoes, batteries, and quarters at the Louisville bench in 1978. In 1982, there was even a knife that came onto the floor during free throws from Rodney McCray in Memphis.
The rivalry isn’t limited to just basketball. In 1969 Louisville was getting whipped so thoroughly by Memphis State that Cardinal Head Coach Lee Corso actually went onto the field and waved the ‘white flag of surrender’ towards Tiger Head Coach and Athletic Director Billy ‘Spook’ Murphy during a 69-19 whipping. The next season in 1970 Corso would lead his team to an 8-3 season and would exact revenge in a 40-27 victory while on the way to a Pasadena Bowl berth. And then later on there was this:
Louisville and Memphis have met on the gridiron 42 times, and Louisville holds a 23-19 series advantage. The Cards and Tigers met last season in PJCS where UofL routed Memphis 56-0.
It’s Memphis week, and I’m one fan who is glad it is back and I hope it is here to stay.
Note: I’d love it if fans of Louisville and Memphis would leave their comments and stories of the rivalry. I plan on updating this as the story continues and also would love to add the stories I missed here.