When you think of Memphis, you think BBQ, Mike Conley, and Elvis Presley.
You might think Memphis Tiger basketball, especially now, with Penny Hardaway and a slew of future NBA players calling it home.
You might even think jazz music, Beale Street, and Jerry “The King” Lawler.
But what you might not ever associate with the city is Memphis Tiger football. They are a team with an overall record of 495-517, only 12 overall trips to a bowl game, and, with the exception of 2014, hadn’t won a conference championship since 1971. Now, with the help of Justin Fuente, Mike Norvell has this football program in the hunt for a Cotton Bowl appearance and deserves the keys to the city.
It has not been an easy transition by any means. It has had brutal losses, empty stadiums, and a fair share of tears. It has seen upsets to remember, DeAngelo Williams, and a BYU Beach Brawl. This was years and years in the making. It was the miserable Larry Potter tenure and the press conference from Tommy West that really changed this program. It showed the grit this city is all about. Because after everything this program went through, this city finally has some national recognition that is positive.
This isn’t a flash in the pan either. This is a team that has gone 42-19 since 2014, with wins over a ranked UCLA and two wins over Ole Miss. Considering the fertile recruiting ground Memphis is surrounded by, the success the program is in the midst in is long overdue. and Mike Norvell is the one to thank. He has the Tigers sitting at 7-1, with maybe the biggest game in the program’s history coming up, and has made this team nationally relevant.
So let’s not be dramatic here and overreact, but Mike Norvell has made his case for his own version of Graceland. This transformation is bigger than football, it has changed the entire city, just like any superstar would do.
It starts with the most obvious transformation. They are coming to OUR city. ESPN’s College GameDay has set up in Memphis, TN. To put this in perspective, one of the greatest artist of all-time, Sir Elton John, played in the FedEx Forum on Wednesday and nobody was talking about it. The only time it came up? It was the people wanting it to be over so that GameDay could set up.
The city has pumped thousands of dollars into Beale Street in a matter of days for the Memphis Tigers. From banners on building to giant tiger tails hanging from buildings, the city has done everything possible to make this a memorable moment.
This is what the Tiger tails look like pic.twitter.com/NPwX5boK49— Drew Hill (@DrewHill_DM) November 1, 2019
So Sir Elton John could not get the city to decorate or celebrate, nor could Beale Street Music Fest, the St. Jude Marathon, or anything else this city has had recently. I am not even sure if Elvis coming to town could get it as fancy as it is right now. But Mike Norvell? His Tigers made it happen.
But it goes further than GameDay.
Elvis Presley could always sell out a show, and so can Mike Norvell. Ten years ago, about 4,000 fans filled the Liberty Bowl Stadium for a game shown on ESPN. Under Mike Norvell, the Tigers have averaged roughly 30,000 fans in the stadium, with 3 of 9 of the largest crowds in program history coming under Norvell. In addition to GameDay this weekend, the program has a sold-out Liberty Bowl for only the 10th time in program history.
Bigger than Memphis, it is a huge victory for the American Conference. The push for respect as a Power 6 conference grows stronger. The Liberty Bowl has already been home to a record American Conference game crowd and now the record gets even bigger. In 2015, 56,000 people packed the Liberty Bowl in 2015 in Memphis for a game against Navy. Now, another record crowd will pack the stadium for another AAC game. It is not a non-conference game. It does not have Ole Miss, Mississippi State, or any major SEC teams coming to town. It is Power 6 vs Power 6 fighting for a Cotton Bowl Berth. And Mike Norvell has been in the middle of it all.
So when you think of Memphis, you can still think of Gus’s and BBQ and Elvis and Beale Street, just don’t forget about Mike Norvell. He has done more for this program and than anyone in recent memory. Break out your blue suede shoes, Mike. Pick the location of your Graceland.
Hell, call the Liberty Bowl Graceland. And we will get you a statue. Just keep winning and so will the 901.
The King of Memphis and (the) America(n conference): Mike Norvell