It only takes a few dumb decisions to turn a victory into a defeat. That must be how the Memphis Tigers felt Monday after they were robbed of the chance to celebrate their landmark victory over BYU.
To be sure, there were dumb decisions made by Tigers and Cougars alike as the two teams erupted into a bar-style brawl that left multiple players bruised and bleeding, and both teams seething. Many Memphis players respectfully celebrated their hard-fought victory, and many BYU players shook hands and headed to the locker room to sulk in their crushing loss. But the attention of spectators and cameramen was focused on the melee that ensued after the final whistle blew.
It’s unclear how the fight started, but at this point, frankly, that’s unimportant. Both schools allowed the fight–which seemed to be an extension of a chippy game–to escalate far past acceptable levels. Players from both schools were seen on national television throwing sucker punches, charging into the opposing team’s bench, using helmets as weapons, and shouting words that are not FCC (or honor code) approved. BYU players were even caught on camera fighting amongst themselves. Suffice it to say, fans, coaches, and players from both sides were left embarrassed by the whole thing. BYU athletic director quickly went to Twitter to express his disapproval of the debacle:
We expect better of our athletes, even in the face of a difficult loss. We intend to fully review this matter. I apologize to Cougar Nation.
— Tom Holmoe (@TomHolmoe) December 23, 2014
In the end, the Memphis Tigers were left with an extremely awkward celebration stage. In the postgame interview, Memphis head coach Justin Fuente had no choice but to talk about the fight that had dissipated only moments before, and it was obvious that every bit of happiness had been sucked from him. His team had just won a thrilling double overtime game, but you would not know it to look at him. As for the players, a handful of them were able to muster an appropriate celebration with their fans on the sidelines, but many were peeled away from the scrum and escorted straight to the locker room without any fanfare.
A team that hadn’t won a bowl game since 2005 and that hadn’t reached 10 wins in 76 years should be able to celebrate such a landmark victory. Coach Fuentes deserves a lot of credit for leading his team from the doldrums of the AAC to a co-conference-championship, a double digit win season, and a bowl victory. His players deserve a lot of credit for shutting down BYU’s running game and putting relentless pressure on Stewart, causing three interceptions and a whole bunch of hurries. But what should have been a joyful occasion for the Memphis Tigers ended up as a disaster.
This is a good Memphis team that has a lot to be proud of, but it has all been overshadowed by the rage that exploded moments after Memphis secured its milestone victory. And that’s unfortunate.