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The team had just stretched its undefeated streak to 16, shutting out an opponent for the fifth time this season, and now it sat glumly in the locker room. There were no heady words of victory from the coach, no happy shouts, no visiting well-wishers to pound the players' backs. The Memphis State Tigers, 13-0 winners Saturday night over Chattanooga, were depressed, every last big, fast blue-chip one of them.
At Memphis State it not only matters whether you win, but by how much. Once clawless, the Tigers have grown accustomed to mangling the likes of Chattanooga. This year they have even stunned two former tormentors, third-ranked Mississippi with a 0-0 tie, and tough Mississippi State with a 17-10 victory, and they now are looking forward to a major bowl bid. For Memphis State, formerly a teachers' college but now a full-fledged university with an enrollment of 8,000, is suddenly—and not accidentally—quite major in college football circles. It got that way by building as thoroughly as the third little pig—and it can attribute its fast rise to, oddly enough, basketball, the city of Memphis, Dr. Cecil C. Humphreys, the university president, and Coach Billy Murphy. Humphreys, a handsome, dark-haired SPORTS ILLUSTRATED Silver Anniversary All-America (1960) who oozes vigor from every pore, is an educational phenomenon, unlikely to be duplicated west of the Mississippi (except possibly in Hollywood) or north of Baltimore. He rose to his present academic eminence through roles as assistant football coach, head coach and then athletic director at the college he now rules.
In 1957, when State's highly ranked basketball team played in the National Invitational Tournament in New York, it caused considerable excitement, twice on network television, before losing to Bradley in the finals. The point was not lost on Memphis political, business and professional leaders, who for decades had chafed at the long sporting shadow cast by the University of Mississippi, 70 miles south in Oxford (pop. 5,283). Memphis Mayor Edmund Orgill was so impressed that he leaped for the telephone as soon as the tournament was over and tied it up for two hours on a call to then Athletic Director Humphreys. Their conversation, in distillation, went something like this:
Orgill: Why can't we have a football team that would do for the city what the basketball team did in New York?
Humphreys: We could, but it would take time.
Orgill: I'm in a hurry. How can I save time?
Humphreys: Well, if we could step up our scholarship program....
Orgill: Consider it stepped up.
The eventual result was the Educational and Athletic Scholarship Program, an association of local men who contribute enough money to the school's athletic council to pay for an additional 25 to 30 full athletic scholarships a year (board, room, tuition, fees and $15 a month). This swells the overall total to 85, small by Southeastern Conference standards but a good beginning.
The next step, of course, was to hire a coach who would put these scholarships to the best use. State could hardly have made a more appropriate choice than Spook Murphy, a former all-SEC tailback at Mississippi State who had been an assistant coach for five years in Memphis before joining Murray Warmath and following him to Minnesota. Murphy, now 42, is a wonderfully agile and persuasive recruiter who could sell combs to Mr. Clean. But even he was slightly appalled when he showed up for spring practice and contemplated a 1958 fall schedule that promised to provide Tiger skins for hearths at Ole Miss, Mississippi State and Alabama.