(Memphis, TN) – Anticipation is building for the Memphis Tigers as they go through spring practice. The have won eight games or more for five consecutive seasons. With their spring game coming up on April 12, the future is brighter than ever. While Memphis has had rough stretches on the gridiron, few remember the success of a four year period from 1960 through 1963 when the Tigers went 33-5-1, ending in an undefeated season in 1963.
The seeds were planted for this epoch period in 1957, when Memphis State’s basketball team created a buzz across the city with their run in the National Invitational Tournament, finishing second to Bradley University. The mayor of Memphis, Edmund Orgill, looked to expand the excitement to the football field as well, and met with Memphis Athletic Director Cecil Humphreys to encourage a step up in the program. Ultimately, this would include forming an association of local businessmen to create additional scholarships and hiring a young coach with roots in the south. That coach turned out to be 42 year-old Billy “Spook” Murphy, a former all-SEC back at Mississippi State and a smooth and persuasive recruiter.
Murphy was hired in 1957 and vastly broadened the Tigers recruiting territory. His hard work came to fruition and in just two seasons, the Tigers would begin what would be the first of three 8 win seasons, starting in 1960. But the culmination came in the 1963 season, the Tigers opened with a win over Southern Mississippi, 28-7 in Jackson, Mississippi. Led by All American Offensive Lineman Harry Schuh and fullback Dave Casinelli, who was constructed similar to a fireplug, the Tigers dominated that night and embarked on their undefeated year. Still playing their home games at Crump Stadium, the Tigers would bulldoze through the competition with a roster that looked vastly different from the past; 52 players from 14 different states. Murphy’s recruiting pitch was the city of Memphis itself, he would say “Memphis is a big city with some wonderful chances for employment after graduation.” The athletes bought in to the community that wanted to create the atmosphere in the first place.
The Tigers would not lose a game, going 9-0-1, the only blemish being a tie to #2 ranked Ole Miss. At the end, the Tigers were invited to the Sun Bowl, which would have been their first ever bow appearance, but turned that down in anticipation of a bid to the Gator Bowl, which never came. They were 14th in the final rankings and model for the marriage of athletics and business for years to come. One of the city commissioners summed it up, “Let’s not think of the Tiger football team as belonging to the university alone, let’s think of it as a vital industry for the entire city of Memphis.” Truly an innovating thought that continues to grow in all cities.