En route to Phoenix for Missouri's Sweet 16 match-up with Memphis...I type and reflect.
From March of 2000 to February 2005, I worked at KMOV before embarking on the dark alley of media that is sports talk radio on Team 1380's ITD Morning After (airing from 6 a.m. to 11 a.m. on 1380-KSLG) and the ESPN.com Page 2/Maxim Magazine of St. Louis, insideSTL.com.
In my five years at News 4, I was absurdly fortunate to cover the Cardinals in the World Series, the Rams in the Super Bowl, the Blues in the Western Conference Finals, and Missouri in the Elite Eight of the NCAA Tournament.
Despite being a borderline psycho Cardinal fan, considering Ricky Proehl's catch the most exciting sports moment to take place in St. Louis, and wishing for a Blues' Stanley Cup more than any other title, my favorite assignment in those five years at KMOV was covering Missouri in the 2002 NCAA Tournament.
There was just something about covering my alma mater (if you spare me the eight credit hours I'm still needing to knock out) on an abusurdly surprising run to the doorstep of the Final Four. And, there's just something about the NCAA Tournament that makes it a unique narcotic of emotion, allowing its users to travel from a high to a low in the 4.8 seconds it takes Tyus Edney to drive down the floor.
In 2002, the Tigers barely got into the Field of 64, and when they did, they made it as a 12 seed. The KMOV trip to Albuquerque for the first round was supposed to be a brief one, and one we were really only making, because the NCAA has a policy of not awarding credentials at the Sweet 16 to any media who didn't cover the first two rounds. We were expecting the Tigers to lose to the #5 seed Miami Hurricanes on Thursday, and it would complete a rather shockingly underachieving season.
But, after thrashing Miami, the Tigers went crashing the Sweet 16 by beating up on #4 seed Ohio State. Before we knew it, Missouri was on the national stage playing UCLA in San Jose for the right to go to the Elite Eight. And, courtesy of momentum keyed by Rickey Paulding's sick slam dunk, the Tigers shocked the Bruins...and went to the Elite Eight as a #12 seed.
About 15 minutes after Missouri's victory over UCLA, I was set to be on the air for a live report on News 4. Somehow, and to this day, I still don't know how this happened, Rickey Paulding walked out of the San Jose Arena with me to where I was doing my live shot for the news...and in front of dozens of screaming, euphoric Tiger fans, we did a live interview from the parking lot---with Paulding still wearing his Missouri uniform.
I haven't seen tape of that live shot in years, but I remember Steve Savard saying something about me smiling from ear to ear as I was covering my alma mater's stunning run to the cusp of the Final Four...and there I was with Paulding and a bunch of Tiger fans in the parking lot just minutes after Missouri had pulled off its third straight upset.
Nevermind the fact that the Tigers lost two days later to Oklahoma ending the dream run...those two weeks in random cities like Albuquerque and San Jose were the best.
And, now, seven years later, Missouri has a chance to do it all again...except this time...they're doing it as a #3 seed. Oddly enough, I would suggest the Tigers are less likely to make it to the Final Four this time around...because unlike 2002 when they had to beat a #8 seed in UCLA and a #2 seed in Oklahoma...in 2009, they have to find a way to beat #2 seed Memphis and most likely #1 seed UConn. Even though this Tiger team may be better than the '02 team, their opposition is much more stout.
But, here's what I know: this team wasn't supposed to be in the Tournament in the first place. They were picked seventh in the Big 12 preseason poll. And, they have a roster made up of freshmen, transfers, and four seniors. In other words, when you tell the 2008-09 Missouri Tigers that they can't do something, they somehow find a way to prove you wrong.
Memphis hasn't lost since December 20th. Memphis is a 4.5 point favorite. And, Memphis has its sights set on showing UConn that they deserved the #1 seed in the West...not the Huskies.
Hopefully, John Calipari's bunch will overlook the Tigers...just like many of us did back in November when the season started.
And, maybe, this weekend will provide me with a new favorite memory in working for KMOV.
Throughout the Tigers' time in Glendale, Arizona, I'll be filing updates via blog and flipcamera to give you a comprehensive look at Missouri's journey to the Sweet 16...and perhaps the unlikeliest of unlikely runs to the Final Four. Make sure to check out KMOV.com for updates as the Tigers look to take down Memphis Thursday night in a game you can catch on News 4 starting at 8:30.
Tim McKernan is owner of Insidestl.com and host of the "Morning After" on Team 1380 a.m.