The Tennessee Sports Fan Conundrum: Why can't Tennessee's Professional Sports Teams Acheive Post-Season Success?
What a great state Tennessee is to live in. If anyone knows this state its me, as I was born in Memphis and raised in Nashville. I have been to numerous sporting events in Knoxville and Chattanooga. You just can't go wrong here as you have two of the most influential music cities in the world in Nashville and Memphis. You also have one of the best college towns in the nation in Knoxville and a crossroad to Atlanta in Chattanooga. Only in Tennessee can you see Graceland, the Grand Ole Opry and a sea of bright orange clad fans at Neyland stadium. This is a state that loves its sports and has to be one of the most passionate bases in all of America. Tennessee is home of the Tennessee Titans, Nashville Predators and the Memphis Grizzlies. All three teams have enjoyed varying degrees of success. The Titans have had the most as they have been to the NFL playoffs six times (1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2007, and 2008) and to the Super Bowl once since arriving from Houston in 1998. The Grizzlies have been to the playoffs three times and will make their fourth appearance this weekend. This is the first time in the post-Pau Gasol era Memphis has made it in. I will try to refrain myself from speaking on the Gasol era and trade, I could talk about that all day about Jerry West’s generous offering to his former team in L.A but again I will refrain. The Nashville Predators have yet again scratched and clawed there way to another playoff berth. The scrappy Preds have made the playoffs six out of the last seven seasons.
However, even with all of the regular season success by these teams, there is a certain negative undertone with them as well. If you talk to any casual Tennessee sports fan from, the Bar-b-que pit master on Beale Street in Memphis to the country singer on the corner in Nashville, they will all say “Yeah we made the playoffs and that’s it.” That it is about right when you look at the history of professional teams in the Volunteer state. The Titans haven’t made it past the second round of the playoffs since the late great Steve McNair (RIP) and Eddie George were leading the team in 2003. The Predators and Grizzlies have NEVER made it past the first round in there respective leagues. The long suffering sports fan in Tennessee has come expect failure from the big three sports teams here. We root hard for our teams only to have them fall flat on their faces a la Charlie Sheen style. We have tempered out expectations in the proverbial “Hope for the best but expect the worse” notion of thinking. How could we not? Tennessee is a small-market in a big market nation. The salary cap and revenue sharing keeps the Titans competitive in the NFL but the Grizzlies and Predators perennially rank in the bottom of payrolls in the NBA and NHL. Whenever you hear about those two teams it’s usually in the form of them being the scrappy underdogs that have as much chance of winning as of Mike Catherwood had on Dancing with the Stars.
Our precious state is a small fish in a big pond. When you look at the Nashville Predators payroll, it tops out at $58,922,000. Now compare that to the New York Rangers payroll of $77,471,000 (information provided by sportcity.com). That is roughly a $20 million dollar difference in players salaries! If you take a look at the Memphis Grizzlies it’s the same thing just a different league. Memphis checks in at $68,189,375 for its payroll. That is pocket change to the league’s highest payroll in L.A which comes in at $91,570,472. Any way you shake it, the big cities with big payrolls will always have the advantage when it comes down to it. They can sign bigger and better players because they have the funds in which to do so. At any rate, big payrolls don’t always result in winning teams. The San Antonio Spurs of the NBA have proven that small market teams can win championships when constructed correctly. The Green Bay Packers had the fifth lowest payroll in the NFL at $ 94,018,300 and still won the Super Bowl. The Titans actually had the seventh highest payroll at $ 126,017,443 and as we all know didn’t even make the playoffs. The Packers and Spurs success prove that it’s about how the team meshes and fits it parts as much as it is about pay.
Although Tennessee may be at a disadvantage payroll wise, some things cannot be blamed on the money nor can they be explained. The Predators have for the most part never been favored to win in a playoff series other than in 2006, when they had home ice advantage and still loss. The Grizzlies seem to always squeak in the playoffs only to get swept by the one or two seed. They are the eighth seed once again out west this year and will face San Antonio. Do you think they have a chance for the upset? Yeah me neither. The Titans collapsed right before our eyes after starting the season 5-2. Vince Young ran himself out of town and carried the stressed out Jeff Fisher with him. The future is uncertain with all the turmoil. This is a team with a plethora of new coaches and staff members and no quarterback. The road to the playoffs for this team is more blurred than a guy who had one too many shots of old No.7 (to those not from Tennessee that’s Jack Daniels).
In conclusion, to be sports fan in Tennessee is to suffer a bit. We usually have teams that are good enough to make the post-season but not to win them. We have been letdown so many times by our sports hero’s that it doesn’t even sting anymore. For every good moment in our sports history, there is a bad one. The Music city miracle was one of best plays in football history. Who can forget Mike Keith’s famous call and the look of sheer joy on Steve McNair’s face as Kevin Dyson streaked up the sidelines? That prodigious memory is only one upped by Kevin Dyson’s outstretched hand on the one-yard line on the final play of Super bowl XXXIV. The Nashville Predators finished the 2005-06 season ranked fourth in the Western Conference with a franchise record 110 points (51-23-8-110 pts) and still managed to lose to San Jose in the quarter finals. Its just an all to familiar situation here in Tennessee. The more things change the more they stay the same. One day one of our local teams will pull through and win a championship. Until that day the saying will always remain true, “Yeah we made the playoffs and that’s it.”