April 20, 2024

The Meaning Of A Diehard Fan – 38 Seasons of Support

In sports, there are terms used to describe fans, such as fair weather, couch coaches, and more, but there is an overused one, resulting in the under-appreciation of a group of fans. That term is die-hard. To most, we are all die-hard fans of our teams and those we support. According to the dictionary, the true meaning of this word is firmly or fanatically determined or devoted. I want to look at one fan who taught me how to support more than sports. That fan is Steve Hjerpe, my stepfather, yet the most die-hard Memphis fan I know. You may say he is family; of course, he is, but there are reasons behind this. There are 38 reasons, to be exact, that we will explain and expound upon now. 

The Streak 

End Of The Dockery Era

In sports we see streaks every season in a multitude of sports. While the steak of Steve Hjerpe and Memphis Football isn’t the streaks of Cal Ripken Jr, it is just as unique. In the 1985 season, Steve began attending Memphis State home football games as a University student. In that season, in what was legendary Coach Rex Dockery’s final season, Memphis would finish 2-7-2. Memphis would tie Ole Miss at 17, lose to Alabama 28-9 and #19 Tennessee 17-7, all at home that season. This home season would begin what has now become a streak of consecutive home games, reaching 232 games. 

Charlie Bailey 

The following season, Memphis hired Charlie Bailey, who would coach from 1986-1988 for Memphis and finished 12-20-1 in Memphis after a 1-10 first season. In the 1987 season, Memphis would defeat Ole Miss,16-10, in the home opener, #15 Alabama, 13-10, on October 10th, and Louisville, 43-8, in the final home game of the season. In Bailey’s final season with Memphis, we would see a top 25 road victory, 17-11, over #14 Florida, and home wins over Mississippi State, 31-10, and Vanderbilt, 28-6, to close the season. 

Chuck Stobart

Memphis would hire the USC offensive coordinator, Chuck Stobart, to become the next head coach in 1989. Stobart would coach the Tigers until the 1994 season. Stobart would usher the University into new times as Memphis State would become the University of Memphis in his final season. Stobart would finish with a 29-36-1 record as a Tiger. His first season was a 2-9 that would see losses to Ole Miss, 20-13; Arkansas State, 17-13; Florida, 38-13; and Louisville, 40-10, in the final game at home that season. Memphis would have wins over Vanderbilt, 13-10, at home, and Cincinnati, 34-17, on the road. In 1993, Memphis would defeat Ole Miss, 19-3, at home to cap off a historic season. Memphis would defeat three SEC schools in the same season with road wins over #23 Mississippi State, 45-35, to start the season and Arkansas. 6-0, on September 25th. Memphis would finish 6-5 that season. In the six seasons at Memphis, Stobart finished his last three with 6-5 records. 

Rip, West, Porter, and More 

Following Stobart, Memphis would hire Rip Scherer as its next head coach. During his tenure, Scherer would lead Memphis from the Independent classification into Conference USA. Scherer would coach Memphis for five seasons, finishing with a 22-44 overall record and an 11-19 record in conference. Perhaps the most remarkable win in school history happened in his second season, 1996, when Memphis would shock #6 Tennessee, 21-17, at home. Memphis would close that season with a 20-10 loss to East Carolina. 

In 2001, Memphis hired Tommy West from Clemson. West would accomplish many things in Memphis in his nine seasons. Most notable was his five bowl games and winning two of them. In 2003, West would lead Memphis to a New Orleans Bowl victory in the program’s first bowl game since the 1971 Poinsettia Bowl. West would finish his career 49-61 overall and 32-29 in conference play. Memphis fans would see many exciting games, at home, under West. Memphis fired West on November 9th, after a 2-7 start in the 2009 season. West would finish the season with a 2-10 record. 

Memphis was at a low point at this time. They would hire former standout, Larry Porter, to lead the team. Porter would lead Memphis to a 3-21 record in his two seasons and finish 1-15 in conference play. Most fans of the program today will not recall this struggling time based on the program’s recent success. I specifically remember the stadium empty as can be, to program’s recent success would mean my family was at the games.

After this era, this program would grow to its heights today. Many fans do not recall the times of Rex Dockery, Charlie Bailey, and others. Steve can recall games, plays, players, and even final scores {for the most part} from essentially every season in his current streak. 

Every Home Game

As mentioned above, Steve has quite the streak going. It is more than just being at the game. He, along with his friends and family, has also been tailgating before games all these years. Steve will call his friends early in-game weeks to schedule who will bring what foods and, as always, what time to be there. Generally, this group will begin set up at least six hours before kickoff. This tradition began many years ago at Tobey Park, where they tailgated until Tiger Lane and its surrounding areas were created. From breakfast, lunch, and at times dinner being cooked to a plethora of “Steves Tunes” being played at any home game, you can find Steve Hjerpe there. He will talk about Tiger players and coaches of old to the player who just had a great game the previous week. When it comes to fans, many support Memphis. Steve Hjerpe solidifies what a fan is. Not just any fan but one who is firmly or fanatically determined or devoted. Also defined as dedicated. 

Further reading

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