MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The beginning of the 2011 season has been one of the greatest for Memphis men's soccer in the 29-year history of the program. The non-conference schedule saw Memphis defeat the likes of Wisconsin, Missouri State, Belmont, Lipscomb, and then-No. 18 Bradley. As the team passes the halfway point of their season, the highlight of the first slate of games was the game-winning goal against Bradley. Here is an account of that story.
On a warm, late-summer night in 2011, somewhere in the backwoods of Illinois, legend has it that a goal of indescribable proportions was scored by a once-fallen hero. This is the story of that legend. This is the story of Shoeless Sherrod.
Sherrod goes up for a header at Wisconsin.
The Legend Begins Back in the winter of 2008-09, a blonde-haired, goal-scoring machine committed to the University of Memphis men's soccer team. The Knoxville, Tenn., native possessed a reputation for scoring goals at rates never before seen in the high school soccer ranks. Television stations and reporters seemed to be permanently stationed outside of his high school. Paparazzi would stalk him trying to land a photograph that adequately portrayed his boyish good-looks, which had all the ladies swooning.
But alas, tragedy would strike the goal-scoring wonder. One month before officially entering college, Shoeless played in a friendly match between two club teams, a decision that proved costly. In the match, Shoeless squared-off against several of his future teammates, Parker Duncan, Cody McCoy and Jordan Leedle. During the friendly, Sherrod suffered an injury so severe that it took away his entire freshman year.
"After seeing Mark get injured in that game, I became skeptical of him. I thought he might be a bit injury prone," McCoy said skeptically.
As it were, Sherrod was able to begin anew during the 2010 season with four-full years of eligibility. He yearned to get back on the pitch. But, Sherrod just wasn't the same. He lacked the stamina and physical strength to compete at the Division I level. The luster and hype surrounding Sherrod had vanished.
It's Got to Be The Shoes By many accounts, Sherrod didn't have a horrible season in 2010. But, he wasn't just another soccer player. Sherrod had a destiny and expectations that were left unfulfilled and, consequently, he was left feeling empty and desolate. Sherrod had lost the swag he once had and he had to get it back.
Sherrod sporting some cleats with bright pink.
That's when it happened; Sherrod found the purple and yellow Nike boots.
"When I went to get some new Nike boots, they really only had the purple and yellow, or a pair of blue ones. One of the guys on the team already had blue ones. So, I had to bite the bullet and get these purples ones," Sherrod recounted. "But, I really like them. I like the fun-colored ones, but I usually get made fun of by coach. Before the purple ones, I had a pair of pink ones, but that didn't settle well with coach."
Despite the ribbing from coach, Sherrod's connection with the shoes was special. As soon as Sherrod felt the purple and yellow leather touch his feet, the once-lost swagger come rushing back like a tidal wave and he became the destructive, goal-scoring force that he had once been.
As Mars Blackmon famously said, "It's got to be the shoes."
The Legend is Born A great deal of mystery and intrigue surround the occurrence, there are as many versions of the legend as there are people to tell it. But, as the legend of the mysterious night in the middle of September goes, Sherrod was able to channel his inner drive for a spectacular goal against a nationally-ranked foe.
It was a cool, overcast evening when the Tigers took to the pitch to battle the Braves. The magnitude of this game for the Tigers was immense. It had been nearly two years since they defeated a ranked opponent and they were in the midst of one of the best starts to a season in their history. A win for the Tigers would start to earn them respect. But if they lost, they would slink off into the night and never be heard from again. Well, at least until the next match.
From the onset, Memphis was the aggressor. Led by Sherrod's presence, the Tigers were aggressively attacking the Braves. Memphis had pushed mighty Bradley back into their defensive end and was pounding them with shots. They just couldn't land the knockout blow.
Coming out of halftime, Bradley had regained some of its composure. The Braves began to fight back. Seemingly, the tide had turned in the game and Bradley began to steal the momentum away from Mempis. Then it happened.
With the Tigers facing a Braves' throw-in deep in their territory, one magical sequence of events changed the course of fate. The most common account of the goal goes like this.
Bradley entered the ball into play by throwing towards the Memphis box. Several Tigers knocked the ball around before it eventually found the feet of Andreas Guentner. Guentner attempted to clear the ball, which miraculously managed to find Sherrod. Sherrod used his brightly-colored feet to pass the ball to teammate Wil Linder.
Then, Sherrod made a quick spin to his right in attempt to make a run up the flank. As he spun, a Bradley defender stepped on the heel of his right boot causing Sherrod to get a "flat tire."
Sherrod continued his run, stomping his right foot several times in attempt to get the stubborn shoe to fall back into place. His attempts proved futile and, in one graceful motion, Sherrod flipped the shoe behind him. As the shoe somersaulted several feet through the air, Linder placed a long cross in front of the Bradley-defended box.
"I was running and almost starting to celebrate before he shot the ball," explained Linder. "If he missed it, I would have been like, `dang!'"
Sherrod wouldn't disappoint Linder. He ran onto the ball like a Tiger set to pounce on its prey. He gathered himself, gracefully planted his shoeless right foot and launched a beautifully struck ball past the goalkeeper into the far side of the net.
Celebration from the Tigers ensued. It is rumored that McCoy picked up the shoe while running toward the celebration. However, the video evidence is inconclusive as to whether McCoy really had the shoe in his hand.
"It was definitely the shoe. I was holding it up as I was running to celebrate. I am clearly carrying the shoe," said the visibly-agitated McCoy.
Thomas Shannon has his doubts though, "I didn't even know that he scored without his shoe. I thought it was a shin guard."
The discrepancies of McCoy's celebration aren't the only controversies surrounding the legend. Some say that the missing left shoe enabled Sherrod greater balance. Physicists say the additional weight on his left foot allowed him to supply a greater force on the ball. Consipiracy theorists think it was a plot that originated during the Cold War. Nonetheless, on that fateful night in 2011, the Legend of Shoeless Sherrod was born.
Credits Story - Bryan McEldowney
Filming - Bryan McEldowney & Brad Pope
Video Composition - Brad Pope
Graphics - Bryan McEldowney
Additional Assistance - Allison Schatell, Brandon Kolditz, Mark Taylor & Tammy DeGroff
A special thanks goes out to Richie Grant, his staff and the men's soccer team for their roles in the creation of the Tiger Tale.