Iconic Memories

20 Apr

I don’t know how many of you are sports fan, but I am one. Well actually, I am a University of Tennessee fan and follow them in just about every sport as one of those sidewalk alumni that has no other connection to the school. My dad brainwashed me at an early age, and I will remain that way from now on.

We Tennessee fans faced a tough prospect today as Pat Summitt, the legendary women’s basketball coach, officially announced her retirement due to the effects of Alzheimer’s, a disease that has in some way affected most of the people reading this. That doesn’t make Pat Summitt different from anyone else who has faced this dreaded disease, but the memories that she has given Tennessee fans does. This isn’t a tribute to her career or legacy. Those have been written by people more qualified than me. This post is about the memories that her time as coach has given me.

The first time I remember seeing the Lady Vols play was when my dad took me to a men’s game. Back then, one ticket could get you into a double-header with the women playing before the men. That was in the early 1980s, but it would not remain that way for long. Eventually, the Lady Vols would play their own schedule with their own tickets. On top of that, their attendance would surpass that of the men’s team.

I saw them play other games through the years. Regular season games in Knoxville. A few regular season games at Vanderbilt. Some SEC tournament games in Chattanooga and Nashville. However, the most memorable game was during the 1998 NCAA Tournament. The Lady Vols came in undefeated and considered one of the great teams of all time, but they were playing a tough North Carolina team to go to the Final Four. With the game taking place at Vanderbilt, I was able to get tickets on the front row for this battle royale, and the following took place.

I sat down with my friend Larry and awaited the start of the game. Then, a blue-haired lady sat next to us. She was obviously a Vanderbilt fan and cringed when she saw the gym fill with people wearing orange. (Sidenote: Vandy and UT fans do not get along.) She looked at my friend and said:

Blue-Haired Lady: How did you get these seats?

My Friend Larry: My buddy got them from a member of the Vanderbilt Board of Trust.

BHL: Who? I’ll have to talk to him.

Then, the governor, wearing a UT cap, walked in front of us.

BHL: Look at the governor wearing that orange hat. I only voted for him because Lamar (Alexander, former governor and current senator) told me to. I won’t do it again.

That’s when I yelled, “Hey, governor!” A typical politician, he acted like he knew me.

BHL: Look at that son of a bitch.

This is when Lamar walks in .

MFL: Ma’am, there’s Lamar. Looks like he’s wearing an orange tie.

BHL: (Grumble) I’m not voting for him again, either.

The game starts, and UT is in trouble. They aren’t playing well, and North Carolina is taking advantage. The blue-haired lady is shaking her North Carolina shaker in Larry’s face and knew that the Lady Vols were going to lose. That’s when Pat jumped the officials and got a questionable call to help turn the game around. As the North Carolina people boo, Larry looks at me and says, “You get those kinds of calls at home.”

BHL: (Growls) I tell you one thing sonny boy. This is not your home.

MFL: (Laughing) Well ma’am, our side of the scoreboard says home.

BHL: You’ll never get seats down here again.

Pat and her ladies won the game and finished the season undefeated, but victories were not always part of the formula. The first time I remember watching the Lady Vols on television was in 1984. My dad and I watched the University of Southern California and the great Cheryl Miller beat Tennessee in the national championship game. It was a time when people believed that Pat Summitt could not win the big game. She finally won a national championship in 1987. Then, she won in 1989. And 1991. And 1996. And 1997. And 1998. And 2007. And 2008. It turns out that she could win the big game. Together, my dad and I watched them all.

People have written about Pat Summitt’s legacy and contributions in numerous areas of sports and society. For me, her legacy is all of the great memories she gave to people like me, my dad, my friends and other Tennessee fans. The tragedy is that a point will come when Pat Summitt, the person responsible for all of this, will not be able to remember what she did and the joy she brought to so many.

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