I never know how much to say about Pat Summitt. Once I start it’s like a steam engine, a person in love, picking up speed and sound with overtures of enduring affection. You will want to punch me in the mouth just to make it stop.
Oklahoma shut down the Lady Vols with a statement of force last night, leaving Summitt one win short of an unprecedented 1,000 victories. Her next try will be Thursday in Knoxville, against the University of Georgia Lady Bulldogs.
The media circus surrounding Summitt’s quest is the kind usually reserved in women’s athletics for things like the Olympics.
ESPN.com has dedicated an entire section to the historic occasion called Alone at the Summitt. In it is a glimpse of Summitt’s success through the eyes of her 18-year-old son, Tyler, who Mechelle Voepel writes “grew up in an orange palace where his mom was queen, and he was the cherished little prince.”
On the snide remarks his classmates sometimes make about women’s basketball or women in general, Tyler says: “It really makes me mad they don’t have the respect for women they should. Because I’ve seen it all my life. I see how hard they work every day in practice. I see how hard my mom works.”
Journalists can’t talk about Pat Summitt’s record without talking about her character. She boasts a 100 percent graduation rate; she mails every one of her former players a program guide with a hand-written note at the beginning of each season; she responds to every one of their letters, phone calls and texts; and 45 of her former players have followed in her footsteps and gone on to become coaches.
In The New York Times profile this weekend, Summitt says she measures her success not in wins and losses, but in relationships.
She is her own kind of anomaly: the tenacious, unrelenting daughter of a tobacco farmer; and the compassionate, light-hearted mother to hundreds of young women.
You might think — living in the heart of Dawg Country, as I do — that I have conflicting loyalties about the match up on Thursday night. I do not. I’ve been sporting the same University of Tennessee sweatshirt since I was a teenager, which, according to my calculations of one wear per week, means that it has been through at least 756 wash cycles.
If Pat Summitt wins her 1,000th game this week, I’ll buy a new sweatshirt at Thompson-Boling Arena and wear it for the next 15 years. The crazy thing about Tennessee orange is that it never fades.