I really don’t have an emotional attachment to the games I work for television. The level of play on the field can be great or be awful, it can be regular season or a championship game, it makes no difference. You do the work and you forget about it.
I cannot, however, forget the last time I saw Pat Summitt. It was April 18, 2012 at the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, Iowa. She had announced the previous season that she had been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s but vowed to keep on coaching as long as she could.
The woman with the thousand yard death stare, the woman who would yell at her team at halftime when they were leading by double-digits, the woman who defined the game of women’s basketball was sitting quietly on the bench while her assistant, Holly Warlick, desperately and frantically worked the sidelines in an effort to find a way to stop Brittney Griner and the Baylor Bears. The look of intensity had been replaced by a vacancy in the eyes. It was the end and she knew it. Everyone in the arena knew it. It was certainly not the ending she would have wrote for herself.
Since winning her last NCAA title, Summitt’s life hasn’t exactly been a fairy tale. Her 27-year marriage crumbled, her health declined and her son, Tyler, resigned in disgrace from the head coaching job at Louisiana Tech.
But that’s not what she’ll be remembered for. The accomplishments are well documented. If you want a list of those you can find them printed and transmitted in thousands of places. For me, her legacy is found in the team’s logo.
Earlier this year the University of Tennessee announced that they would be abandoning the “Lady Vols” name for their women’s sports programs in favor of the unisex “Tennessee Volunteers.” They said it wasn’t political (yeah, right), just a streamlining of the “branding.” Well, they abandoned it for everything but the women’s basketball team because, in Pat Summitt’s world, you could still be a lady and a champion.
May the Lady Vols stand on the Summitt forever.