When I heard today that Pat Summitt was giving up the clipboard and taking on the title of head coach emeritus, I let out a sigh – one that was both heart-breaking and reflective at the same time. For the rest of the day, the chorus was filled with melancholy notes.
When I finally got the chance to sit down and put what exactly Pat Summitt has meant to the University of Tennessee, and by proxy me – after interviewing a husband and wife journalism duo touring the country’s minor league baseball stadiums and trying to track down a D-II softball coach for quotes on a player she coached nearly 30 years ago – I wrote half of a lede to a story about Pat coming down to the University Center to ask for our support.
She already had it, but the personal touch was that much more endearing. Luckily, I was barely a paragraph into this stirring tale of queso burritos and bright orange blazers when I saw former Daily Beacon sports editor turned Sports Illustrated AP Zac Ellis starting his summary of Pat’s legacy with a similar overture.
I’d spent all of two minutes in front of a laptop working on my version, but I was pissed because I’m selfish. Luckily, Zac is talented and his message regarding Pat was strong. Even luckier, I didn’t spend too much time on writing a piece that probably would have looked like blatant plagiarism.
Before long, my own selfishness made me reflect on Pat Summitt’s selfLESSness. Nothing can make you feel like a petulant child like watching a woman – a pillar of grace and dignity – step away from a program that was built using her own shoulders as the foundation. And she did it because it was the right thing to do.
However, pensive thoughts eventually gave way to hopeful ones.
Pat Summitt is going to put that same intensity – with a stare known for vaporizing the timid – and focus into fighting this disease. The competitive fire that she used to direct at the LSU’s and Geno Auriemma’s of the world will now be directed squarely at early-onset dementia, Alzheimer’s type.
It’s a battle she isn’t expected to win, but she’ll give it hell just like she did when she got to Knoxville, Tennessee, in 1974. Nobody expected her to get too far on Rocky Top, and you can fully expect her to fight this even harder
Eventually, she’ll lose, but everybody does. Death is riding a billion year winning streak heading into this fight. But, that fight is scheduled to go a full 15 rounds and today was merely the opening bell.
Which is why I am annoyed to see everybody anxious to eulogize her. By all means, eulogize her career. There is no doubting the fact that 1,098 wins, 16 SEC championships, and eight national titles have earned Pat Summitt a professional eulogy fit for a queen – she was the queen.
However, there is no need to eulogize Pat Summitt, the woman. The stare that once looked into Geno Auriemma’s soul won’t be forgotten, and the ambition that took her from coach/manager/driver to arguably the best basketball coach, regardless of gender, of all time will also have emeritus status for as long as Pat Summitt graces us with her presence.
I feel terrible to see Pat’s career at the University of Tennessee come to an end, but I feel even worse for Alzheimer’s. It will probably eventually get the best of her, but I have little doubt that this fight will go the full 15 rounds.
And if she carries Alzheimer’s awareness even half as far as she did women’s basketball, I can promise you that in 38 more years we’ll still be talking about Pat.