I got the news about Pat Summitt over lunch today. As a Vol and Lady Vol fan, I was understandably disappointed but not shocked.
But as the afternoon progresses, a real sadness has set in–for reasons transcending team affiliation.
My mother loved Pat. She took my grandparents to see the Lady Vols play in the SEC Championship several times. She and my grandfather would call each other almost right as soon as the timeclock hit zero, just to ask, “How ’bout them Vols?” She loved Pat’s feistiness just as much as that famous “steely” glare.
She called Pat a “classy broad,” which was about the highest compliment in her repertoire. She admired her for far more than her coaching prowess–also for the way she saw to it that all her players left Knoxville with degrees, the way she represented her school and her program with dignity, even the way she refused to get into a war of words with a serpent like Geno.
Mom never saw Pat reach 1,000 wins, but I watched it for her.
I thought of Mom when the news of Pat’s diagnosis first hit the press. It’s sometimes hard to accept when our heroes are humanized via devastating disease. How can someone of such stature be felled by anything? How dare that anything–whatever it is–refuse to cower in the presence of such a person?
Mom would of course have admired how Pat handled this past (and, as we now know, final) season. She tried to keep the attention on her players instead of on her, and in situations where that just wasn’t possible or plausible, she educated the public about this all-too-common diagnosis. Today’s decision is just as classy and humble as one would have expected.
I never thought Pat would coach forever–that’s silly. It’s just sad to be reminded that something so otherworldly-great ever comes to an end.