When the Tennessee Titans arrived in Memphis for their first season in their new state, Pat Summitt was already a 5-time national championship winning head coach of the University of Tennessee Lady Vols. Summitt would go on to win her sixth title in 1997 while sharing the spotlight with the arrival of the then Tennessee Oilers to her state. She and her squad would win the championship for a third straight year in 1998 and she would add two more titles in 2007-08 while sharing the state spotlight with an NFL franchise.
Before her retirement in 2012, Summitt would record 1,098 wins against just 208 losses and eight titles in her head coaching career that began at Tennessee in 1974. Already a legend in the state as a player at her beloved University of Tennessee, Summitt turned her Lady Vols into the benchmark for woman's college basketball and cemented he name with the greatest coaches of all sports in general.
On Sunday news surfaced that Summitt, who was diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's disease in 2011 was in critical condition and that her family and former players had been summoned to her side as the end could be close at hand.
It was a sobering moment for me personally as Pat -as she insisted people, including those in the media call her- played a key role in my career in sports media. Somehow for me, calling her Pat even at her request just didn't seem respectful, so it was Coach Pat for me.
The year was 2003 and I was transitioning from my former career into the world of sports media where I had worked part time in radio since 1991. I wanted to be the next big thing in sports talk radio.
I got my first seat as a co-host doing a small sports talk radio show in Lebanon where people didn't know me from Adam- most still don't- but myself and my partner were determined to make a name for ourselves. We set out to get big names to join us on our show, and in particular our very first show.
The first show came in December which is nearing the end of football season and basketball is now in full swing. Now most people who know me, know I'm not a UT Vols fan, but I always respected Coach Summitt and what she did with Lady Vols basketball, so when my partner suggested we try to get her as a guest on our first show I was all for it, though I doubted we could pull it off
It took a little effort but amazingly after many phone calls over two weeks, we got Coach Pat to agree to be on our first show- we also managed to get Eli Gold on the first show so we were set- which amazed me that she would agree to do it at all, but she did.
The day of the show arrived and it came time to call Coach Pat, with whom we have never spoken- we arraigned it through UT and her personal assistant- but when we dialed the number given to us by her people, there she was on the other end of the line. Coach graciously gave us 15 minutes of her time that night but what she did after her segment ended shocked me.
When we went to commercial we stayed on line for a moment to thank her for doing this and to our amazement she told us that she enjoyed doing it and would love to join us anytime we wanted that her schedule would permit. She even gave us her personal number to reach her so as not have to go through the same process we did the first time to arrange it.
We had Coach Pat on six time over the course of that season and the next season to talk Lady Vols basketball and she was always incredible.
That second season Coach Pat invited us -my partner, myself and our significant others at that time- to come to Knoxville to attend a game as her guest. She rolled out the red carpet, getting us a tour of Thompson-Bowling along with a pregame meal, great seats near the floor and a post game taped interview we played on our next show.
She is truly an amazing and special lady and I will forever be grateful- and lucky- for the class and hospitality she showed to a couple of unknown radio guys who could do nothing at all to help her.
I still have the audio tape recording of that first show, and all the others as well, and will treasure them always.
I would leave that show after the second year and would not have case to talk with Coach Pat for a few years.
She was a regular visitor to Titans games at Nissan Stadium, and that was the last place I saw her.
It was 2010 and by chance I would find her and former UT men's head coach Bruce Pearl on the field during pregame. The pair was looking to find their way to the elevators and up to the press deck where they were sitting for the game.
Much to my surprise Coach Pat remembered me and I was able to show them the way to their destination. We enjoying a fun conversation on our walk and elevator ride to the press deck.
Pat Summitt is a class person and will forever be an inspiration to me, not only for what she gave the world of sports and women's basketball, but for the dignity, class, spirit she showed while facing this debilitating disease. I will also never forget the help she gave me when she did not have any reason to do so. It was simply who she is.
It's not often that you get the opportunity to meet a true legend of sports, I have been privileged to meet a few, none bigger than Coach Pat.