"PLAAAY FREEBURRRD!" The vortex holding me prisoner was Spicey's, a bar in Powell. The Funky Honkys were on their third/fourth time out of the garage and onto the stage. Cold wings sat in little paper boats, mason jars clinked, and the band ripped through the soundtrack of my youth. The sea of orange and white was the only thing distinguishing this bar from any other in the country during the NCAA finals.
"WEST HIGH… '74… BABY!" slurred a badger of a man dripping PBR on his "We Back Pat" T-shirt. Hmmm. That's when "Freebird" blew up the charts and Pat Summitt began coaching. The Honkys' silver fox of a frontman wailed out "Up Around the Bend." (Boys, you earned an A. I'll make sure to drop a dime to Steven Tyler next week just for you.)
The band took a break. Bob Seger sang "Night Moves" over the jukebox. Ahhh, the symphony of 1976: The same year a daughter of Tennessee, named Holly Warwick, started playing for Pat Summitt.
Van Halen's "Jump" recalled images of David Lee Roth and my 1984 Toyota Corolla. I'm betting Pat (who we back) didn't think about jumping in the same way as Diamond Dave. She was busy that year coaching the United States Olympic Women's Basketball team to a gold medal.
Two harpies in DIY "We back Pat" tube tops sitting near the television screeched: "That's not Pat. That's the other one. The girl from Bearden."
"Are you gonna eat that wing?"
"Where's Pat? Is Baylor a real college?
"I want to see Pat. I back Pat. CUERVO SHOTS!!"
"GO PAT! I BACK PAT!"
You know, me too.
And so does the "other one," Associate Head Coach Holly Warwick.
The orange and white, the well-meaning drunks… the ESPN.
It's all too sobering.
She's in pain. She's wincing in pain. Not Pat; Holly.
She is sitting behind that table using every iota of her being to speak eloquently about the end of the season and the loss to Baylor. Her brave tone poem is adrift in a public sea of Buffalo sauce-stained paper boats and slurred speeches.
Are you paying attention? Do you see the grace and leadership up there? Do you see the Homeric effort to transcend a season of bewildered grief and angst that struck our community, the nation of Vol fans, and anyone with a conscience?
"IS SHE… CRYYYING?" snarks a eunuch in a leather vest.
Dude, shut up and suck your mason jar. YouTube is full of thousands of athletes choking up over a loss. Where's the damn band? Where's a Bon Jovi cover?
Pat Summitt and Holly Warwick began the 1997-98 season with the Lady Vols seeded as the best in the country. In the March Madness of 1998, NCAA fans watched the Wizard of Knoxville work her magic with a game-time soundtrack provided by Bon Jovi and Richie Sambora's talk box. Fades to commercials started with Jon singing, "This ain't a prayer for the brokenhearted. It's my life, It's now or never. I just wanna live while I'm alive. Like Frankie said, ‘I did it my way.'"
Mr. Bongiovi, Pat can relate. She did it her way.
And right now, the girl from Bearden is doing it her way at the last press conference of the season from hell. It's almost over, Coach Warwick. The peccadillos disguised as questions are almost over. You can almost go home, away from the exhausting scrutiny.
Sports commentators had a field day with post-game, post-season analysis. I don't know sports and I can barely write. But I damn well know courage when I see it. The girl from Bearden held a master class on inner strength and dignity. Of course she held her own: Holly learned at the foot of the master.
So play "Freebird," damn it. And thank you Lady Vols for the teamwork, discipline, courage, and compassion the fans did not see. Of course we all back Pat. But we see you, too, Holly. We back you, too, Coach.