By: Eric SanInocencio
SEC Digital Network
Birmingham, Ala. -- I never saw it coming.
Of the countless memorable, historic and transcendent moments in the greatest career coaching has ever seen, one simple and unplanned instant is what I'll always remember about Pat Summitt. In an all too familiar setting, I watched what would become the mental picture with which I will always recall the First Lady of college basketball. In that moment, her emotion, her dignity and her honor were all on display....one more time.
Heart. Dignity. Honor.
That's who Pat Summitt is.
The legendary Tennessee icon, who is one of the most influential people in college sports history, was named head coach emeritus at UT today, putting an end to an era that will NEVER be matched again. Summitt's amazing accomplishments and imposing demeanor will last a lifetime, just like her last name, which is etched on the basketball court her Lady Vols call home.
Before I get to that special moment, it is important to understand the profound effect Summitt's career and life have had on the entire world of college athletics.
Summitt is a pioneer, a true inspiration that has reshaped the minds of a generation of athletes, fans and people. She's a winner, with a spot firmly entrenched on the Mount Rushmore of basketball coaches. She is an advocate, showing the courage to not only admit her health issues, but to confront them in front of the entire nation. She is also an icon, whose greatest legacy might be the personal connection she made with anyone she ever came into contact with.
Trust me, there will never be another Pat Summitt.
I've had the privilege of watching her from afar for years, mostly admiring in awe as she commanded the room like no one I've ever encountered. I've interviewed some of the biggest names in the college sports world during my career, people whose presence and reputation preceded them. But, and I've told several people this, no one, I mean no one, ever walked into a room like Pat Summitt.
Mind you, it wasn't anything she said or did; it was just who she was and what she represented. Her accomplishments demanded respect, and when you were around her you knew you were in the midst of greatness. You just knew.
That unmistakable feeling would arise once again, in that final moment I mentioned earlier, reminding me of the true legacy of Pat Summitt
It was Friday, March 2nd, the second day of the 2012 basketball tournament. As usual, Bridgestone Arena (the site of this year's event) was clad in orange, as the Lady Vol faithful had filled nearly 90 percent of the seats there. During the first half of Tennessee's game that day against Vanderbilt, the Big Orange sang "Rocky Top", cheering on their girls as they captured the early lead. Halftime soon arrived, as both teams left the court and got ready to head to locker room.
As is customary, the intermission is used to honor the current class of SEC "Greats". These former players, chosen for their impressive resumes, are honored at half court, as the fans in attendance get one more chance to cheer their past heroes.
The Tennessee legend in 2012 was arguably the school's best player ever, as Chamique Holdsclaw was the featured guest on the docket. Holdsclaw made her way to a center court, a spot that she'd spent four years of her life battling for Pat Summitt and the Lady Vols. Holdsclaw received her award, waving to the multitude of orange shirts that were screaming her name. It was already a special scene.
Then it happened.
Off to the left of the court, a figure began moving forward. From my vantage point, I couldn't tell who was approaching, as I tried to peer around the presentation to see who was coming. The ovation gave it away, as Summitt made her way toward her former star. Holdsclaw and she embraced; setting off the loudest collection of cheers I can ever remember hearing at a basketball tournament. Fans rose to their feet, saluting Tennessee's best player and their greatest coach in one fail swoop.
The moment seemed to last forever, as the two continued to hug each other in front of everyone in attendance. I got goose bumps, understanding this meant so much more than congratulations. It was the celebration of a lifetime of great deeds, of coach and player, of fans and the idol they'd grown to love.
It was the "Summitt" of a legendary career.
After they finished embracing, the two stood arm and arm overlooking the arena landscape. They smiled, staring at the nation of orange that Summit helped create and Holdsclaw helped grow. They basked in the moment, as the 10,000 in attendance continued to shower them with adulation.
The moment would soon pass, as Summitt headed back to her current (and turns out final) group of Lady Vol players and Holdsclaw returned to the stands. 10 minutes later, both teams were back on the court and the second half begun.
Just like that, it was over.
I sat motionless during that time, yet filled with the emotions of the moment. I found myself thankful to have witnessed it, honored to be a small part of history. There was something dignified of that chance meeting, like it was meant to be.
Heart. Dignity. Honor.
That's how I'll remember Pat Summitt.