Good-bye you should never be forgotten
Tuesday was senior night in Knoxville.
The former walk-on hitting the anything-but-meaningless 3 as his teammates celebrate like they just got to the Final Four.
The hugs and the parents. The emotional leader and his chiseled frame who has fought for everything in his four-year career unable to fight back the tears. The questions about the supremely talented underclassmen and whether this was their last game in The Bowling Alley.
In the box score, Tennessee's 71-58 win was as forgettable as most of the one-sided home drubbing the fifth-ranked Vols have handed out.
But know this: There almost assuredly will never be another connection with a team like Johnny Vols Fans everywhere have enjoyed, cherished and downright loved for the last four-plus months.
Look at the factors:
> With football reeling and Holly doing Holly things, Tennessee sports fans have been starving for something to cheer for, something to believe in, something to to look forward to and something to reinvest their pride.
> This team was preseason top-7-or-8 depending on the polls, but the guesses of the experts were not enough to completely answer the "Are they as good as we believe they can be?" questions. They answered those themselves. Emphatically.
> The record-setting and program-goal-redefining time atop the polls was magical and new. And you never forget your first time.
> Sure, any team as good and talented as Tennessee has Final Four dreams (and beyond) and anything short of that would be a disappointment when viewed through the prism of history.
But, this bunch was undeniably special. From Grant Williams' undersized dominance amid the 7-foot lottery picks he sees across the league to Jordan Bone's growth to a legitimate NBA point guard to the Admiral being admirable to the calm nature of Rick Barnes (that is until the time comes for him to not be calm), this has been a magical winter fairy tale in so many ways.
And in truth, not unlike the Unforgettables in Lexington or the back-to-back title team at Duke that pushed the Devils from great to elite or too many others to name, no matter what happens for Barnes and the Vols moving forward, this team will forever be remembered.
Let's say all the underclassmen return, the five-star recruit from Florida is a legit one-and-doner, the Vols start at No. 3 in the polls and jump to 1 at Thanksgiving and stay there for most of the year, Let's UT improves on a record-setting Final Four trip this year to the program's first-ever appearance in the title game.
By every measure that would be a better season. But in that scenario, the team's expectations - something elite programs manage on a nightly basis and handle with every road trip - make the journey more about handling business than enjoying the ride.
That's what comes with this first spin around the upper echelons of any sport.
Think about Alabama's rise under Saban - and this is not to say that Barnes is Saban; no one but Saban is Saban - and how that first team that marched to a surprising run to the SEC title game was so memorable. Everything was new (or renewed in Bama's case) and special and the expectations had not consumed the childlike joy of surprise wins and hard-fought, "We could lose" crude matches.
The reverse is also true. If Williams and Bone decide to enter the draft and Barnes is forced to rebuild more so than just replace the Admiral and readjust a few things, the memories of this bunch will be galvanized into a forever glimpse of what is possible.
Expectations are a funny, almost bipolar thing that, not unlike inertia, can lead to great progress or great stagnation.
And after this bunch's run toward a potential 1 seed in the dance, no matter where the magic carpet ride ends, there's not doubting the expectation level for UT basketball has been forever changed.
Good or bad.
Combine fall out
We love the draft. You know this.
There were a slew of NFL/combine stories Tuesday that we wanted to explore and see if we could define the meaning of the overarching message.
Kyler Murray is a bad egg. That's the report from Charlie Casserly, an NFL Network guy and former league executive, who said his off-the-field habits are off-the-charts in a negative way. Hmmmmmm. First we're hearing of that to be honest. So maybe teams are trying to devalue young Mr. Murray. Or maybe Murray is the next QB in line to realize that he has the power and he's not going to go about the "Well, we have to block and tackle, and play like we practice," and whatever Cliche 201 class QBs take mumbo jumbo. Seems like Baker Mayfield was getting a little of this from the old-school football voices this time last year and that worked out pretty well, no?
Eric Weddle, Landon Collins and Mark Barron, all either safeties or LB/S hybrids, are about to be free agents. What does that tell you? well, it's a tough world to be a DB approaching 30 in a hard-salary-cap league. It also should tell us that this safety draft class may be way deeper than we realize.
Very little Antonio Brown or Le'Veon Bell news. The lack of chatter around AB screams that the Steelers better readjust their trade talks for the game's most productive wide out who is paid like it and who will be 31 before the 2019 season starts. As for Bell, well, here's betting that the news circulating about Todd Gurley's arthritic knee is a scary proposition for GMs around the league to sign a long-term guaranteed deal with Bell, who had more than 1,500 touches in five years (and just 62 games) with the Steelers. Bell has averaged 24.85 touches (carries + catches) per game in his NFL career.
Speaking of ol' Charlie Casserole, he also says one team has confirmed that the Cardinals are shopping Josh Rosen. OK, that next chapter is easy - Arizona wants Murray. And since Vegas has updated its odds on being the top overall pick, this would be the ideal time to list them, right? Right. Nick Bosa +100 (which means he's even money, 1-to-1), Murray (+160, bet $100 win $160), Quinnen Williams (+450), Dwayne Haskins (+1400), Josh Allen, (+1400), Drew Lock (+4000), Jawan Taylor (+5000), Devin White (+5000).
So what do you say to that, Charlie?
We have said this pretty consistently, and now comes the biggest shoe to drop in how legalized gambling will change sports media.
ESPN announced last week that it will launch a daily gambling-related show later this month.
The show, titled "Daily Wager," will be one hour long and will air weekdays on ESPNEWS at 6 p.m.
Doug Kezirian, a former ESPN SportsCenter anchor and gambling analyst, will host the vehicle and he will be joined by a number of contributors, including two of the network's better college football handicappers, Stanford Steve and Chris "The Bear" Fallica.
This is not surprising, and the fact that this was moved up on the calendar is telling.
It's clear they want to be moving and shaking before the brackets are released, because while the Super Bowl is the single event with the most action, the NCAA tournament has the most players with office pools and what not.
It also makes sense because Fox Sports has made some in-roads and already has a head-start with a gambling-dedicated TV show that has a panel that includes Clay Travis and Todd Fuhrman among others.
This is the first of many changes to the coverage pattern in my estimation. We can see updated in-game lines in the scorebox when the technology avails itself.
We can see in-game experts - not unlike the replay officials - with live updates on how teams can rally to cover or make the over/under.
It's coming, and it's coming quickly.
This and that
- OK, we got a little greedy with five picks yesterday, but we hit three of those five - with VCU waxing George Mason, UNC covering at Boston College and Stony Brook winning as a slight underdog at Hartford - stay right at 60 percent for the year. Our losses - Kansas getting drubbed as a slight dog at Oklahoma and Buffalo failing to cover the 12 at Ohio - were whatever. (I will not pick Kansas away from the Phog again for a long while.) Here are a couple we are eyeing: South Florida minus 7.5 at Tulane, Richmond plus-1.5 at UMass, LSU plus-1 at Florida and possibly Arkansas minus-2 at Vandy.
- We talked a little bit about this on Tuesday's Press Row, but thought it was worth bringing up here. Remember when Clemson visited the White House and The Commander in Tweet served fast food. There was the expected hand-wringing and even some wondering if it was subtly racist. Well, the North Dakota State Bison - the FCS champs (again) - visited 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. and got the fast food treatment too. No calls of racism on this one though. Hmmmmmmmm. Bending over backward to try to make the story fit a specific narrative is supremely damaging for the credibility of the story-tellers, in my opinion.
- It's a long spring and you have to trust it, but man, Kyle Wright looked great for the Braves against the Yankees in the Grapefruit League on Tuesday. Three innings, two hits, three Ks, no walks. Yes please.
- Here's the list of the top 10 high school quarterbacks for the 2020 class. Harrison Bailey, a UT commit form Marietta High School outside of Atlanta, is No. 8 on the list.
Which way Wednesday.
Which QB would you rather have, Josh Rosen or Kyler Murray?
Willie Stargell would have been 79 today. First, the nickname Pops is severely underrated. Second, Those late 1970s Pirates uniforms were boss. Which 1970s baseball uniform was the best, Pirates, White Sox, Astros or those great Bravesduds of Burroughs, Baker and the boys?
As for today, well Shaq celebrates a birthday. He is 47.
In 1964, Muhammad Ali changed his name and joined the Nation of Islam.
Walter Cronkite signed off on this day for good in 1981.
Rushmore of all-time TV anchors. Go.