There is one word that perfectly describes Tennessee.
No, it's not orange, although orange fits. Just not the one I'm looking for.
And no, it's not the slew of nasty words the anti-orange among us had pop into their UT-hatin' heads.
This Tennessee basketball team is hard.
The Vols are hard to score against. They are hard to keep off the boards. They are, at times, hard to watch offensively.
They have taken on the demeanor of head coach Rick Barnes, who is hard in that old-school, Southern preacher who was always super strict with his own youngins kind of way.
They were hard on my betting line last night and hard on newly minted No. 1 Alabama in a physical 68-59 win over the visiting Tide.
They also will be hard to figure a month from now, for fans, foes and the folks who seed the hard-charging March Madness participants.
Wednesday night, the Vols -- without two starters mind you -- did what next to no one has been able to this season, and that's slow down the Alabama shooters.
It was a defensive clinic. Every shot challenged. Every pass contested. Every rebound viewed as much of a Tennessee treasure as the Opry and Dolly Parton.
Alabama missed 31 shots but got only eight offensive rebounds. Alabama had 11 assists (four fewer than its team average) and turned it over 19 times (five more than its average).
Those numbers paint a hard picture, but so do these Vols.
Hard, that is, as in hard to figure because after back-to-back buzzer-beating losses and an extremely ugly three-point win over Auburn, UT was fading closer to the 5 line than the 2 line.
Moments like those make everyone realize that UT is at times so offensively constipated that any tournament -- the SEC or the NCAA -- could be a one-and-done proposition.
But moments like last night make it easy to see why UT could reach its first Final Four in program history, too.
Either is possible.
Which way will the Vols break? Like most everything else with this team, it's hard to know.
Wow, the one-time spring break mecca welcomes NASCAR's season-opening Super Bowl this weekend.
It's hard to believe that NASCAR is 75. Wow.
It's also hard to believe that I know very little about the movers and shakers of the "Go fast, turn left" crew that used to be as much of Sunday viewing habits as the NFL or anything else this side of the final round from Augusta.
I do have fond memories, though.
I worked at the paper in Henry County -- where Atlanta Motor Speedway is located -- for 18 months, and during the summer they turned the track into a Thursday night Thunder operation using the pit area for mini cars for kids and teens.
A lot of the famous sons of racers who are all over the NASCAR standings these days were regulars, so I knew them all back when they were more worried about pimples than primary sponsors.
I was at an Atlanta Motor Speedway media event sitting next to Tony Stewart when legendary AJC columnist Furman Bisher started eating Stewart's salad. It was one of those swanky set-ups, and Furman grabbed the wrong plate, at least that's what I choose to believe.
Tony said, "Furman, you want my salad?"
Furman answered, "Thought it was mine. Thanks. What's your name again?"
I was in the grandstand 22 years ago next month, on a Monday, when Kevin Harvick won at Atlanta in the race after Dale Sr. died. There were a lot of tears from a lot of big ol' country boys that afternoon.
I remember riding with a good friend of mine at Auburn who was a huge Davey Allison fan to Allison's tribute after he died, too.
There are countless tales of younger days and wilder times in the infield at Talladega, which we ironically passed every time we drove to my in-laws house when they lived on Lake Martin. Something about those memories with two school-aged kids in the back seat to redirect your priorities, you know?
That's just a slew of my NASCAR memories. Heck, here's one more: Robbie Still was a friend of mine growing up. And while you're thinking, "Great story, Jay," well Robbie Still was the foul-mouthed kid character in the Kenny Rogers NASCAR movie "Six Pack."
I can remember after the shooting was done, Robbie would come to Nickajack Park in his movie set gear and we thought it was the coolest thing in the world.
In retrospect, working with Diane Lane would have been the coolest thing the world. Right, Spy?
Where were we? Oh yeah, NASCAR.
I miss it. Truly I do.
And J-Mac, who likely is one of our last remaining regulars who is still a NASCAR diehard, has noted in the past that NASCAR has embraced gambling. That's a good thing.
But what it will forever be NASCAR, which is a sport owned not commissioned. A sport that embraced the "If you ain't cheatin' you ain't tryin'" mantra. A sport that Brian France, when asked for a rule book back in the day by the aforementioned Furman Bisher, responded with, "You got $1 million bucks, because only car owners get a rule book."
Granted, transparency has emerged. I'm not saying the moonshiner days or the cheatin' ways are back.
I am saying, though, that NASCAR is not as fun as it used to be.
And like everything else in the sports/entertainment world not named the NFL, it's fighting for its place in your viewing prism.
Good luck NASCAR. May you find another 75 years of success, stories and Robbie Still.
Speaking of gambling
An interesting side item to the ever-growing sports betting discussion went largely unnoticed Wednesday.
Former Falcons first-round pick and Alabama star wideout Calvin Ridley applied for reinstatement with the NFL.
Ridley was suspended for a year for betting on NFL games.
There are a few layers to Ridley's scenario.
Big picture, as the leagues start to and continue to line their pockets with the coins from the collectors of sports bets, the gray area becomes wider.
Yes, betting on your sport -- especially on games in which you play -- should forever be a no-no, but if Ridley wants to bet on the Braves to beat the Padres on a Tuesday night in May, he should be able to, no?
Practically, it's the exclamation point on the unraveling of the Dmitroff era in Atlanta.
Ridley and Julio Jones were supposed to be the dudes that carried Matt Ryan into the sunset in Atlanta. That worked out about as smooth and well-scripted as "Caddyshack 2."
Now, if he returns and is healthy (remember Ridley took some time away from the sport for mental stress) and motivated, the Jags just added an eye-popping piece to a young and eye-popping offense. How about these skill guys in a three-receiver set: QB1, Trevor Lawrence; WR1, Ridley; WR2, Christian Kirk; WR3, Zay Jones; RB1, Travis Etienne; TE1, Evan Engram.
That's pretty stout.
This and that
-- You know the rules. Here's Hargis with a great story on Boyd-Buch wrestling coach Wes Williams working, succeeding and inspiring despite his fight with ALS.
-- Interesting tidbit about UT's win over No. 1 Alabama: It's the eighth time this season the top-ranked team has lost. Good luck with those brackets, friends.
-- Kentucky delivered at Starkville in a must-have game last night to keep the Cats' dancing hopes alive and really set the stage for a UK-Auburn tussle next week in Rupp. Congrats, Chas.
-- Mocs got their third straight hoops win. Good stuff. Any word on Jake Stephens' potential return, Mocs crew? If Jake returns and this group of Mocs -- who have won three straight -- keeps shooting it like this, look out Asheville.
-- We shared Lamar Johnson's story Wednesday. He's the real-life Andy Dufrense who has spent 28 years in a Missouri penitentiary for a murder he did not commit. Now comes news that Missouri state law does not allow for reparations for those wrongly convicted unless DNA evidence is used. Wow.
-- Speaking of "Shawshank," rest easy Raquel Welch. And the wardon's line of "What say you, fuzzy britches" directed at Raquel is a familiar one around the 5-at-10 compound.
-- Who doesn't like Paul Rudd, right? He has the next Marvel movie coming out Friday. He also has a wicked underrated catalog of truly funny films. Speaking of underrated, Rudd, who owns a candy shop in New York, gave People the scoop on his most underrated candy. White Tic Tacs if you can believe that.
-- So the domestic assault charges against former Texas basketball coach Chris Beard have been dropped. So has Beard, who was fired from the Longhorns in the aftermath of the incident. That begs the question of would you want your basketball program to look at or potentially hire Beard? Discuss.
Anything goes Thursday, so let's follow the Beard question with a pondering that follows Rudd's lead on underrated candies.
I'll start with the Heath bar. Love 'em.
True or false on a Thursday -- you watched more than 10 minutes of NASCAR in 2022.
As for today, well in the year 600, Pope Gregory the Great declared that "God Bless You" is the proper response to someone's sneeze. I concur.
On an anything goes Thursday, what's your go-to response when someone around you sneezes?
Also on Feb. 16 through history, John McEnroe is 64 today.
Who makes the Rushmore of men's tennis, and yes, I will run this by Paschall before revealing our selections Friday.
Go and remember the mailbag.