When legendary coach Pat Summitt died Tuesday morning after a long fight with Alzheimer’s disease, a flood of memories, tributes and commendations flowed throughout the Internet demonstrating how many lives the Tennessee icon touched in her 64 years.
One of the best pieces showing who Summitt truly was as a coach and how she interacted with players was published in The Washington Post from columnist Sally Jenkins, a longtime friend of Summitt. Jenkins shared some of her personal recollections of Summitt but allowed the coach to speak for herself by including a letter she wrote to Shelia Collins on Nov. 22, 1982. Collins was to play her first game for the Vols that day.
Shelia, This is your first game. I hope you win for your sake, not mine. Because winning’s nice. It’s a good feeling. Like the whole world is yours. But it passes, this feeling. And what lasts is what you’ve learned. And what you’ve learned about is — life. That’s what sport is all about — life!
The whole thing is played out in an afternoon. The happiness of life, the miseries, the joys, the heartbreaks. There’s no telling what will turn up. There’s no telling how you’ll do. You might be a hero. Or you might be absolutely nothing.
There’s just no telling. Too much depends on chance, on how the ball bounces.
I’m not talking about the game. I’m talking about life. But it’s life that the game is all about. Just as I said, every game is life, and life is a game. A serious one. Dead serious. But here’s what you do with serious things. You do your best. You take what comes.
You take what comes and you run with it.
Winning is fun . . . Sure.
But winning is not the point.
Wanting to win is the point.
Not giving up is the point.
Never letting up is the point.
Never being satisfied with what you’ve done is the point.
The game is never over. No matter what the scoreboard reads, or what the referee says, it doesn’t end when you come off the court.
The secret of the game is in doing your best. To persist and endure, “to strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
I’m proud to be your Coach,
Pat Head Summitt
Kind of makes you want to run through a brick wall doesn’t it? No wonder Summitt won more than 80 percent of the time and finished her career with eight national titles, 32 SEC titles and so many other records and accomplishments.
There are people in life who don’t get enough credit for things. We can safely include Helen B. Watson, the former chair of Tennessee’s physical education department, among them. Watson is the woman who recognized Summitt as a potential coach when Summitt was just 22 and hired her to coach the Vols. Sports Illustrated shared the letter from Watson to Summitt offering her the job all those years ago.
Here is the 1974 letter from U of Tennessee to Pat Summitt offering her the job. pic.twitter.com/4hjTq9FbP5
— SI Vault (@si_vault) June 28, 2016