By Jim Caple
Page 2

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. -- This is the best story I have from our Mr. and Miss Bracket visit to the University of Tennessee, courtesy of traveling partner Mary Buckheit.

Jim Caple at Tennessee
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Exhausted from a 12-hour journey that included a four-hour delay at depressing LAX, Mary dragged herself into a restaurant near campus for a late dinner. Given that it was almost 10 on a Tuesday night, she was alone in the restaurant except for two women in their early 60s, who ignored the waiter's no smoking order -- "Son, we're four times as old as you are and you can't tell us what to do" -- and then proceeded to entertain Mary with tales of their love for Tennessee Volunteers athletics. The only thing they loved more than the Volunteers, one boasted, "is our [expletive] marching band."

How much did they love their team? "Honey," one said while taking a long drag on her cigarette, "I conceived two children in Neyland Stadium."

Mary was dubious, but the woman's friend confirmed the tale with a nervous nod of the head.

Now, the frightening part of that story is not that a woman would actually conceive a child in a football stadium but that she would conceive two children there.

Then again, Tennessee fans are very passionate about their Vols.

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Once I had a girl on Rocky Top
Half bear, other half cat
Wild as a mink, but sweet as soda pop
I still dream about that.

-- lyrics from "Rocky Top"

There is much to like about this sports-crazed school -- the local area code is VOL -- but my favorite is the way Tennessee names just about all the campus streets after someone. Tooling across campus is like driving through Volunteers history. There's Neyland Drive and Johnny Majors Drive and Peyton Manning Pass and Chamique Holdsclaw Drive and Todd Helton Drive and Phillip Fulmer Way (which, I can only assume, will be downgraded to Fulmer Alley should the Volunteers lose to Vandy again).

And, of course, there is Pat Head Summitt Street, which really ought to be an interstate.

Summitt may be the only woman coach in collegiate sports who is more famous than any of the male coaches at her school. And well she should be. She's won more games than any coach, man or woman, in collegiate history. She's coached the Lady Vols to the women's Final Four 20 times, including 14 times in the past 20 years, winning it six times.

Jim Caple and Mary Buckeit
Steven Bridges for ESPN.com
Jim and Mary embracing the Vols' Orange crush. (Steven Bridges for ESPN.com)

The Women's Basketball Hall of Fame is across the parking lot from my hotel here but it might as well be located inside Summitt's house.

It's easy to see why Summitt has been so successful. She is so driven that she once paid a recruiting visit to Michelle Marciniak's home despite going into labor midway through the visit (Marciniak signed with Tennessee and Summitt delivered a son hours later). She is so demanding that she is capable of glares that would make that Italian ice dancer blink and look away. Trust me, you do not want to piss her off.

But the NCAA did just that by giving the Lady Vols a No. 2 seed instead of their usual No. 1.

"It's a slap in the program's face," Summitt complained to reporters. "I guess it's my fault for putting together the toughest schedule in the country year in and year out."

Fans generally agree the NCAA snubbed the Lady Vols but see a silver lining.

"She does better when she's angry," said Tim Ainger.

Ainger auditioned for our contest wearing a bright orange T-shirt, an orange cowboy hat, orange pom-poms in his hair and, fortunately, an orange loin cloth. In other words, he was dressed a little more conservatively than men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl.

Pearl has been wearing a fluorescent orange blazer so bright that I think the Department of Homeland Security uses it as the color code for nuclear attack.

Jim Caple and Mary Buckeit
Steven Bridges for ESPN.com
Tennessee has plenty to cheer about. (Steven Bridges for ESPN.com)

Tennessee fans love Pearl, whose men's team is not only in the tournament for the first time in five years, but its No. 2 seed is also the highest in the program's history. And all that in his first year here. Ainger says Pearl moved the student section down around the court and bought everyone waiting in line pizza one game. If he keeps this up, there's a boulevard ready to be renamed by the basketball arena.

The men struggled to beat Winthrop in their opener Thursday, and will play again Saturday against Wichita State. The Lady Vols, meanwhile, will play Sunday against Army, and on Tuesday if they advance.

So it should be quite the week in Knoxville. And I really wish I could stay to drink in the Tennessee atmosphere -- "If someone offers you moonshine, only drink it with fruit punch and with an eye-dropper," Ainger warned me -- if only to see how the Vols fans would respond if both teams reached the Final Four, or, cross your fingers, each won the national title.

On the other hand, perhaps it's for the best that I leave before things get out of hand. I don't think I could afford the child support.

Jim Caple is a senior writer at ESPN.com. His first book, "The Devil Wears Pinstripes," is on sale at bookstores nationwide. It also can be ordered through his Web site, Jimcaple.com. Sound off to Page 2 here.




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