Outside Smith Center on Wednesday night, several guys in orange sweatshirts waited patiently in the cold to have basketballs signed by members of the top-ranked Tennessee women's basketball team after the Lady Vols had improved to 8-0 with a 59-43 win over George Washington.
Inside the arena, Tennessee's coach, Pat Summitt, whose 890 victories are the most of any coach (man or woman) in the history of college basketball, was finishing her postgame rap with the media. Summitt stays until the final question because, for the past 32 years as coach of the Lady Vols, she's been trying to bring her sport in from the cold.
And it hasn't been easy.
While a respectable crowd of 3,207 fans were in the 5,000 seats, there was no telecast of the game, none of the pregame buzz that would have surrounded a visit to town from Duke, No. 1 among the men's college teams.
"I love coming to this city," Summitt, whose teams have won six NCAA women's titles, replied when asked why she brings her team here every other year. She's now in the fifth year of a home-and-home series with the Colonials; conversely, GW Athletic Director Jack Kvancz couldn't hope to attract a top 10 men's team to visit Smith Center because of its limited capacity.
Summitt's attachment to Washington went beyond giving her players a tour of the monuments. She was a consultant to the Washington Mystics of the WNBA for the past four years, but that role ended officially on Friday. The Mystics were sold by Abe Pollin last summer to Sheila Johnson and the Lincoln Holdings ownership group and new management decided to end its relationship with Summitt.
What hasn't ended is Summitt selling women's basketball by taking her team into hostile arenas, showcasing stars such as freshman Candace Parker and trying to turn a midweek women's college basketball game into an event.
"It's a big deal playing Tennessee," said GW Coach Joe McKeown, who has taken the Colonials to the NCAA tournament 12 of the last 14 years. "When you play Tennessee, you find out if your kids can play at that level."
The next night, at MCI Center, women continued to retain a share of the local sports spotlight (as they will Sunday, as well, with No. 8 Maryland hosting Arizona) with Serena and Venus Williams making the last stop on a three-city exhibition tour that made me think about tennis before professionals were permitted to play in major events. We're talking the "pre-open" era -- before 1968 -- when Jack Kramer and his barnstorming troupe of pros that included, depending on the year, Ken Rosewall, Lew Hoad, Pancho Gonzales, Tony Trabert and Frank Sedgman.
"It was a 100-match tour, and they'd lay down a portable court in whatever city and play," remembered Washington tennis impresario Donald Dell, who recalled a court being dropped on the ice at the old Uline Arena. "It was cold and slippery,'' Dell said, adding he was "quite young" at the time.
Did I really include Dell, the Williams sisters, Candace Parker and Ken Rosewall in the same column? Even Feinstein is above that.
Questions and Answers
Some Washington baseball questions as the D.C. Council faces another stadium/lease deadline, followed by my best efforts at answers:
If wishy-washy Council Chair Linda Cropp changes her pro-stadium stance (again) and joins with anti-stadium forces to torpedo the deal, what will MLB do? MLB could say D.C. broke the agreement and move the Nats to maybe Las Vegas, but not Miami.
If Germany can gussy up Hitler's Olympic (1936) Stadium in Berlin for the 2006 World Cup Final for under $300 million, why can't we do something with MLB that satisfies everyone? The stadium situation here leaves me speechless, as does playing major sports events in Hitler's old playpen. What's the Berlin city council thinking? They need a new stadium; maybe finance guy Natwar M. Gandhi can help.
Now that two of the Nats' better players -- Alfonso Soriano and Jose Vidro -- are both second basemen, can't one of them be a good team guy and learn to play the outfield, or shortstop? I think GM Jim Bowden will trade one of these guys, if he doesn't trade himself to the Red Sox first.
Does the D.C. Council know exactly how much taxable revenue ($37.5 million) the Nationals generated for the city, let alone how much goodwill and national exposure they created in their first season here? No.
Sports Week's favorite Redskin, wide receiver and special teamer Jimmy Farris, had a tenuous second game with the team, getting called for an illegal block on a punt return that put the ball inside the Redskins 5-yard line, leading to a safety for the Rams. Fortunately for Jimmy, the Redskins still won, 24-9.
"I felt terrible . . . had we lost, oh boy," Farris said. "Was that some call or what? Barely touched the guy. But even if it's a clean block and they fall down, that's a problem."
He was the Redskins' last cut in September and waited at home in Atlanta for more than three months before the phone rang. "The rust is gone," he said, happily adding he rented an apartment last week near Redskins Park "for the rest of the season."
Well Worth Watching
* Thoroughly enjoyed the BB&T Classic at MCI Center on Monday night, with No. 19 George Washington defeating No. 21 Maryland, 78-70, in a high-intensity game that was exciting throughout. Navy's win over Howard and George Mason crushing American were less enthralling, but the crowd of about 12,000 got its money's worth.
"It was a great win in a great atmosphere," GW Coach Karl Hobbs said. "I'd call it a heavyweight fight. Maryland locks people up in the second half, but our guys hung tough. We'd like to do in the future what Maryland has done: get to the NCAA tournament 11 straight times. And we'd also like to be the college basketball team of D.C."
Maryland's Gary Williams, while giving GW props, reminded everyone that his main "rivals were Duke and North Carolina" and the Terps' future participation, as stated when the event began, would include a game against a prominent team from outside the Beltway.
I prefer the event involve local teams, including Georgetown, and in some way be named for three retired Hall of Fame coaches who live here: Red Auerbach, John Thompson and Morgan Wootten.
* Tony La Russa, future Hall of Fame manager of the St. Louis Cardinals, and author Buzz Bissinger, who collaborated on the book "Three Nights in August," appear at a Smithsonian program, tomorrow night at 7, at Lisner Auditorium.
* MCI Center Update: Wizards lack chemistry; Caps lack enough NHL players.
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