Significant memories from an earlier life

By Tom Mattingly

AUTHOR’S PREFACE: Last week’s story on the 1998 national championship book from Pediment Publishing brought back some significant memories.

More than a few years ago, I remember calling Susan Alexander at the News Sentinel more than once, offering to review recently published books, sometimes, but not always, about sports. More often than not, she would say “yes,” and off I went. It wasn’t too long before the reviews ended up in the paper, and the books ended up on the shelf in my home office. There was also a regular paycheck.

One thing about our relationship with the News Sentinel is important. She and I don’t live there anymore.

That was then. This is now. I remember looking at my “professional biography” the other day and found this entry.

“He has reviewed books written by Fountain City historian James C. (Jim) Tumblin (‘Fountain City: People Who Made a Difference’), former Vol basketball player Dane Bradshaw (‘Vertical Leap: Inside the Rise of Tennessee Basketball’), Clay Travis (‘On Rocky Top: A Front Row Seat to the End of an Era’), Gary Myers (‘Brady vs. Manning: The Untold Story of the Rivalry That Transformed the NFL’), Jeff Goldberg (‘Unrivaled: UConn, Tennessee, and the Twelve Years that Transcended Women’s Basketball’), Howard Frank Mosher (‘Walking to Gatlinburg’), Randall Norris (‘Mississippi Delta Stories’), and Ron Bliss (‘Ray Mears’ Big Orange Memories’).”

Here is one example, as submitted for the News Sentinel’s consideration and ultimate publication, sometime in 2015. Here’s my take on Jeff Goldberg’s book about the Tennessee-UConn rivalry.


“Unrivaled: UConn, Tennessee, and the Twelve Years that Transcended Women’s Basketball (©2015 Jeff Goldberg, 212 pages, with a 22-page appendix, $27.95)

At first glance, any semblance of balance appears illusory.

This is the second book written by Jeff Goldberg, UConn women’s beat writer for the Hartford Courant from 2001 to 2006, following on the heels of “Bird at the Buzzer: UConn, Notre Dame, and a Women’s Basketball Classic (2011).”

After all, Rebecca Lobo, the legendary 1990s UConn player and ESPN analyst known to call Geno Auriemma “Coach” during network broadcast interviews, wrote the Foreword. Geno’s daughter, Alysa, wrote the Afterword.

Connecticut media are quoted expansively, particularly when Tennessee’s July 2006 letter to the NCAA concerning alleged rules violations comes up, mainly referencing the recruitment of high school phenom Maya Moore.

Semeka Randall and Michelle Marciniak are the most quoted Lady Vols other than Pat Summitt, but they and Candace Parker, Kellie Jolly, and Chamique Holdsclaw are in no way represented as prominently as UConn’s Lobo, Sue Bird, Jennifer Rizzotti, and Diana Taurasi.

In the text, Goldberg provides the reader a sense of the excitement—and contentiousness—that surrounded the series. A compendium of the box scores from each game of the series adds flavor to the book.

Goldberg shares a moment where Pat Summitt seemed to have Auriemma flummoxed, even after a decisive UConn win in the 2004 NCAA Championship game. It may have been a classic athletic example of no-good deed going unpunished.

Goldberg recounts that Pat came to the dressing room to congratulate the UConn team on winning the championship.

‘I don’t think any of us will ever forget it,” center Jessica Moore said. “It was pretty darn cool.”

Geno, seemingly pressed to explain it, said he wasn’t sure of the “context” of the Summitt visit. (He hadn’t been there when it happened.)

“I always wonder when something like that happens. What is the motivation for doing it? Is it for publicity? To gain some kind of edge? I have no idea. I just thought it was a little odd.”

In the book’s Acknowledgments, no mention is made of the University of Tennessee or the Southeastern Conference. There may be credence to the idea that there were those close to the Lady Vol program who didn’t want to do anything to “help Connecticut” or be part of a “Connecticut book.”

There was also no acknowledgment of the Knoxville News Sentinel’s Dan Fleser’s considerable contributions to the final product.

Goldberg mentioned Randall, Carol Stiff of ESPN, who led the fight for the games to be played, and Lobo, all of whom were “particularly generous.”

Just when you might have thought “Unrivaled” might have been an unabashed UConn promotional piece, Alysa Auriemma penned a tribute in 2012 to Pat Summitt that was literally a masterpiece, harking to the day Pat left Alysa, then age 11, a voicemail message and later met her at the 1997 Dayton Regionals.

Receiving the call (“I’m positive I was so freaked out I never returned her call.”) made an impact on her, particularly when news broke on Aug. 23, 2011, that Summitt had been diagnosed with early onset dementia at age 59.

The book may have ended up decidedly pro-UConn overall, but there are enough special moments chronicled therein to get the attention of thoughtful Tennessee and UConn fans.

Finally, the conclusions are inescapable. Doing book reviews is fun, not to mention challenging. That’s the way things appeared nearly 10 years ago and remain so today.