By Steve Williams
I hope you are enjoying this Tennessee men’s basketball season as much as I am.
Going into Saturday night’s game at Kentucky, the Vols were in their fourth week of being ranked No. 1 in the nation by The Associated Press. That rare achievement sparked me to find out how many other UT teams had held that prestigious position over the years and which had been on top the longest.
Tennessee’s 1998 national championship football team held the No. 1 ranking for six straight polls, from Nov. 9, 1998 through the 1998 final poll.
For No. 1 rankings by the Lady Vols’ basketball and softball teams over the years, I emailed Tom Satkowiak, Assistant Athletic Director for Communications, who took time from his very busy schedule to provide me with just what I wanted.
“Being SID of the No. 1 team in the nation has not been kind to my inbox,” replied Tom.
That’s a good problem to have I thought, but easy for me to say, eh?
Let’s take a look at what Tom Terrific sent me:
Women’s basketball teams, under the late, great Pat Summitt, were in 108 polls ranked No. 1. Summitt and the Lady Vols’ longest streak at No. 1 covered 19 polls, including all of the 1997-98 season and the first poll of 1998-99 campaign.
Softball was ranked No. 1 over a span of 51 games from Feb. 16, 2007 through April 29 (11 weeks). That was the Monica Abbott era, when the Lady Vols were led by the greatest softball pitcher these eyes have ever seen. I still can’t believe Tennessee didn’t capture a national title with that tall, southpaw flamethrower in the circle.
For the record, Abbott and the Lady Vols moved back into the No. 1 spot for five more weeks and 14 games that season, from May 10 through June 6.
Co-head coaches Ralph and Karen Weekly’s softballers also ranked No. 1 for two weeks early in 2014.
Tennessee also has had national titles in men’s outdoor and indoor track and cross country and women’s outdoor and indoor track over the years. Those teams also probably enjoyed No. 1 rankings in their sports, too.
So what have we learned from these past glory days when the Vols and Lady Vols sat atop the mountain. The main thing is a No. 1 ranking is a proud label to have during the season, but doesn’t always result in a national title.
Each sport is different, too. Nowadays, a football team better hold on to that high ranking in the regular season, if it wants to get a berth in the college playoffs. In basketball, a No. 1 ranking will surely secure a team a top seed in the NCAA tournament, but it’s a whole new season when March Madness begins.
So let’s continue to enjoy this exciting basketball season. There’s still a long way to go, and a championship to capture, whether a team is No. 1 or not right now.