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Three Strikes And You're...

Long before Knoxville was a big football town, Knoxville was a big baseball town. Since Capt. Sam Dow organized a couple of teams in 1865, Knoxville has had one of the oldest baseball traditions in the South. But, as a result of what happened, and didn't happen, in 1998, over 130 years of municipal, spectator-oriented baseball in Knoxville proper may end forever after the 1999 season when, unhappy with their current site and frustrated with city and county efforts to find another, the Smokies move to Sevier County.

We've lost baseball before, for a couple of years at a time—dry spells which, looking back, look like seventh-inning stretches. We always knew that if we were patient, they'd start playing again. Many fans were confident that if the Smokies moved to, say, Lexington, old Billy Meyer would hardly have time to feel lonesome before we found another team to play there. But we've never lost baseball to another place in the metropolitan area; and by the rules, we're not allowed another team in Knoxville as long as there's one in Sevier County.

The mayor and others have emphasized that we didn't really "lose" them. They'll still there, of course, for those with the time and money to drive an extra 30 or 40 miles round trip, to root for a team that represents East Tennessee and not necessarily Knoxville.

Them Vols

In the wake of the departure of possibly the best college quarterback in the history of the Free World (that's Peyton Manning we're talking about, for all of you football Philistines), the University of Tennessee football squad accomplished a highwater mark unseen in these parts for nearly 50 years; it navigated the regular season undefeated(!) en route to a number one ranking and a showdown for all the marbles with once-beaten Florida State in the Jan. 4 Fiesta Bowl. Throw in a second consecutive SEC championship, and this is easily the most decorated Vol squad since General Neyland captained the single wing.

This year's team, so the coaches tell us, was a "blue collar" squad, a team with "no stars"—a bit disingenuous, given the presence of All-World tailback Jamal Lewis (who, alas, went down with a season-ending knee injury in the fourth game against Auburn), All-American linebacker Al Wilson, All-Conference kicker Jeff Hall...

And then there's Peyton's replacement, junior signal-caller Tee Martin. After a shaky start, Martin's improvement has been so dramatic that some pundits are already touting him as an All-Conference performer in 1999. His best performance came in November against hapless conference rival (and future Lou Holtz reclamation project) South Carolina, where Martin rang up a Division One record 23 completions in a row.

Martin's coming-of-age and the team's success almost overshadowed the individual accomplishments of Hall; the rock-solid senior place-kicker eclipsed the SEC career points record in a stellar season that saw him win two games (Syracuse and Florida) with last-second kicks. How much farther can these Vols go? Tune in Jan. 4, when they put their 12-0 record on the line against Bobby Bowden and Florida State in Tempe, Ariz., winner take all...

Them Lady Vols

Life was good for Tennessee Lady Vols basketball fans. The team ended the 1998 season with a "3-Peat" National Championship and a record 39-0 record (there have been undefeated teams before, but never one that won so many games). As the team swung into tournament form, HBO ran a film documenting its 1997 "Cinderella" season. Coach Pat Summitt was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, making her the first coach of a women's team to adorn SI. Chamique Holdsclaw won every Player of the Year award coming and going, and announced (for the umpty-gabillionth time) that she would stay in school for the '99 season. Freshmen Tamika Catchings and Semeka Randall (the other two-thirds of Tennessee's fabled "Three Meeks") each broke Holdsclaw's frosh scoring record. And even though they ended their winning streak in the second game of the current season, they're still a good bet to give Holdsclaw her fourth straight national championship.