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  The Year in Review

SPORTS

Back to Reality

You would have thought the Vols' first national football championship in nearly 50 years would be our big chance to show the world that we know how to party. However, the Vols' victory over Florida State in the Tostitosª Fiesta Bowl was met with a curious calm back in the Home of the Vols; the cold weather, the post-midnight denouement, and the KPD made certain there'd be no significant public celebrations on the night of the game. (Never mind a riot, there was never even much of a party.) Then, the governor's inauguration in Nashville delayed the "official" celebration for nearly a month—so long that by the time it came, our pulses had returned to normal and our deep-orange blood had cooled. We were deep into the basketball season and wondering about next season, when we'd have most of our old stars, plus the recovered Jamal Lewis.

That season was, of course, a respectable disappointment, as losses to Florida and Arkansas took the boys out of contention for a ree-peat. They settled into their customary spot at #6 and earned another chip in the Tostitosª Fiesta Bowl. Meanwhile, the Lady Vols also came back down to reality, failing to win the championship (!), and this year experiencing an actual loss (!) and a current rating at No. 2 (!).

Not Just Damn Big—Jumbo-Sized!

The Jumbotron arrived at Neyland Stadium with great fanfare. Except that we couldn't hear the fanfare because of the Jumbotron. Loud enough to drown out that band down there as well as our own cheering, the Jumbotron teaches us humility as it allows us to see instant replays—as well as each of the players' faces, as they each rotate on a lazy susan, Hollywood-style. We figure some people must like the Jumbotron, but the Pride of the Southland Band doesn't seem nearly as proud when it shares the stadium with this colossal big-screen TV. Even Volmania is beginning to seem meek and humble in comparison. The new Jumbotron made attending a game at Neyland Stadium just like watching the game on TV at home, but with traffic.

Jury's Still Out on Vols

Attention sports fans. It's time to think back, back, back—way back—to when ESPN.com broke its story about alleged academic fraud among UT football players. Hints of trouble surfaced when four players were sidelined for the home game against Memphis. The next day, ESPN broadcast the findings of its six-week investigation, which revealed charges of plagiarism by Tennessee athletes and a cover-up by officials in the UT athletic department.

By Monday, the ESPN investigation was the lead story in the News-Sentinel. Five days later, it would be ostensibly put to bed by University President Wade Gilley, who assured everyone that there was no scandal. UT conducted its own internal investigation and everyone came out squeaky clean. Hooray.

But according to Dr. Linda Bensel-Meyers, the faculty member who raised some of the original questions about the university pampering its academically challenged athletes, the school's internal probe did not dig deep enough.

With the Vols' semi-disappointing football season coming to an end, ESPN.com followed up with additional reports about the National Collegiate Athletics Association conducting its own investigation of UT. Now, reports ESPN.com, Vol fans wait for the NCAA—the inspector general of college sports—to return with its own verdict.

The Last Inning

There was no joy in Knoxville in September when the Knoxville Smokies played their last game as the Knoxville Smokies, and played what was likely the last pro baseball game in 46-year-old Bill Meyer Stadium—or in its larger site, 83-year-old Caswell Park, where we've been playing ball since the '20s.

The city has lost its pro baseball franchise two or three times before. Losing it to a new stadium in neighboring Sevier County, while more convenient than, say, Lexington, made the loss seem more final than ever before. Though plans for the future of the park remain the subject of discussion and dispute, most predict the demolition of 47-year-old Bill Meyer Stadium, named for the great Pittsburgh Pirates manager and Knoxville native who got to see a few games here before his death in 1957. When they played Auld Lang Syne at the last game at Bill Meyer, children were crying.

Up to Speed

1997 was a sad year for local puck-nuts, as our long-running local hockey squad, the Knoxville Cherokees, pulled out of the ice and headed south for the warmer climes of Florence, S.C. This year, however, hope sprang anew as the former "Madison Monsters" franchise of the United Hockey League came to Knoxville after four years in Wisconsin.

Renamed the Knoxville Speed, the franchise plays a 74-game schedule (37 of which take place in our very own Civic Coliseum) in the UHL, a member of the league's eastern division under the auspices of head coach/G.M. Terry Ruskowski. The organization was also responsible for bringing the city its first-ever NHL game, a preseason exhibition on Sept. 16 between the Nashville Predators and Florida Panthers. High-sticking, indeed.

Our Piece of Fame

After years in the planning, the Women's Basketball Hall of Fame opened in June. The initial class of inductees included Pat Summitt and her former Olympic foe Uliana Seminova, the 7-foot Russian who dominated the international game for two decades. The celebration was highlighted by a WNBA exhibition game between the two-time champs, the Houston Comets, and the cellar-dwelling Washington Mystics, who upset the champs behind the play of a rookie name Chamique Holdsclaw. The undisputed queen of the weekend, however, was Knoxville Sports Corporation mogul Gloria Ray, whose efforts brought the Hall to town.