KNOXVILLE (WVLT-TV) -- The entire nation witnessed a heroic effort by Bruce Pearl's Vols, but what the country didn't get to see in the hours following Tennessee's dramatic victory over the top ranked Tigers was the level of support and enthusiasm which has been generated by this program.
And why not, in just three short seasons, Coach Pearl has taken his troops to the top of the college basketball world. Pearl has officially transformed what was previously regarded as a football school into basketball power.
Certainly grateful are the students and fans that lived and died by every shot Saturday night as the Big Orange methodically wore down the mighty Tigers. Unable to put to rest Tennessee's 66-62 win in hostile territory, nearly a thousand fans gathered just outside Thompson-Boling Arena and waited for the team’s arrival.
Your Sports Overtime crew greeted Coach Pearl and the team at the airport along with a handful of fans from the area, but that was just precursor of things to come. The coach said he had gotten word of a special gathering on campus and couldn't wait to get back. We rushed ahead of the team bus and arrived seconds before to a scene like I've never seen before.
Police cars directing traffic, area's roped off for fans, as I mentioned, nearly a thousand of them, but even the tape couldn't hold back the UT faithful who stormed the bus as it pulled into the Arena parking lot. Not seconds after the door of the bus opened then chants of Bruce, Bruce began immediately followed by “it's great to be a Tennessee Vol."
Slapping hands and greeting fans a consumed coach Pearl jumped on the nearest car, which happened to be his Lexus and raised his arms in the air, ala "Rocky" and began to scream along with them.
It's certainly something this reporter has never witnessed in his 20-plus years covering the Vols and it's something I'll never forget. Neither will the players who were soaking in every minute.
JP Prince, one of Saturday night's heroes along with Wayne Chism told me it was wonderful to see that kind of support and when asked about coach Pearl, JP said, “that's just coach, he's the best in the country!”
Not many would disagree right now as come Monday his Vols will earn that same distinction.
Go Big Orange!