J. Paul Sanderson, 64, has been going to University of Tennessee athletic contests since his first football game in 1959.
On Thursday night, he wheeled into the stands at Thompson-Boling Arena in an electric wheelchair decked out with UT stickers and an orange-and-white scarf wrapped around his neck.
Like the rest of the crowd, he was hoping to see Lady Vols basketball coach Pat Summitt earn her 1,000th career win. He did. The Lady Vols defeated Georgia, 73-43.
"It's like when the president comes to town, and Pat Summitt is the president of women's basketball," he said.
Sanderson, who said he attends church with Summitt, was there when the celebrated coach won her 800th, 880th and 900th games.
But he was also watching the Lady Vols long before they were the stuff of legend, having cheered them on at three different on-campus venues over the past few decades: the Alumni Gym, Stokely Athletic Center and now Thompson-Boling. He said that he's watched women's basketball evolve over time and credited its status as a sport able to draw legions of fans to Summit.
"No one else has impacted the game like her," he said.
Three generations of women decked out in matching Lady Vols windbreakers strolled into the arena full of hopes for a win.
Diane Yonke, 67; daughter Deb Zacharias, 41, and granddaughter, Sierra Morris, 11, wanted to be together if Summitt reached the 1,000-win milestone. Yonke and Zacharias said they have had season tickets for 15 years.
"We're going to make history," Yonke predicted.
Ashley Freeburg, 23, and friend Jennifer Childs, 13, wanted the whole world to know that they're Lady Vols fans.
They came into the arena with their hair spray-painted orange, "T" logos stenciled on their faces and bearing a sign that was so large that security officers wouldn't let them carry it inside.
They didn't plan on letting anyone spoil their, fun and they made it clear the outcome of Thursday's game - the fifth they've attended together - wasn't as important as showing respect to Summitt.
"Win or lose, we stand behind Pat Summitt," Childs said.
The musicians who help rally the team and its fans were also enthusiastic, pleased to be playing their supporting roles in the on-court drama.
"I feel like I'm a part of Big Orange history as far as playing in the band in this game," said Nicole Tallon, 20, a saxophone major in the pep band.
Michael Slater, 22, a saxophone performance major, said he also used to play for the pep band but now attends the games strictly for fun.
"I come to a lot of Lady Vols games," he said. "With this one, I can say I saw history."
With the score at 45-29 in the second half, UT freshman Elyse Gillen, 19, cheered wildly from her vantage point in the student section as the Lady Vols kept racking up points.
As it became clear that UT was heading to a victory, Gillen said: "More top players are going to want to keep coming here. We're looking at a good four years."
As the one minute warning sounded, the crowd stood and began to chant "One Thousand" in honor of Summitt's accomplishments.
"Pat's going to continue to win and she's the reason I came to this game," said Elaine Boltz, 59, a high school basketball coach from Columbus, Ohio, who once had one of her best players recruited by Summitt.
Ron Graves, an arena usher who's spent 10 years working Lady Vols games, said from his post on the upper deck that he was keenly aware of the historic nature of Thursday's game.
"There's not a bad seat in the house in this game," he said.
- Drew Streip