Bruce Pearl honored Tennessee tradition and former basketball coach Ray Mears by wearing an orange blazer to games against Vanderbilt and Kentucky. But what he wore against Florida went unnoticed, except when he sweated through it.
UT's former coach had a different way of distinguishing his program against the Gators. He beat them.
He didn't just beat them. He beat them when you least expected it, once even in a fever-induced sweat.
His overall winning record against Florida wasn't as noteworthy as what he accomplished in his first two seasons: three victories in four games against the Gators' back-to-back national champions.
Maybe that recent inexplicable history will draw you to Thompson-Boling Arena for this morning's SEC game between the nationally ranked Gators and a UT team that almost beat Austin Peay. So what if Pearl has been replaced by Cuonzo Martin. Perhaps there will be a carryover effect, enabling Martin's Vols to overcome the odds, just as Pearl's Vols did.
Such topsy-turvy developments invariably
are founded in something as mundane as (cue the Allen Iverson rant) practice. There, the Vols at least convey the right message. "Play Hard" is printed on the back of their practice shorts.
"Pray Hard," also would be a recommendable tactic against the Gators, whose numerous advantages are documented in the current SEC statistics. They rank ahead of Tennessee in 18 of the conference's 21 categories.
To which you might say: "Stats, smats."
Anyone who prefers to defy statistical evidence could point out that the then-No. 4 Gators had a statistical edge when they lost to the Vols in 2003. And Pearl had nothing to do with it. That was a Buzz Peterson production.
The beauty of college basketball is its unpredictable nature. Alabama and Florida can beat the Vols in football by simply showing up in their school colors. Basketball doesn't work that way.
You probably remember that Kentucky once defeated the Wade Houston Vols 101-40 in the SEC tournament on its way to the Final Four. The same Kentucky team lost to UT during the regular season.
One game means nothing in basketball. So what if the Vols made the Memphis Tigers look like the Memphis Grizzlies earlier this week. The excess points won't carry over.
Don't dismiss the tipoff time, either. College athletes aren't conditioned to 11 a.m. starts. They grew out of that when they left AAU ball. But if you must play at such an inhumane time for a student-athlete, better to do it on your home turf.
I can't help but imagine what marketing wonders Pearl could have wrought with a morning game at Thompson-Boling. "Breakfast with Bruce," he probably would have called it. He would have scrambled eggs, mixed Bloody Marys and toasted bagels for the first fans in line; then exhorted his team to play at a level that would have further fed the fan frenzy.
But you don't have to cook up a promotion to pull off an upset. Sometimes, you just have to play hard.
And hope the better team doesn't.