My sporting life was diminished a bit last week. After 16 years and 262,524 miles, my once faithful sports companion, a black 1992 Nissan Altima finally succumbed to old age.
Nearly every mile on her odometer was traveled in the pursuit of sports events all over the Southeast and Midwest. While I'd driven a couple of other cars during my reporting days, the "Shadow" was with me for most of the glory trips.
Over the past three years the old gal had been reduced to hauling my wife the short distance back and forth to work. It was a five-mile trip one-way and about all she could handle on a daily basis. Three years ago our mechanic had diagnosed her with the dreaded "death rattle."
Her days numbered, she was put into duty for local commutes only. We figured we'd drive her till she dropped.
A week ago Sunday her engine blew and she waited solemnly for the tow truck to take her off to the Kidney Foundation salvage yard.
Cleaning out her interior for anything remotely redeemable, I sat for a few moments behind the wheel and just stared at the odometer.
I remembered all those trips to Chattanooga for the state track and field championships. How reliable she'd been driving back in the early morning hours.
She took me to the University of Virginia in 1996 when the Lady Vols came from 18 points down in the second half to win the East Regional. We traveled the next week to Charlotte for the Lady Vols' NCAA championship win over Georgia.
The next year it was on to Cincinnati for Tennessee's second-straight national crown, a come-from-behind victory over Old Dominion.
The following year, "Shadow" took me to Nashville to witness the Lady Vols' victory over North Carolina in the Mideast Regional. Tennessee rallied from 12 points down in the final seven minutes to earn the win.
There was a memorable trip to Columbus, Ga., in 1998 for the SEC women's basketball tournament. Not only did the Lady Vols win that event, but it was a stroll back in time. I'd spent my Army basic training at Fort Benning in Columbus in 1969. That trip brought back so many memories.
There were hundreds of high school track meets, soccer matches, golf tournaments, swim meets, wrestling matches, cross country meets and girls and boys basketball games in Northeast Tennessee and Southwest Virginia to be covered. Trips to state events.
Through all those years, miles and sporting events one thing remained constant, that car never once quit on me.
Twice, she hauled me back from Knoxville late at night in snow storms so bad even the truckers had pulled over to wait out the worst of it. I remembered one of those trips when I made it all the way back only to get stuck in my own driveway!
When she was pulled up onto the tow truck for that last trip I gave her one last pat on the fender. Most of my career as a sports writer was spent in that car.
It had been a great ride, with memories I'll never forget.
Pat Kenney is executive sports editor of the Times-News. E-mail him at email@example.com.