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Bruce Pearl, Vanderbilt, and the meaning of Hulk smash Leader!

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Did you ever wonder why we at RTT close every men's basketball game thread post with the phrase "Hulk smash [something!]"? We started that three years ago, back when we were averaging 500 visitors per day. Now that we've increased tenfold,we figured that the first Orange Jacket Game of the season was a good time to bring you new folks up to speed.

Back in January, 2007, we discovered that Tennessee head coach Bruce Pearl was actually Bruce Banner:

You may have heard the story: Dr. Bruce Banner, a genius in his field, is caught up in radioactive fall out while testing a new weapon he was developing. As a result, Banner is now prone to involuntary transformation into The Incredible Hulk, a condition equal parts blessing and curse. Banner's intelligence defies measurement, but as his emotional level rises, he morphs into the Hulk, a greenish monster with little self-control, superhuman strength, and regenerative healing abilities. A complex character, the Hulk nobly leads the Pantheon, a group of superheroes allied against all that is evil, but because of his limited self-control and destructive tendencies, he is often targeted by the authorities.

BREAKING NEWS: Tennessee men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl is the real Bruce Banner.

Many of the folks on Rocky Top consider what Pearl did [in his first season] with a floundering men's basketball program the mark of genius. Entering the 2005-06 season, most expected the Vols to finish fifth out of six teams in the SEC East. After all, the program had been languishing in mediocrity for years. But by the end of his first season as head coach, Pearl had guided the team to 22 victories, won the SEC East, and swept its regular season series against four of the other five SEC East opponents, including eventual national champion Florida. He reenergized and regenerated the Tennessee men's basketball program by infecting his team, the UT student body, and the city of Knoxville with his enthusiastic brand of marketing and a "controlled chaos" style of play that was wildly entertaining even when the team lost. Attendance at men's basketball games went through the roof, and by the end of the year, he had been recognized as the Sporting News' national coach of the year.

Okay, so maybe he's a basketball genius, but does he give himself over to emotional outbursts that transform him into something else? Exhibit B:

(Note: Yes, we realize "Hulk Hogan" is not "The Incredible Hulk." Work with us, here.)

This off-the-charts enthusiasm and emotion has won over the hearts and minds of his team and Volunteer fans, and it has, more often than not, directly resulted in the Pantheon's destruction of its adversaries.

Well, then. Is he, like Savage Hulk, targeted by the authorities? Oh, yeah. The Men in Stripes have been known to hit him with technicals at the most inopportune times. Heck, he's even been ejected from high school games. As a spectator. Twice.

And then the kicker. His skin color varies. There can be no doubt. Tennessee men's basketball coach Bruce Pearl is in fact The Merged Hulk/Professor in the flesh, possessing the intelligence of Bruce Banner, the cunning of Joe Fixit, and the powers, abilities, and destructive tendencies of Savage Hulk. And Vol fans are absolutely loving it.

The madder Hulk gets, the stronger Hulk gets.

So naturally, if coach Pearl is the Hulk and the team the Pantheon, then Vandy must be The Leader:

The Leader

a.k.a. The Vanderbilt Commodores

Samuel Stearns was transformed into The Leader when the radioactive materials he was moving as part of his job with a chemical research plant exploded and exposed him to, you guessed it, gamma radiation. Well, they say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and that was certainly true of Stearns, who was transformed from a high-school dropout with average intelligence into a "a green-skinned, super-intelligent criminal with an oversized brain housed in a towering cranium." The Leader now possesses superhuman mental acumen, perfect recall, and the ability to master any subject, including tactical and strategic scenarios.

Despite his vast intellect, The Leader's arrogance makes him prone to rash and dangerous decisions, and he continues to pick fights with the Hulk despite his many defeats at the hands of the physically superior enraged Hulk.

So there you have it. Bruce Pearl is the Hulk, and Vandy, one of the Southern Ivy League schools, is The Leader. Ergo, tonight's open game thread will close with "Hulk Smash Leader!"

By the way, we haven't forgotten about the Record of Wrongs. We get to play our chief rivals at least twice per season in basketball, and so we're reserving those for the second games.