The year was 2003. I sat under an awning in the club level of not-so-scenic, but quaint Vanderbilt Stadium in lovely Nashville, Tennessee. 30,000 people watched as (especially at that time) stud quarterbacks Jay Cutler and Eli Manning were both attempting to get their first win of that young season.
Ole Miss got off to an early 3-0 lead behind a Jonathan Nichols field goal; I wish he had saved that one for the LSU game…… never mind, that’s for a different time. Cutler responded with a drive of his own, taking the ‘Dores 60 or so yards down the field, pushing the 25 yard line of Ole Miss. Vandy found themselves in a third and long situation and I heard a few words from an old man sitting a few rows behind me that I remember vividly to this day:
“Let’s just kick the damn field goal right here and tie this sucker up. If not, we’ll (screw) it up; that’s just how we do it at Vandy.”
Cutler threw an interception the next play. Vanderbilt went on to lose that game by a field goal, ironically enough.
Now, as someone who follows Ole Miss football and sports in general, you won’t find any sympathy from me. That being said, I can relate. That’s just kind of how Vanderbilt has been in the major sports.
The basketball team, especially under Kevin Stallings, has had a lot of success in the not-so-long ago past. His best team, in 07-08, lead by Shan Foster, was a 26-7 no. 4 seed going into the first round of the NCAA Tournament in Tampa, Florida. The ‘Dores would lose to the Saints of Sienna by 20.
The aforementioned Jay Cutler, arguably the best football player ever to wear the gold and black, never made it to post-season play. A few years ago, the team started out 5-0, only to go on to win one out of its last seven games.
Don’t be confused, this is not me taking any shots at Vanderbilt. In fact, if anyone knows any of the ‘Commodorables’, my contact information can be easily found – pass it along. The football team (recently-ish) has had its moments, and hopefully the program won’t lose any steam with the departure of James Franklin. Kevin Stallings has been very solid in Nashville, taking his team to a few Sweet 16s. It just seems hard, as a fan of the SEC, as a fan of Vanderbilt, to get your hopes high, knowing you just don’t know which path the ‘Dores are going to choose to take.
Last season, the Commodores were poised to have “their year” on the diamond. The team’s record ended up being 54-12. They breezed through the regular season, made the SEC tournament look silly and coasted through the Nashville regional, only to fall apart against Louisville in the Super Regional, which the no. 2 nationally ranked Commodores were hosting.
I think that is how Vanderbilt managed to seemingly fly under a few radars this year as SEC played started to come to a close. Florida had been so dominant in the regular season, eyes shifted to them in the SEC tournament. Vanderbilt, despite having a great regular season, didn’t do anything to pull that attention away from Florida (or LSU as it would come to pass), losing two games out of three, sending them home early to prepare for the NCAA tournament.
And some preparation it was.
Stud pitcher Tyler Beede and company coasted through the regional, beating opponents by the combined score of 21-4. Stanford gave the ‘Dores a slight scare, winning the second game of the super regional, but Vandy still, again, won the series by a total of 12 runs.
Two wins over Louisville and UC Irvine later (pretty good draws), left the Dores in a probable position to advance to the finals. They found themselves in the all to familiar driver’s seat to controlling their own destiny. A loss 4-0 loss to Texas certainly caused concern that “it was happening again. To steal a phrase from my Ole Miss friends (it’s usually about us), the most “Vanderbilt” thing ever happened to Texas in the rubber match. It was the Commodores, not the Longhorns, who scored a run in the 10th inning to win the game.
If you have read the article this far, you probably know that Vanderbilt/Virginia, two schools
you I probably couldn’t get into, split the first two games of the College World Series Finals. This made sense, because as entertaining as the CWS has been, a game three was certainly necessary. Vandy again found itself in a “sink or swim” situation in the eighth inning tied at 2-2.
I know that Vanderbilt second baseman Dansby Swanson was selected as the Most Outstanding Player; he hit .323, scored five runs, drove in two more and stole three bases, all without recording even the thought of making an error in the field, but in the eighth inning, John Norwood was the MVP – ask anyone. Norwood hit what was only the third home run of the CWS, turning on a high heater which propelled Vanderbilt to a 3-2 lead that held for the remainder of the game – partially, because Virginia was stranding more runners on base than Gilligan’s Isle. This was Norwood’s second run scored on the day.
Anyway, the point of this piece is not to bore you with stats and the breakdown of that final game, there are other websites for that. My point is merely to say: congratulations on your title Vanderbilt. You guys have earned it. I know the 2007 women’s bowling team is going to be pissed they aren’t the only Commodores walking around with rings anymore, but I have a feeling they will move past it.
Take tomorrow to rub this in Tennessee fan’s faces, in my face, in Mike Papi of Virginia’s face, in whoever’s face you want — because to the victor goes the spoils, and you guys were overdue for some damn spoils. Here’s to breaking down barriers. Anchor Down.