Venom for Vandy

InsideTennessee gives you insights into Vol football that other sites overlook. Check out this story tracing the bitterness of the UT-Vanderbilt rivalry:

Moments after Tennessee's football team buried Vanderbilt 65-0 in the 1994 regular-season finale at Nashville, one caller to a Knoxville post-game radio show asked co-hosts Tim Priest and Joe Thompson an intriguing question:

"If you could go back and change one play all season what would it be?"

Both ex-Vols pondered the question momentarily before responding. Priest went first.

"Tim gave some well thought-out, politically correct answer, like he always does," Thompson recalled. "Then I said, ‘When it was 64-0 I would've gone for two.'

"I got in trouble for that but it was the truth."

Clearly, Joe Thompson hates the Commodores, and he knows exactly when that hatred began: He was a true freshman practicing with George Cafego's Vol scout squad back in 1967.

"My feelings toward Vandy really go back to Coach Cafego." Thompson said. "I was redshirted, so I spent quite a bit of time with Coach Cafego, who ran the scout team. He used some real language when he talked about Vanderbilt. He literally hated Vandy. It wasn't fake. It wasn't phony. He genuinely hated Vanderbilt."

Gradually, that hatred rubbed off on Tennessee's players.

"Cafego was pretty motivational," Thompson recalled. "I was a huge fan of Coach Cafego's. He had a huge impact on my life, so I probably paid a little more attention to him than some. He hated the Commodores, so I didn't like ‘em, either."

Once Thompson faced Vanderbilt on the field a few times, his negative opinion of their players grew even stronger.

"They come off as these nice, academic giants," he said, "but if you watch them play football, they don't show much class. They took cheap shots. That's what they were known for. They were always losing to us but I just didn't think they had a lot of class in their program. They may be different now."

The Commodores may be different but, 42 years after he finished his Vol career, Thompson's disdain for them is not.

"They talk a lot about what they're going to do," he said. "They win six or seven games and think they've arrived. We win six or seven and fire the coach."

Thompson, who has homes in Knoxville and Hilton Head, now works in the beverage industry. He holds no ill will toward other Tennessee foes. A few of them he genuinely respects.

"I was watching Alabama play Mississippi State (last Saturday), and everybody was talking about Alabama needing to get some style points (by padding the score)," Thompson recalled. "They had the ball on the 5-yard line at the end of the game and took a knee. That showed class. That is exactly the opposite of what Vandy would've done."

As strong as Thompson's dislike for Vanderbilt might be, it pales alongside the contempt Cafego felt for the Commodores. Fuad Reveiz, who earned All-SEC honors as a Vol kicker under Cafego in 1982, picked up on that contempt virtually the moment he arrived on campus.

"I found out very quick," Reveiz said. "From the first day I saw him to the last day before I left campus I saw how much Coach Cafego hated Vanderbilt. He called them piss ants, said they were intolerable. Obviously, that permeated through all of us players. He was always running down Vanderbilt, using some really foul language. Coach (Johnny) Majors always made sure there were no recruits within earshot when Coach Cafego started talking about Vandy because it was not going to be a G-rated speech."

Cafego's venom for Vanderbilt didn't just show up in his vocabulary. It showed up in his mood.

"You could always tell Vandy week," Reveiz said. "He'd yell at everybody from the kickers to the managers to the equipment guy. He was in an ill mood all week. He was always very uptight that week. You knew you'd better not miss a kick that week – even in practice – or he'd be all over you."

After a distinguished 11-year NFL career, Reveiz returned to Knoxville, where he works in the insurance and construction industries. Still carrying some of Cafego's disdain for Vandy, he passed it along to sons Nick and Shane. Both wound up playing linebacker for the Vols.

"It's something you hand from generation to generation," Fuad said. "When I got here I thought Vandy was just another school. Then you get here and realize that if you don't dislike them you don't need to be here. You just don't lose to Vandy."

He did lose to Vandy, though. Reveiz was the kicker on a 1982 Vol squad that bowed 28-21 in Nashville. He will never forget that game … or its aftermath.

"My father-in-law, a Vandy grad, was still alive at the time, and I was supposed to spend the night at his house after the game," Fuad recalled. "When I got there the house was totally dark except for a spotlight shining on a Vandy hat. My father-in-law was a real practical joker but that really ticked me off."

In addition to the Cafego influence, Reveiz's feelings toward the Commodores were molded by what he perceived to be an air of superiority.

"Obviously, their view is that they're the rich kids and we were just (blue-collar) workers; they were first class and we were not," Reveiz recalled. "It's different now. There's a lot of trash-talking during Vandy week but I don't think any of it is malicious. It's just banter."

Actually, it's not banter if it's coming from Joe Thompson. Consider his motto: "If you can't say something good about Tennessee, say something bad about Vanderbilt."

Given Thompson's animosity toward Vandy, watching the Commodores trounce Tennessee 41-18 last November in Nashville had to be a real kick in the teeth.

"It was painful. It was terrible," Thompson said. "It was one of the low points I've ever seen in athletics. When you're losing big to Vanderbilt you're below the bottom. You haven't hit bottom. You're below the bottom. That's how I felt."

Reveiz found that game painful to watch, as well.

"Oh, my gosh. That was gut-wrenching. It was soooo gut-wrenching," he said. "There was one positive: It was obvious we had hired the wrong coach (Derek Dooley), so I was glad everybody woke up and realized we'd been going ass-backwards for three years. I hate to say it but that was a turning point. We had a guy here who was not the right person for the job. Never was. Being a coach is nothing but being a person who can lead. If you're an arrogant jerk, nobody wants to follow you."

Some Tennessee fans view current Commodore head man James Franklin as an "arrogant jerk." They would love to see the Vols humble him a bit when they host Vanderbilt Saturday night. Asked what he would say if he were giving Tennessee's pre-game speech this weekend, Reveiz paused thoughtfully before answering:

"I'd tell the players that it's a game that will stay with you for the rest of your life, especially those who remain here in Tennessee. I still have people remind me that we lost to Vandy in '82, and that just eats me up."

Not surprisingly, Thompson's pre-game speech would be a little more intense.

"I'd go back and talk about the tradition of beating Vandy and I'd show them some film of Coach Cafego and the 1939 team that was undefeated, untied and unscored-upon," he said. "I'd let them know that it's tradition for Tennessee to win in November. We beat Vanderbilt and we beat Kentucky … and that's what we expect them to do."

Both former Vols laughed when asked what the late George Cafego would say if given the opportunity to deliver Saturday's pre-game pep talk.

"You couldn't print it," Reveiz said.

"Not one word," Thompson said.

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