Here I was at a Vandy home game, supposedly in a Vandy section, and I found myself outnumbered... and by fans of a team that really hasn't done anything significant in years! We've had opposing fans in our section before, but I can't recall it ever being this bad.
Not that I couldn't understand some Vandy fans' desire to sit this one out. The game-time weather was cold, wet, and forbidding, and Vanderbilt hadn't given its faithful fans much to cheer about this season since the easy win over hapless Chattanooga.
Still, to all those Vandy fans yesterday who bailed on the Commodores and sold their tickets to blue-clad Kentucky folks, I'm tempted to say (1) shame on you, and (2) nyah-nah-nah-nah-nah.
But I'll refrain. The unrestrained joy after the Commodores' breakthrough win has left me virtually speechless.
Instead, on behalf of all those who couldn't be there, regardless of the reason, let me just tell you some of what you missed:
You missed the win that snapped an eight-game losing streak, a 23-game SEC losing streak, a 13-game Division I-A losing streak, and a 21-game home SEC losing streak.
You missed Bobby Johnson's first SEC win ever (hopefully, the first of many), and his first Gatorade shower as Vanderbilt's coach.
You missed the chance to pay your last respects to a small but dedicated group of seniors, most of whom had nobly given four and five years of sweat and blood, just in order enjoy a day like today. (At right: defensive back Nick Lyle, with his parents Les and Julie Lyle.)
You missed the finest performance to date by Jay Cutler (4 touchdown passes, 129 yards rushing)-- but of course, at the rate he's improving, he may better that performance next week.
You missed another fabulous performance by the Vanderbilt defense, which sacked the notoriously-hard-to-sack Jared Lorenzen four times and intercepted him once. (Think the doughboy won't have nightmares about seeing Jovan Haye in his rearview?)
You missed the chance to send all those haughty Blue Misters back to the Commonwealth with an ugly "L". Boy, did they get quiet in a hurry when Vandy went up 21-3 in the third quarter! As Vandy Lance put it, "We spanked 'em good, and made 'em like it."
You missed a sight which hadn't been seen at Vanderbilt Stadium since 1998-- the sight of both goalposts coming down after a hard-earned victory. Had you been so inclined, you might even have joined the students who jubilantly, dutifully assaulted the uprights and paraded them around campus as though Vandy had just won the BCS.
(Students, you were great, by the way, and Coach Johnson talked about you after the game. "I guess they hadn't had the chance to [tear down goalposts] in a while," Johnson said. "But these Vanderbilt kids, they're smart. They catch on fast.")
You missed the chance to slap the players and coaches on the back as they crossed the street back to McGugin Center. Their uncontainable smiles were enough to bring a tear to this jaded fan's eye.
Though it didn't come until the next-to-last game of the season, the win was huge for a program and fan base that was really starting to feel the tension. For weeks, coaches and fans had wondered what might happen were the Commodores to put together four solid quarters of football.
On a cold, wet, November Saturday, at just about the time most people had given the Commodores up for dead, it happened.
"We have great fans," said Johnson. "We have to have great fans to stick with us through that kind of a streak."
I won't judge anyone else who wouldn't / couldn't be there-- but I will say, I sure was glad these old eyes were around to see it.
Top photo by Neil Brake, courtesy Vanderbilt athletics. Other photos by Brent Wiseman, copyright 2003 for VandyMania.