My Uncle Charlie-- a great American and a passionate Vandy fan, but one who's getting along in age-- just about had a conniption when I informed him Vandy's opening opponent for the 2001 season would be... the Blue Raiders from Middle Tennessee State University.
"We're opening up with MITSOO!?!" he railed. "The Mitsoo in Murfreesboro? The one that used to be a @#$^!% teacher's college? What's the matter, did Austin Peay cancel on us or something? Did Woody lose a bet to Boots Donnelly on the golf course? This has to be a joke. Why would Vandy even want to play a game with Mitsoo?" he asked me.
"Well," I responded, trying to calm him down, "a lot of Vandy fans are asking that very question. But hey, it should be a decent game. The two teams are only about 30 miles apart. It should be a lively crowd. MTSU should bring a lot of fans. The game is getting a lot of regional interest."
"I thought we quit playing those yahoos years ago," Uncle Charlie continued. (He pronounces it YAY-hoos.) "We played 'em ten or twelve times back in my day, and they never could beat us."
"Well, Charlie, we're opening up with them this year, and the MTSU fans are pretty excited about it. They're calling it the biggest game in MTSU football history."
Long pause. "That ain't sayin' a whole lot," he finally countered. "I'd say any team that's oh-and-12 all-time against Vanderbilt can't do much braggin' about no football history."
"Look, Charlie," I said, "I know you may think of Middle as a team in the same category as Tennessee Tech and Austin Peay... but things change. The world moves on. MTSU is really trying to move up in the world. They've declared themselves Division I now, just like us and Tennessee and Alabama."
"Ha!" he roared. "A pig can declare himself to be the King of England, but he's still a pig."
"They've been trying to schedule Vanderbilt for years, and Vandy finally agreed to it."
"Good. It'll be a chance to show them OVC boys what SEC football is all about."
"Oh, uh, I forgot to tell you... MTSU's not in the Ohio Valley Conference any more."
"They're NOT?" (Charlie always takes change hard.)
"Um, no, they got out of that conference a few years ago. Now they're in some newfangled conference called the Sun Belt."
It was a little while before he responded. "Mm-hmm. So MTSU is in some brand new conference, huh?"
"Right. It's called the Sun Belt... and MTSU is favored to win the Sun Belt, too."
"So what other football powerhouses are in this here SUN BELT conference?" asked Charlie snidely.
"Well, let's see... the Sun Belt has Louisiana-Lafayette... New Mexico State... Idaho... Arkansas State-- Charlie, are you OK? Hello?"
It was about 30 seconds before he stopped hee-hawing. I think he must have spit his drink across to the other side of the room.
I was getting a little impatient. "Charlie, I don't think you're taking MTSU seriously enough," I said finally. "Lee Fowler, remember him?" (I knew he'd remember the Vandy hoops star from the 70's who later became the MTSU AD.) "He's really helped them upgrade their program. They've expanded their stadium. They've got some a good-looking running back named Dwone Hicks and some fine receivers. They've been out signing junior college players at a rate that would make Jackie Sherrill blush. I think they're going to score some points on us. I think it will be a tougher test than you think for Vanderbilt. And remember what happened last year against Miami of Ohio."
Again, he was silent. Then he spoke. "Brent, Vandy still plays in the SEC, don't they? That ain't changed when I wasn't looking, has it? Please tell me that ain't changed."
"Uh, no sir, that hasn't changed."
"Alrighty. Well, you remember how I once told you that a bad day fishin' is still better than a good day at the office?"
"Yes sir, I remember. But what's that got to do with anything?"
"Well, you go tell Mitsoo that a BAD team in the SEC still beats ANY high-falutin' team from any pantywaist Belt Buckle conference," he ranted. He was really getting worked up now. "Lookahere, Vandy may not have the greatest record the last couple a years, but let's just see what Mitsoo's record would be if they was playin' Tennessee and Alabama and Georgia and Florida and Auburn. Our boys have been testin' their mettle every weekend against the best teams in the nation... week-in, week-out, we takes on the best.
"Now boy," he said, shouting and punctuating his phrases, "don't you SIT there and try to tell me that no $!&#% Mitsoo from no @$!%#& SUN BELT Conference-- that wipes its feet on Louisiana-LAUGHayette and their ilk-- is going to WALK into Dudley Field on no Saturday afternoon and give our Commodores a TAIL-whippin'!! It just AIN'T gonna happen, and you can mark that DOWN!!"
And with that, the subject was closed.
I didn't have the heart to tell him that the game wouldn't be on a Saturday afternoon at all, that it had been moved to a Thursday night.