Last evening, thanks to a fellow VandyManiac and my DVD player, I was able to travel back in time and relive perhaps the greatest sports memory of my life-- Vanderbilt's football win over Tennessee at Dudley Field in 1982.
Sit through enough drubbings of Vanderbilt by Tennessee down through the years, and you could almost convince yourself not only will Vandy never beat Tennessee again-- but that maybe they never did in the past. But no! I now possess the DVD to prove to any non-believers that the rivalry, today so one-sided, was once a healthy one.
I've now watched the ending multiple times, and Vanderbilt still wins, 28-21.
I had long ago given up hope of ever seeing that game again. For years, every so often one of our VandyMania posters came along to ask if anyone had a copy of the game on videotape. I would always respond that I doubted if such a tape existed... in those days before the courts broke up ABC's college football monopoly, the sellout clash wasn't even televised in Nashville. And even if it had been, home VCR's were relatively new electronic gizmos in 1982, and only a few on the cutting edge of technology owned them.
But as it turned out, I was wrong. Nashville's WNGE-TV had indeed broadcast the game on tape delay, and someone (I have no idea who) had had the good sense to pop in a tape. My new, enterprising friend had made his own copy and transferred it to DVD. Like many other posters on our board, I sent him $20 to copy it for me. (Don't tell him, but I would have paid a lot more.)
The picture quality is about what you'd expect from a DVD of a tape of a tape made in 1982-- yet there it was, in all its splendor and glory. On a miserably wet, cold afternoon at Vanderbilt Stadium, the Commodores came back twice from first-half deficits and took the lead with just over three minutes to play. Perhaps never in history had an assemblage of Vanderbilt fans been so cold on the outside, yet so warmed on the inside!
Many of the details of this epochal day were just as I recalled them. Of course I remembered Whit Taylor bootlegging around right end on a fake dive, the ball held high in the air, to score the winning TD. I remembered his 60-yard play-action pass to Phil Roach to set up the score. And I remembered the exuberant students finally bringing down the south goalposts in the aftermath, and no one wanting to leave.
But still, time had erased so much of the game from my memory banks.
I had forgotten Willie Twyford's three first-half tackles-for-loss. I had forgotten how John Windham (today he coaches at University of the South) had had to substitute for the injured Steve Bearden at defensive end. I had forgotten that Coach George MacIntyre had refused all day to kick to Willie Gault, the Olympic-caliber sprinter.
I had forgotten those ridiculous-looking, tight-fitting trousers that Johnny Majors wore.
I had forgotten the joy of watching (offensive coordinator) Watson Brown's players line up in one formation, then quickly shift into another in the manner of a Chinese fire drill. So impressive was Brown's work with the offense that year that he would soon be offered the head coaching job at Cincinnati. In this crucial game vs. the cross-state rivals, Brown threw the entire kitchen sink at the Vols (yes, even the old hook-and-ladder).
I had forgotten that UT kicker Fuad Reveiz had missed a 60-yard field goal attempt just before halftime. I had forgotten that Taylor threw two second-half interceptions. I had forgotten what an off-day Vandy All-American punter Jim Arnold had had under such miserable conditions.
I had forgotten the brilliance of receiver Arnaz Perry (who would flunk out after his freshman year and never be heard from again). I had forgotten the abandon with which Chuck Scott ran the ball, and how effectively Whit Taylor ran the option. I had forgotten that Mighty Mite Norman Jordan had been second in the SEC in receiving that year.
But mostly, I had forgotten how much time Vandy's inspired offensive line had given Taylor to find his receivers. Even with future Pro Bowler Reggie White on the other side, VU's much-maligned line gave its senior quarterback time to locate his secondary and tertiary receivers and throw for over 400 yards.
I had forgotten how the Vandy defense had stuffed Johnny Jones on third down with six minutes left to give the Dores the ball back for the winning score... and how they bent but didn't break on the Vols' final, last-gasp drive.
Little did anyone know that day that the hated Vols would proceed to reel off 21 straight wins in the series. For someone who was actually there, getting to go back and watch Vandy beat UT after all this time was almost a religious experience. It was a hallowed trip back in time, to a day when a gritty Vandy team was just a little scrappier, just a little smarter than their counterparts from the east.
I won't list the DVD maker's name and address here, for privacy's sake... but I'm sure if you'd like to inquire on our VandyMania football message board, he'd probably be happy to service you as well.
Like many longtime Vandy football fans, I will brag to others that "I wuz there" until the day I die. The memories of that November, 1982 day have been etched on my memory for years, and I will take them to the grave.
But now, thanks to the magic of videotape and DVD, the treasured memories are also etched on a little piece of plastic in my family room.
Contact Brent at brent(at)vandymania.com
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