There was a time when Vanderbilt football opened the season on national television. The 1958 squad ventured to Columbia, Mo. to face a tough Missouri Tigers team in a game broadcast nationally by NBC. This was Vandy's first regular-season TV appearance, and only its second time ever on TV (the first was the Gator Bowl on New Year's Day, 1956).
The game was considered a tossup by the prognosticators of that time. New Tiger head coach Dan Devine had replaced Frank Broyles in Columbia. Devine had guided Arizona State to an 11-0 record in 1957 with his multiple-formations offense. He blended the single wing, wing-T, split-T, and T with flanker among 20 or so different formations.
Vanderbilt coach Art Guepe was experimenting with some new formations as well. While strictly a split-T proponent in the past, Guepe began trying some flanker and wing formations as well. Defensively, Vanderbilt relied on a 5-3 alignment with its strength at nose guard and linebacker.
There was another first that cloudy day in Missouri. The two-point conversion was the controversial new rule in college football. Almost every team originally thought this would be the best option after a touchdown, and most used it exclusively for one or two weeks before realizing it wasn't that easy to score from the three-yard line.
The Vandy-Missouri game was supposed to be an offensive showcase; both teams were expected to top 21 points. It turned out to be quite the opposite. Vanderbilt failed to garner 100 yards rushing or passing, but the Commodores won the game with stellar defense and special teams play.
In the first quarter, a long Missouri punt was fielded by halfback David Ray at the Vandy 19. He swept to the wide side of the field, giving a little ground, while the Commodores set up a blockade just to Ray's inside. Ray eluded a couple of tacklers and was off to the races with an 81-yard touchdown scamper. Vandy's very first try for two points failed when a Boyce Smith pass was deflected.
In the second quarter, Vandy was backed up near its goal and faced a punting situation. Missouri rushed 10 players and blocked the kick out of the end zone for a safety. That made it 6-2, good guys, at the half.
In the third quarter, neither team could advance the required 10 yards in three plays. Missouri made the special teams error this time, as its punter shanked a punt deep in Tiger territory. Boyce Smith guided the Commodores on a short drive to paydirt with another two-point conversion failing on a dropped pass. Vandy led 12-2 after three quarters.
Missouri quarterback Phil Snowden came alive in the final stanza, as Coach Devine opened up the offense. The Tigers mounted a short drive after blocking a second Vandy punt and scored with about eight minutes to go in the game. Vandy's first defensive two-point attempt stopped MU short of the goal line; score, 12-8 Vandy.
Missouri kicked deep and Vandy returned the ball just past the 20-yard line. With 7-1/2 minutes to play, a quick three plays and out would give the Tigers plenty of time to march for the winning drive. Boyce Smith came in and guided the Commodores on a 60+ yard drive that utilized all the time left on the clock. Handing off to backs Tom Moore, Jim Butler, and Mack Rolfe, Vandy impersonated a Woody Hayes team, running inside the tackles on nearly every play. The great inside blocking trio of center Ben Donnell and guards George Diederich and Billy Grover opened holes to provide the backs with four-yard blasts. Not once did the clock stop during the drive (no stoppage on first downs then).
That 1958 team went 5-2-3, and 2-1-3 in SEC play. Diederich was a consensus first-team All-American at guard. In those days, only the offensive positions comprised the all-star squads, and Diederich actaully merited the award based on his excellent play at linebacker. He was the fastest linebacker in the entire collegiate ranks, as he had been a high hurdles track star. The Los Angeles Rams drafted him, but he decided to go north of the border and play for the Montreal Alouettes in the CFL.
The 1958 team was the last Commodore squad that still had a chance to win the SEC with just the Tennessee game left to play. Having an off week on November 22, the Commodores stood at 2-0-3 in the league, trailing just LSU and Auburn. If LSU lost at Tulane that afternoon, then Vandy could take the crown by beating Tennessee at home, provided Alabama could beat Auburn that same day. It was all for naught, as Tulane had as much chance of beating LSU as Ralph Nader has of beating George Bush and John Kerry. The Tigers, on their way to the national title with their Purple team, Go team, and Chinese Bandits, easily destroyed the Green Wave 62-0. Vandy, still hoping to play for a bowl invitation, was upset at home by Bowden Wyatt's weakest Tennessee Volunteers team, while Auburn topped Alabama.
That brings us to this week's college football opener; how apropos that I talk about the State of Missouri. Vandy has to show me they are the new and improved version. I've seen the movie and read the book numerous times, and I won't buy into the storyline until it can be proven on the field. If Vandy wins Saturday, then it pollinates the seed already planted. Wins over South Carolina and Ole Miss may bear fruit. Vandy just about has to start 5-1 to have any chance of posting a winning season and garnering bowl consideration. There are four monster opponents on the back half of the slate.
The Commodores have to earn their respect. My ratings show South Carolina to be about 7 to 12 points better than Vanderbilt at Dudley Field. The spread is 4-1/2, which means it is a possible wagering opportunity. But I wouldn't touch this game with a 10-foot pole, as it's hard to think rationally when you love the underdog. The only possible bet on Vandy might be as part of a 10- or 13-point teaser parlay, and I still advise against it. In fact, taking USC as part of a 10 or 13-point teaser parlay could be a wise guy move. That would make Vandy a 5-1/2 or 8-1/2 point favorite. My prediction: South Carolina 28 Vanderbilt 21.
My pretend $1,000 bank account gets its first transactions this week. As you can probably tell by reading some of my previous posts, I like to play the teaser parlays. Of course, I like to play exactas and trifectas at the horse track too, and rarely cash a winning ticket that way. Hopefully, I'll do a tad better with the two-legged athletes.
A three-team, 10-point teaser allows you to move the point spread on each game by 10 points in either direction. You must win all three games (ties lose instead of push). You receive 10-12 odds (you put up 12 bucks and Vegas puts up 10). It's a sucker bet if you don't know your stuff; we'll see if I'm a sucker this week, because that's what I'm pretending to play. I'm taking three different three-team, 10-point teaser parlays at $50 each (I put up $60 to win $50).
Enjoy the real opening week of football, and remember bet responsibly and legally only. And for Pete's sake, don't take my advice!
Howell Peiser appears on the VandyMania message boards as "vanderbuilder".