"Some people believe that a building can have a soul... that it can contain a spirit so powerful... that it could only be called... "Magic"...
Thus begins the voiceover to "50 Years of Memorial Magic", a new 30-minute tribute to Vandy's Memorial Gymnasium and the players who've played there for the last half-century. This marvelous, 30-minute presentation is an attempt to capture on tape the spirit of the old edifice, in recognition of its Golden Anniversary.
Upon first learning that someone at Vandy had assembled such a tape-- to my knowledge, the school's first attempt to market its rich athletic heritage in this way-- this longtime fan could only ask, what took them so long?
As it turns out, the project was spearheaded not by Vandy's athletic department, but as a not-for-profit labor of love primarily by former Commodore Jerry Southwood. Southwood and a few close friends raised the money and saw the project through to completion, with generous help from the Nashville Vanderbilt Club, the Rebounders, Vanderbilt's development office, and the public relations firm of Dye, Van Mol & Lawrence.
How did this video come to be? Each year the Nashville Vanderbilt Club and the Rebounders (an organization of former Vanderbilt players) choose a former team or group of players to honor at a pre-game luncheon, said Southwood. Typically, the group puts together a short slide or video presentation to honor teams of days gone by.
But this year, with Memorial Gym turning 50, the club's project mushroomed into a full-fledged 30-minute history of the modern era of Vanderbilt basketball. After assembling so much information and footage, committing it to video and making it available to the public seemed like a natural thing to do.
"It was a joy to do," said Southwood, captain of the 1966-67 team. "But it took a lot of time. It was just a case of lot of people coming together, and contributing countless hours."
Thankfully, Southwood and others realized that the video would have a strong appeal to Commodore fans of all ages. For some longtime fans, it will evoke great memories of special players and coaches from your personal heyday. For younger fans, it provides a splendid, essential history lesson on Vanderbilt basketball.
And for hard-core fans who live and breathe Vandy basketball, and who consider Memorial Gym a shrine-- viewing this video will be an almost-religious experience.
I, for example, was fortunate enough to have practically grown up attending games at Memorial-- but there are plenty of gaps in my knowledge and memory. I'm old enough to vividly remember Tommy (Gun) Hagan, Perry Wallace and Jan Van Breda Kolff, but not old enough to have seen players like Clyde Lee, John Ed Miller, Bobby Thym and Al Rochelle. And living outside Nashville, I missed out on a lot of great games in the early 80's.
To finally get to see footage of stars of yore like Miller and Lee is almost a dream come true. And re-living familiar, more recent moments like Will Perdue's "Perdunks", or Barry Goheen hitting the 50-foot prayer that buried Louisville, brings back wonderful memories that simply never get old.
The video smartly breaks the 50-year period down into decades. From the 50's and 60's the footage mostly comes from still photographs, while for later eras film and video snippets are deployed. Joe Fisher, the current "voice of the Commodores", provides the narration. Pat Nolan and Randy Horick wrote the script, and Jimmy Chaffin directed.
No matter how much you thought you knew about Vanderbilt men's basketball, you will learn a few things. Did you know that four times in the last 50 years, Vanderbilt has upset a No. 1 team at Memorial? Did you know that Dean Smith's record at Memorial is 0-3?
The women's program, which didn't begin until 1977, also gets its due. If you're like me and didn't catch on to women's basketball until 1993 or so when Heidi Gillingham, Sheri Sam & Co. made the Final Four, you will get properly re-educated.
My only complaint is that I would like to have seen the expanded, two-hour version-- in a half-hour presentation, certainly some great moments of necessity had to be omitted. I'd have liked to see ALL of Goheen's buzzer-beaters. And I'd like to have heard some of the classic radio broadcasts that accompanied these great moments. (The voice of legendary Larry Munson is heard only briefly in the opening montage, and Paul Eells is not heard at all.)
But these are only minor quibbles. It's hard to imagine any diehard Vanderbilt fan not being enthralled by this ambitious production.
It's gratifying to see the old gym, so near to the hearts of all Commodore fans, getting so much attention on her 50th birthday. But it's even better to see the players who played within her walls finally being memorialized for posterity.
The real stars of this show are the players and coaches who played here-- for they are the true authors of Memorial's "magic."
The video "50 Years of Memorial Magic" is available for $10.00 for sale at home games this season. It can also be ordered from the Vanderbilt alumni office. To order, call (615) 322-2929, or contact Jerry Southwood at (615) 383-1396.
Coming soon: VandyMania interviews Jerry Southwood on the making of the video, and Southwood's memories of playing at Memorial.