And just as they do at most other waystations around the SEC, they take their football very seriously in Fayetteville. To get here, you must drive across miles of lovely, deserted country, and just about the time you think you've left civilization for good, the quaint little city of Fayetteville rises on a hill in the distance. On football Saturdays it becomes one of the state's largest cities.
Who knew that Vanderbilt's first ever visit to Fayetteville would be so memorable?
For years now, Commodore teams have been making long treks to play in these mammoth stadiums, where the rows of seats seem to reach up to the sky. Bobby Johnson even said at SEC Media Days that his players enjoy and look forward to their visits such stadiums-- even if they do typically return home to Nashville with their tails between their legs.
That wasn't the case here Saturday. For once, a Vanderbilt team went into one of these gridiron Colosseums and refused to play its designated role. Before a crowd that was thirsty for blood, this team audaciously stared its formidable opponents straight in the eye, and refused to blink.
As a result of their efforts, the Commodores now own an early share of the lead in the SEC Eastern Division... put that in your barbecue pit and smoke it. If this keeps up, VU's padded gladiators could find themselves in the unfamiliar roles of media darlings. "Perennial doormats make good."
Could it be that maybe the last 22 years of lousy football is finally catching up with the hard-luck Commodores? Maybe the football gods have finally decided to take it easy on Vanderbilt for a change. Or maybe, just maybe-- and this is the really scary thought-- Vanderbilt is really that good.
Only time will tell. Nine games are still ahead. "There's a lot of football still to be played," as some coaches are fond of saying. For two straight weeks though, the Black and Gold have proved their detractors wrong. VU has won twice now as double-digit road dogs, and the only folks who don't seem surprised are the Commodores themselves.
Receiver Erik Davis has a simple explanation for it.
"I think a lot of people are just ignorant," he yapped, still high as a kite in the giddy aftermath. "I don't care what they say. We're 2-and-0. We came in here, and we were trying to turn this thing around. We played harder than they did, and we wanted it more.
"They came in here and thought they were gonna get an easy win," he said of the Razorbacks. "We haven't been here for years. We finally got on the schedule, and we came in their house and took care of business."
Indeed, the Commodores survived several of the variety of setbacks that might have derailed an erstwhile Commodore team. They survived injuries... they survived a pair of plays that were reviewed by the instant-replay officials... they survived a deflating missed field goal in the fourth quarter... and still came away with a huge 'W'.
After the Dores, trailing 24-21, gave up the ball to Arkansas with 2:46 to play, Vandy fans had every reason to think the game was over. The Razorbacks, with their withering ground attack, would simply make a few first downs and run out the clock.
But somehow, this time it wasn't to be. It cost Vandy two of its three second-half timeouts, but almost miraculously the Dores were able to stop Arkansas on downs and get the ball back with 2:22 left, still trailing by three. But they were still 76 yards away.
So many times in the Bobby Johnson era, Vandy has been in this position before-- 50 or more yards away in the final two minutes, needing one score for the win. And every time, up until last week's win over Wake Forest, they've come up empty.
But evidently, this is NOT your father's Vanderbilt. And neither is this the same Jay Cutler.
The last drive wasn't a thing of beauty, but we Commodore fans who witnessed it will never forget it. The Dores needed a clutch fourth-down conversion from Cutler to Davis... a controversial, instant-replay-reviewed call on a pass to Dustin Dunning... and a pass interference call against the Hogs. Once inside the 10, Cutler fired the go-ahead pass to Marlon White, a 7-yarder with just 26 seconds left.
Yeah, the Wake Forest win was big, but this one was bigger. When the clock showed 0:00, the Commodores had recorded an unlikely victory over a talented team of Razorbacks, right in their own sty.
When was the last time the Commodores defeated an enemy of this magnitude in a stadium this size? You'd have to go all the way back to 1994, when Gerry Dinardo's Commodores stunned Ray Goff's Georgia Bulldogs, 43-30. At the end, the Arkansas crowd on Saturday was almost as silent and unbelieving as the crowd in Athens was 11 years ago.
Hey, UA fans, cheer up. Commodore fans know how it feels when the high hopes you had for your season go up in smoke in the first or second game. It's a feeling with which we are, sadly, intimately familiar.
So you'll forgive us if we're a little uncharacteristically haughty for the next few days. It's a feeling to which we're a little bit unaccustomed. Vanderbilt fans, the perennial paupers of the conference, are suddenly living high on the hog.
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