The Commodores came out of the box uncharacteristically sluggish last week and allowed the Wildcats-- a team most people figured was inferior to Vandy-- to build a 31-point lead in the first half. Jay Cutler & Co. were able to rally to make things close in the fourth quarter, but in the end it was too little, too late.
After starting out 4-0, the Commodores are now 4-6.
Strangely, though, that's not what has the undisputed World's Biggest and Loudest Vandy Fan puzzled.
Rather, it's the Vanderbilt fans who failed to show up on a glorious fall afternoon to salute the team's seniors in their last home game... as well as others who made for the exits in the third quarter when the game seemed out of reach. Those fans missed a riveting fourth quarter-- a career high in passing by Cutler-- and a five-touchdown-catch performance by freshman Earl Bennett.
"We sure could have used those fans when it got hairy down at the end there," grumbles Lance, who naturally stayed in his seat in Section F until the final horn last week. "It just really surprises me, when Vandy has a chance to get to a bowl game for the first time in 23 years."
It ain't easy being Vandy Lance these days. After a promising beginning to the 2005 season, things have turned ugly these last six games. If the officiating-tainted loss to Florida wasn't a bitter enough pill to swallow (Lance is attending "Referees Anonymous" meetings now, he says), the Commodores followed it up by losing to a beatable UK team. (And don't even get him started on MTSU.)
The crowning blow came last week. At the Kentucky game several fans were openly critical of Lance's schtick. Unbelievably, some asked him to sit down and calm himself, and one even referred to Vandy's biggest diehard fan as an "embarrassment to the school."
There's no keeping a good fan down, however.
"Some fans that sit around me say I'm embarrassing them, because I stand up and yell," he says. "Let me tell you something. That's the reason these other schools win all the time-- because their fans come out and intimidate the other team. They're loud and obnoxious.
"It ain't a church social," he rails. "It's a FOOT-ball game. If you just want to come out and eat steak with a flower in the middle of your table tailgating... you go ahead. I'm going to the games, and I'm gonna yell for 'em."
Vanderbilt fans need to get over the idea that yelling for your team makes a fan an "embarrassment", he continues.
"I watch my language. A lot of people don't. I'm sober-- a lot of other people aren't. Just be proud of this football team playing as hard as they do.
"Everybody needs to get off Bobby Johnson. We're never gonna find a better coach than him. He's trying as hard as he can. There's discipline on this team. There's character being built every day."
How can it be that Vanderbilt has been able to challenge teams like Florida, win at places like Arkansas and Wake Forest, yet stink it up so badly at home against teams like MTSU and Kentucky? Lance has his theory.
"I literally think that our team is more relaxed and more focused on the road," he says. "I think they want to win for the Vanderbilt fans so bad, that they press, overreact, and it just catches up with them.
"I don't think these kids' minds are wrong at all. I think they know exactly what they've got to do. They just battle through it.
"There is no quit in this team. I'd like to see them get started a little quicker, but I'm so proud of the way they've fought back in the fourth quarter all year."
This weekend is a busy one for Vandy Lance, who will sandwich a road trip to Knoxville on Saturday in between men's basketball games on Friday and Sunday. Vanderbilt has a chance to break a 22-year drought to the Big Orange (4-5, 2-4) in Saturday's 11:30 a.m., Jefferson-Pilot-televised football game. What would a win in Neyland Stadium mean to long-suffering Lance?
Lance's eyes get big at the mere mention.
"It would be like winning the National Championship," he says, grinning. "If we could win that, they'll have do deal with me for 364 more days. You know me. I'm not going to let it die."
Lance, whose yard is toilet-papered each Halloween by goblins with orange T.P., would needless to say relish the opportunity to give a little bit back for a change.
"Just trust me, Big Orange: Don't lose to us!" he warns, for all the world to hear. "We're gonna bring it. Maybe we can get some breaks. Tennessee's not playing great football this year, and that's right where we want them.
"And we've got Jay Cutler, and they don't."