It takes a different breed to be a Vanderbilt football fan. Many of my UT-fan friends, after suffering through just a handful of years of football futility, don't understand how I've been a lifelong fan of Vandy.
I blame my dad. For whatever reason, he was always a Vandy fan. He didn't go to school there. He, like me, graduated from Motlow and MTSU. I chalk it up to his habit of rooting for underdogs. Vandy football, in our lifetimes, was never the fashionable choice so that must have been it.
I remember in 1982 when Vanderbilt, quarterbacked by Whit Taylor, defeated UT. Dad was very pleased. As an 8-year-old, I asked why he was so happy that this school with the fancy name had beaten Tennessee. He told me Vanderbilt was closer to us. "How can anybody be closer to us than Tennessee?" I asked. "We live in Tennessee." That's when I was given a geography lesson that the University of Tennessee was located across the state in Knoxville while Vanderbilt was about an hour and a half away in Nashville, so if we were to go to a game, Vanderbilt would be closer.
And with that one conversation, I was doomed to a life of frustration as a Vanderbilt fan. Dad took me to many Vandy games, sometimes through the generosity of Don Sullivan and other times thanks to Andy Jacobs, both of whom had season tickets and would occassionally offer them to us. Larry Underhill and Mike Mansfield and their families and Joseph Arnold are also notable Warren County Vandy fans. And, with that, I've pretty much named all the other local Vandy fans I know.
As anyone who pays attention to college football knows, it's not easy being a Vanderbilt football fan. Decades ago, I learned not to get excited about any Vandy lead no matter how late it is in the game. So many times, friends and family will call or text me while Vandy is improbably leading a game and my response is always the same - "There's a lot of time left for them to Vandy it up."
That scenario played out again Saturday as Vandy was leading No. 24 Kentucky. My uncle Mark from Mississippi, who used to always call or text my dad about Vandy, has taken to texting me during Vandy games after my dad's passing in February. "How about Vandy leading Kentucky" he texted. Years of disappointment led me to tell him I wasn't getting excited yet. And, as the Commodores coughed up the lead late, I resisted the urge to text him, "I told you."
But, this day was different than so many in the past. Vandy marched down the field to retake the lead and held it. The icing on the cake was that our very own C.J. Taylor - in my opinion the greatest athlete in Warren County Pioneer history - was a key player in the win. C.J. knocked a pass away in the end zone to force a field goal, had a huge sack that stalled another Kentucky drive, finished with six tackles and had the game-clinching interception. The win snapped a 26-game SEC losing streak and was Vandy's first conference win since October of 2019.
Dad would have been proud.
Managing Editor Seth Wright can be reached at (931) 473-2191