Williamson: Keeping it in perspective
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By Rod Williamson
I've officially been a Vanderbilt Commodore for a quarter century. Pull up a chair and let me tell you a few stories, not about the past but the present. It is much more interesting.
A few years ago I was returning from Birmingham with Bobby Johnson. I've learned that successful coaches don't care about laymen's advice so I usually try to be seen but not heard.
But Bobby was a captive audience so I earnestly explained my theory on how to get Vanderbilt football over the hump: "We never get that lucky break, but one of these days we'll fall on a fumble for a touchdown with 10 seconds left to win a big game."
You might have been impressed with my expertise, but Coach Johnson was not.
"That's not how we are going to win," Bobby flatly replied as we rolled down Interstate 65. "We are going to win when we can play 60 minutes of fundamentally sound football."
That rather meaningless conversation came to mind as I watched us grind out two hard-nosed first downs to ice that South Carolina win. As usual, Coach was right; we didn't need a rabbit's foot, four-leaf clover, voodoo or lucky socks to beat the Head Ball Coach for the second straight year. We needed a sound offensive line and a back that ran north and south.
Vanderbilt athletics have come a long way, baby. We all realize fortunes can turn on a given play in the brutally difficult Southeastern Conference. But nobody can deny the Commodores are on the move.
Reporters often ask Coach Johnson their version of "The Little Engine that Could" question: "Did the latest victory get your program over the hump?"
His answer is standard: "There is no hump, no turning of the corner. Our next game will always be tough, and we will always need to play our best to win it. There is no Easy Street."
Right again. But as our first-rate coaches continue to improve our team, all external indicators are up.
We sold more than 19,000 season tickets this season, up about 70% from 2006, which had a similar home schedule. This includes about 1,000 more to faculty and allowed us to completely dominate the stadium on opening night.
Vandyville has grown again, and pre-game atmosphere has improved. We have more Commodore Club members. Last winter's "White Out" basketball game was truly white, and the Carolina "Black Out" was actually black. It's getting fun.
As football shows new life, the old-school mindsets erode to new lines of thinking.
"Of course Vanderbilt is recruiting well. It's in the best city in the SEC, it offers the best education in the SEC and it has all those private-school advantages."
There isn't a hump but we are making headway toward one. Media reports have underplayed the financial impact the new SEC television rights package will have on our program. Across the board, we are attracting outstanding student-athletes.
Those young people who want to compete academically and athletically like what we have to offer. They find it appealing that we are tangibly different from State School U. The fantastic new Commons, home to all Vanderbilt freshmen, has no match in the SEC and few anywhere. Prospective football parents notice the team's 2.91 grade point with more than 50 members at 3.0 or above.
Just as Coach Johnson cautions about his program, there is no hump for Vanderbilt enthusiasm either. Every Saturday offers another challenge. We have realized what is possible when we as a university and fan base become united and enthused.