Aug. 27, 2014
Commodore History Corner Archive
Former Vanderbilt tailback Norman Jordan (1979-82) was not one of the biggest or strongest running backs in Commodore football history. At 5-foot-10 and185 pounds, Jordan had average speed, but a lot of desire and determination. Vanderbilt fans remember Jordan as a record-breaking receiver hustling out of the backfield.
Jordan is from Etowah, Tenn., and played his high school ball at McMinnville Central where he lettered in football, basketball and baseball. He was named in football as an Honorable Mention All-American choosing Coach Fred Pancoast and Vanderbilt over Harvard and Florida State.
"Florida State had a new coach in Bobby Bowden and I didn't think he would be there very long.What ever happened to him?" Jordan joked.
Jordan was the Commodores' only redshirt in 1978 after contracting spinal meningitis at the end of two-a-days that summer. He missed classes and practices well into October. Jordan's weight slipped to 140 pounds. After the 1978 season, Pancoast was replaced by George MacIntyre and Jordan would find playing time as a redshirt freshman.
"I hated it for Coach Pancoast and I hated the way it was done," Jordan said. "I could certainly see the rationale. When Coach Mac came in I got to know him and realized he was a breath of fresh air. He was whom you want your son to play football for.
"I had trouble at the end of two-a-days. I broke my ribs. I had to miss the first three games. In the meantime I went to Coach Mac and told him I wanted to transfer. For some reason he asked me to stay until the end of the season and if I still wanted to transfer he'd help me. He put me on special teams at that point. I was frustrated. I was hurt and felt like I was never going to play. I was starting to question if I could play at that level."
The Commodores were 1-10 in MacIntyre's initial season (1979) on the Vanderbilt gridiron. Jordan ran some as a tailback and said, "I was probably 73rd on the depth chart."
With little highlights on a 1-10 team, Jordan recalled a game at Air Force where Vandy lost 30-29.
"The one thing that stands out for me my freshman season was at Air Force," Jordan said. "We were down by six points when Jim Arnold punted. I went down on the coverage and knocked the ball loose on about the six-yard line. We still ended up losing. But the funny thing at halftime Coach Mac looked over at me and pointed. He said, `You are going to take the opening kickoff and you are going to take it back for a touchdown.'
"I was surprised and looked behind me wondering whom he was pointing at. I hadn't returned a kick since high school. That showed he did have a lot of confidence in me. They wound up kicking it off to me. I got out to the 40-yard line and thought I'm going all the way and then got ear-holed."
In Jordan's second season, Vanderbilt was 2-9 with wins over Memphis and Chattanooga. Jordan had somewhat of a breakthrough season, earning special teams captain and gaining a few more carries from the backfield. Jordan said the team was not all that talented, but worked hard.
Jordan's roommate on the road was fellow sophomore quarterback Whit Taylor. The pair knew each other from earlier days at American Legion Boys State. Both came in as freshmen together, but while Jordan was redshirted as a freshman Taylor was redshirted as a sophomore due to an injury. During the next two years the duo would gain attention as one of the SEC's most successful passing combinations.
In 1981, Watson Brown was hired as Vanderbilt's offensive coordinator, resigning as the head football coach at Austin Peay to join his alma mater. Brown brought with him innovative multiple offenses that changed the environment of Vanderbilt football.
"We were more confident," said Jordan. "We didn't realize that we were on cutting edge stuff. When Watson first talked to us as an offensive group he stood up and said, `Who believes we can have the No. 1 offense in the SEC?' We had been perennially No. 10 in the SEC.
"A couple of people stuck their hands up and the rest of us looked around. I thought to myself, `I'd settle for No. 8.' It was really hard to learn his offense. It was really a great combination for us. We had better than average intelligence as athletes and we picked up on it quickly."
Vanderbilt would end the season at 4-7 recording victories over Maryland, Mississippi, Memphis and Chattanooga. In the opening game of that season the Commodores upset Maryland 23-17 on Dudley Field. It was a special night with a rededication of Vanderbilt Stadium, which had gone through massive renovations.
The Taylor-Jordan show premiered against the Terps with Jordan hauling in a game-high eight passes for 95 yards,including a one-yard TD reception. Taylor was 26-of-41 for 259 yards on the night. In spite of missing 2 1/2 games that season, Jordan led the SEC in receptions with 49.
"We went into the first game with Maryland, which was a huge win with a re-dedication of the new stadium," said Jordan. "I don't know what they were ranked, but they were up there and had a great football team. Going into that game I did not know if I was going to play or not. It was that much up in the air. Watson changed the first play of the game and sent me in. I was in on the first play and made a catch.
"After that game I remember looking at the student newspaper and it said something about me being second in the country in receiving. My first thought was I didn't know they kept that stat. I was in essence a fourth receiver. I might have carried the ball 10 to 15 times that year. I had the ability to get open and catch the ball."
As road roommates and friends, Taylor and Jordan became close and consumed a great devotion to helping improve the team. Some in the huddle might have wondered if Taylor favored Jordan as a receiver.
"Part of it was brainwashing," joked Jordan. "I was one of the early check downs on the receivers and it would generally take a little bit longer for the deep receivers to get to where they were going. It was a pretty quick check down. We ran that little hot play a lot so it was headed to me anyway."
Vanderbilt would have a historic season when Jordan was a senior in 1982. The Commodores were 8-3 in the regular season and ended the season with five straight wins over Ole Miss, Kentucky, Virginia Tech, Chattanooga and Tennessee. The 28-21 victory over the Vols was played in a downpour. It was the first win over the Vols in Nashville since 1964 with the previous victory over UT in Knoxville in 1975.
"A reporter asked me after the game if I was surprised that we beat Tennessee," Jordan said. "I told him on a dry field we were three touchdowns better than they were. By then we were the better team on the field. They were dropping seven and eight people trying to shut down the short game between me and Allama (Matthews), which they pretty much did. So Chuck (Scott) and Phil (Roach) were open all day long and Whit had a huge day with them.
"We started believing in ourselves after the Mississippi game. That was a turning point as it has been for Vanderbilt football. We went on the field believing that we were not the underdog. We thought we could play with anybody. We never felt we were outclassed."
Vanderbilt's reward for an 8-3 record was an invitation to the Hall of Fame Bowl in Birmingham. The opponents were the Air Force Academy. This was only Vanderbilt's third bowl game in history. In the 36-28 loss to Air Force, Taylor and Norman were unstoppable. Taylor was named the game's MVP after completing a Vanderbilt-record 28 passes on 51 attempts for 454 yards, which remains the second highest single-game passing yardage in Commodore history.
Though he rushed for only four yards on one carry, Norman collected 20 passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns to break five Hall of Fame records. The 20 receptions are a Vanderbilt record for most receptions in a single-game. It would have been a then-NCAA and SEC record, but the NCAA did not recognize bowl game records until the early 2000's. LSU's Josh Reed is credited as the SEC leader with 19 receptions in a single game.
"I wasn't supposed to play," Jordan said. "I didn't get to practice all week I had pulled a hamstring while we were on Christmas break. I couldn't run. I spent that entire week working with Doc Kreis, the weight and conditioning coach, while everyone was practicing. The day before the game I could run a little bit thinking I might play some. Jeff Holt was going to be the starter.
"Air Force took the opposite tact that Tennessee did. They gave us the short passes to death and not give up the long pass plays. So I was open a lot. They forced us into the short game. That was Watson's offense. You took what the defense gave you."
Jordan graduated from Vanderbilt with a double major in history and sociology. He joked that in his career nobody ever caught him from behind.
"They'd just run around and hit me from the front," he said.
With Jordan's limited ability there was little interest from the NFL or CFL for him to continue playing football as a professional.
"I was contacted, but I did not attend any camps," said Jordan. "My dream had always been to play college football. It would have to been the perfect situation. I was talking with a scout from Buffalo at the time and he said he almost called me when they opened camp because they were low on receivers. Then he thought if I came up there and blew out a knee he would never forgive himself. I was through with it. I closed the book on it."
Though his playing days were over life in football as a coach was an option.
"I did a year as a graduate assistant at Vanderbilt in 1983." said Jordan. "I came real close into going into coaching. Watson offered me the running back position at Rice that next year. I hesitated on it. I remember his comment, `Norman if you can live without it, live without it.' I felt like I could. I basically went into business from there. I went to work in 1985 for J.C. Bradford as a broker, and been in that business in some capacity ever since. Now I'm a manager at Morgan Stanley in Nashville."
Norman also did the color for Vanderbilt's televised games for nine years and three seasons on the radio broadcasts. This past summer Jordan was invited by Derek Mason's staff to speak with the 2014 Commodore squad.
"I went over to talk with the team in July," Jordan said. "One of the coaches asked me to come over and talk to them. At the end of my talk I told them when you are old and gray like I am, there are only going to be two things that you will have that nobody will ever take away from you. One is how hard you worked and your teammates are going to be some of the best friends you have for the rest of your life. I always told myself that nobody was going to outwork me."
Jordan was asked what it meant for him to be a Vanderbilt graduate and former Commodore football player.
"I am terribly proud of what we achieved in my time at Vanderbilt," Jordan said. "The best part of it for me were my teammates and the coaches we had. We were blessed to be around a wonderful group of people.
"We had moved back from Athens, Ga., to Nashville around 2000. I was taking my girls to a Vanderbilt football game. We were walking across the tailgating area. My older daughter, who would have been about eight at the time, heard someone say, `Hey, there goes Norman Jordan.' We were out of earshot of them when she pulled on my hand and said, `Daddy, what's it like to be almost famous?'"
Traughber's Tidbit: Former Vanderbilt football standout and head coach Watson Brown's younger brother Mack, followed Watson to Vanderbilt. Alabama's Paul "Bear" Bryant recruited both. Mack was a Commodore running back in 1969-70, but transferred to Florida State (1972-73) to complete his final two years of eligibility. He was a head coach at Appalachian State, Tulane, North Carolina and Texas. In the 2005 season, Brown guided the undefeated Longhorns to the BCS Championship game against USC on Jan. 4, 2006 and won 41-38 in the Rose Bowl. His overall head coaching record was 244-122-1 with a 13-8 bowl record. Mack Brown retired after last season.
If you have any comments or suggestions contact Bill Traughber via email WLTraughber@aol.com.