Jan. 3, 2014
Vanderbilt Press Conference | Luncheon Photos | Day 3 Recap | Day 2 | Day 1
Commodore Nation has been ascending on Birmingham throughout the week, and Friday brought the arrival of the largest wave yet with numerous fan events to attend. The once-quiet hotel lobby is now buzzing with Vanderbilt fans.
For the players and coaches, Friday began just as it has every other day this week with morning meetings followed by practice at Hoover High School. With it being the eve of the BBVA Compass Bowl, Vanderbilt's "practice" was more of a walkthrough with players going through alignments and sets inside the school's indoor multipurpose building.
Immediately after walkthrough, the players and coaches bused to the Monday Morning Quarterback Club Team Luncheon held downtown at the Sheraton Birmingham.
The event was emceed by Joe Dean Jr. and featured speeches by former Alabama and Miami Dolphins player Tony Nathan and former NFL head coach and current ESPN analyst Herm Edwards. Nathan was the Golden Flake Legend of Birmingham at the luncheon and Edwards was keynote speaker.
In addition to both teams and coaching staffs being in attendance, representatives from the band and cheers squads were also there.
Dawn Davenport, of Nashville WKRN Channel 2 and Saturday's sideline reporter for ESPN, held a brief Q&A with both coaches, who first opened the session by joking about the lack of hair follicles on each other's head. The two coaches then praised one another and thanked the bowl and the city of Birmingham.
When asked about the keys to Saturday's game, James Franklin said the turnover battle would be vital. The Cougars lead the nation with a +25 turnover margin.
Franklin also told the crowd how much getting a win in Saturday's game would mean to the program.
"It always starts with the players and ends with the players," Franklin said. "I am so proud of this senior class. To be able to send the out with two nine-win seasons for the first time in school history would be quite the accomplishment."
After hearing from both coaches and bowl sponsors, the audience was treated to one of Herm Edwards' famous speeches. Edwards held the audience captive for 15 minutes as he delivered powerful messages to all in attendance.
Edwards opened his speech by talking about growing up watching games played at Legion Field as a child in California.
"I think we get caught up in things in life and we don't remember history," Edwards said. "A lot of teams and coaches have played at Legion Field and it is important for the players to understand that history."
Edwards, who said he will be in studio at ESPN Saturday, also spoke about the importance of leaving a legacy and the reality that Saturday will be the final football game for many seniors.
"Sometimes I think we forget about the important things in life," Edwards stated. "We grow up talking about having all sorts of possessions. The most important possessions are our memories. When you players grow older, you will understand this that there are no greater possession than your memories from when you played."
The former nine-year pro at defensive back also talked about the thing he misses the most about the game: the huddle. Edwards talked about how inside the huddle, people are from different cultures, races, religions and economic backgrounds, but in the huddle, everyone is working together to achieve the same goal.
"I've never seen a coach catch a ball or make a tackle," Edwards said. "When you get in the huddle, it is just you and your teammates."
Edwards also drove home the point that football does not last forever and everyone must game plan for their future just like they game plan for the next game.
"A goal without a plan is a wish," said Edwards.
Edwards closed his speech by reminding the players how valuable the lessons of the game are to not just the football field, but to life.
"It's a great game," he said. "It teaches a lot about life. Don't lose sight of that."
The speech drew a standing ovation from the crowd.
After the luncheon ended, the players and coaches returned to the hotel, where the majority of players had the afternoon to relax.
Friday afternoon, Franklin was joined by Alabama natives Walker May and Jordan Matthews at the BBVA Compass Bowl Press Conference.
May, who played prep ball at Briarwood Christian in Birmingham, is no stranger to Legion Field. Briarwood Christian played two games at the historic venue during May's tenure, with the second contest being the state championship his junior season.
"We ended up coming short," May remembered. "We played Saint Paul's, who had AJ McCarron and Mark Barron. They're pretty good if you know who they are."
"There's a lot of history and tradition on this field and to be a part of that, to be able to play here, is awesome and I'm very excited for it."
In the evening, Franklin and a few players made an appearance at Vanderbilt's Pep Rally in Five Points, where they were greeted by fans donning black and gold. The players and Coach Franklin took the stage as the band and cheer squads lined up in front. The Spirit of Gold Marching Band played for the large crowd as Franklin took the microphone and thanked the fans for supporting the program.
Also joining the Commodores on the stage was the biggest surprise of the night. A new Mr. Commodore made his debut. Gone is the gray hair; replaced by black hair and a more up-to-date wardrobe, including a new hat.
After Franklin finished speaking, the band played "Dynamite" and the players and Franklin circled the perimeter of the pep rally, slapping hands with well-wishing fans, who braved the cold weather with a temperature hovering around freezing.
The rest of the night was spent in meetings and players had a 10:30 p.m. curfew due to Saturday's early start. The Commodores will arrive at Legion Field at 9:30 a.m. Saturday for Dore Alley Walk, with the game beginning at noon on ESPN.