Aug. 23, 2012
In the coming weeks, VUcommodores.com will be unveiling videos that highlight many of Vanderbilt's gameday traditions. To kickoff the series, Brandon Barca looks at how the traditions have grown and helped unite a fan base.
Thousands of Vanderbilt fans waited anxiously on Tiger Lane the morning of New Year's Eve.
Two hundred miles away from Nashville, the scene at Dore Alley was something James Franklin couldn't have imagined when he first joined the Commodores, a program on life support after back-to-back two-win seasons.
"The Liberty Bowl was intense, just intense," remembers Franklin, whose only regret was that his wife, Fumi, didn't get to experience the mob scene because one of the team buses was delayed getting to the stadium.
Hours before kickoff, the crowd wanted to live and breath every moment while it lasted. And rightfully so. It was only the fifth time in school history that the Commodores suited up after Christmas.
The aura in the air of the Bluff City that day is what's special about college football.
"That's what I want these kids to be able to enjoy and feel when it gets to the point where everybody couldn't be more excited," the head coach said. "You can feel the energy walking into the stadium and getting off the bus. That's what we're really building."
Vanderbilt doesn't lack traditions. That's never been an issue.
It's the culture. It's competing with counterparts, not only on the gridiron, but in the tradition-rich Southeastern Conference. It's owning a sense of pride in the Star V.
It starts with something as simple as wearing school colors to the games, providing a home-field advantage with your voice and spirit, and celebrating with family and friends long after the final whistle.
Franklin has led the charge in the attitude remodeling, and keeps pushing for more.
"I think we have some really good traditions here," he said. "We have a lot of things that are really special and unique to Vanderbilt and Nashville. But I don't know if it's necessarily been a battle cry or a rallying-type thing where we brought everybody back together. That's what I'm really trying to do."
Franklin's first decision on traditions was one of his smartest. Rather than buck the trends of the past like some new coaches prefer to do, he wanted his team to seize them. He added a few wrinkles to the mix, as well.
The ultra-heavy, gold anchor, normally seen being carried by the players at Star Walk, now also has a permanent home in the locker room, and is highlighted in a special ceremony on the field before kickoff. This year you'll see the anchor mark on the neckline of the jerseys.
During preseason camp, it's a priority for the team to learn the school's fight song and alma mater, so players can recite the words with fans after every game.
Star Walk is still a pregame staple, and the Victory Flag flies high above the stadium press box following Commodore triumphs.
And the most unique Vanderbilt gameday tradition of all, the foghorn (which has resided on top of the press box since 1993), has a name: The Admiral. "It's powerful. You can hear it everywhere," Franklin notes.
Significant additions were made to the gameday experience, too.
Dore Alley debuted last year and was a huge hit. The extended version of Star Walk gives the team a chance to walk through Vanderbilt's prime tailgating area, Vandyville, when they first arrive at McGugin two and a half hours before the game.
Prior to kickoffs, players now hold up the 'VU' sign with each hand, representing their mantra of "Six Seconds," which challenges the squad to focus on every play, rather than the entire 60 minutes on the clock.
Instead of starting from scratch, Franklin decided to magnify each ritual to make them bigger.
"With all of those things, it's just building our history, and taking a lot of pride in who we are," he stated. "I think that's probably the biggest thing, just the sense of pride in who we are and what we represent."
The hottest catch phrase of the summer is Anchor Down, which was created in 2005, but mostly used within the program.
It's not a marketing slogan. It's a mindset, almost a mission statement, meant to create unity among Commodore fans. Fueled initially by the social media efforts of Franklin and wide receiver Josh Grady, the saying continues to gain steam and spread with each hashtag posted on Twitter.
Try walking down to the football wing of McGugin and you'll hear the two words non-stop. Franklin wants it to become what Roll Tide is to Alabama fans. Or War Eagle to the Auburn contingent. Or Hotty Toddy to the Rebels.
"How cool is it when you're in New York, or how cool is it when you're in California, or Kansas, and you can say that and have a connection with somebody?" Franklin asks.
Franklin's so passionate, you might even see him extending the brand in the most abnormal places.
"If I'm driving down the highway and I see a Vanderbilt license plate or bumper sticker, I can beep the horn and throw the 'VU' to them," Franklin said. "I think that type of enthusiasm and excitement is something that brings us all together and is contagious."
The culmination of a successful debut season, which thrived on that sunny, winter day in Memphis last December, left a lasting impression of Franklin.
Continuing that bond, that language that only the Commodore family can understand, is the next challenge for fans.
The test begins next Thursday.