Notebook: Seizing the moment
Oct. 5, 2008
It was a few minutes past dawn as I headed for The Commons and ESPN's College GameDay set. The street was already lined with cars. A foursome was on foot, clad in Jay Cutler and Earl Bennett jerseys. A few yards ahead was a solitary figure carrying a couple of homemade placards.
My eyes surprisingly moistened and I tried to swallow the lump in my throat as I realized this was something special. It was bigger than a TV show. It was much more than another football game. Lord knows we've played hundreds of them.
As I stood near the GameDay set, next to Home Depot's fancy GameDay bus, I gazed out on a sea of emotion. Hundreds of signs - many more clever than any Saturday Night Live skit might generate - blotted out faces.
Behind those masks were generations of Commodores. Freshmen that just arrived on campus little more than a month ago, grandparents that hadn't seen a 5-0 start in their lifetime, babies in strollers. Cleveland Indian pitcher Jensen Lewis, his season just over, rushed back for this and his Vandyville tailgate. Young and old, town and country - it was a veritable Black and Gold melting pot.
They were glowing. Some pinched themselves as if to be certain this was really happening, that a Commodore football game was actually the focus of the college football world on this golden, sunshiny day.
This was not a television program. This was an exorcism pit.
It was here that thousands of Commodore pilgrims came to cleanse their sporting souls. It was time to trade frustrations of the past for a baptism into a new world of positive and prideful thought. It was a chance to walk down Main Street and not duck into the athletic back alley. It was a moment when wearing a black football jersey topped a tuxedo. (After all, according to one sign "Superman Wears D.J. Moore Pajamas")
The scene shifts to Vandyville. Oh my!
By early afternoon, thousands of tailgaters had fired up their grills and were tossing the football or bean bags, watching college football games after rigging up their own big screens and simply enjoying the indescribable feeling of togetherness. Three hours before kickoff Natchez Trace was the Magnificent Mile or 42nd Street during rush hour.
We near game time. Fans hoping to buy easy tickets outside the gate are grim as they stand helplessly with two or four fingers in the air. Most will be forced to seek a television; tickets are not for sale at any price.
Electric and Vanderbilt Stadium are words seldom associated but it's a new day. With Black and Gold out-numbering Orange by approximately three to one, the hometown fans hang in there while the Commodores withstand a punishing Auburn first-quarter offensive.
Then slowly but steadily the Vanderbilt fans seize the moment. The student section, the most meaningful one to the football players as it includes their peers, their buddies and their girlfriends, is alive.
As the second half grinds on the encouragement increases and negative karma disappears. Gone was the old group think that somehow we would figure out a way to lose. It had been exorcised hours before. We now believed.
And then it was over, gloriously over, except nobody in Black and Gold wanted it to be over. The Commodore crowd didn't move, some from exhaustion and other frozen by emotion. The team, which treats game day as a business trip, sensed this and came out of its joyous locker room for a rare curtain call.
We filed out into the darkness having seen the light. There was but one question remaining: is there any way we can keep this day from ending?