Commodore Notebook - Oct. 22

Oct. 22, 2007

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Homecoming, One Week Later

We all realized this was special when it hadn't happened in about 70 years.

We're not referring the football team's win over sixth-rated South Carolina. We mean getting the surprise escort down West End Avenue from the Vanderbilt police department upon the Commodores' triumphant return Saturday night.

Our caravan of four busses turned up Natchez Trace to see lights blazing in the stadium and our victory flag flapping in the light breeze. Rounding the corner on Jess Neely Drive we were greeted by a healthy throng of Commodore faithful, especially since the campus is in the midst of fall break. The touchdown foghorn was blasting away.

"Who ya with? VU!"

Handshakes and hugs were on the house. Interim Chancellor Nick Zeppos and Vice Chancellor Mike Schoenfeld were among the enthusiastic well-wishers.

Ah, the sweet taste of victory!

It was a stark contrast from the past two post-games, the Auburn buzz saw and the Georgia heartbreak.

It is the emotion that fascinates me with sports. What makes some athletes shrink and rationalize while others recoil and strike back in the same circumstance?

Raise your hand if the last two weeks had stolen some of your Commodore spunk. Come on, be honest...ok, that's what I figured. I see a lot of hands out there. Mine was up, too, I hate to admit.

We let factors that shouldn't matter affect our dobbers. We read the papers and we listen to the radio. We wallow in our gridiron history to our detriment. We allow ourselves to believe in jinxes.

Six years ago we felt the same about our baseball fortunes. Does anyone still think we're cursed on the diamond? Good coaches and better athletes revamp attitudes.

This football program does not wallow in self pity or read essays of past short-comings. It has seasoned professionals calling the shots, probing the best odds for victory every week. It pays little attention to pundits during moments of praise or when under the gun. Perhaps out of necessity but fortunately for us, the football team gets its focus from within. We are not a dependable source of inspiration.

While many of us were cringing at the misfortune of having to play "The Ball Coach" with his team in the Top 10, these 100 `Dores had identified the Gamecock's soft underbelly and were confident in their game plan. How it worked!

We have a tendency to think of the immediate when recalling our favorites: the best movie I ever saw; the best cake I've eaten; the funniest joke I've heard; the nicest thing anyone has ever done for me.

That said, if this 25-year veteran has ever seen a more complete performance from a Commodore football team it is not recalled. Defensive coordinator Bruce Fowler's troops pitched a nearly perfect game, allowing linebacker and special teams coach Warren Belin to savor a memorable birthday.

A few weeks back I sited one of "Rod's Rules," things we've learned through the decades of interaction with coaches and watching the wacky world of college sports.

This week's "Rod's Rule" is that there isn't as big a gap in talent as popular opinion would have you believe - or your own common sense might think. The gap, when there is one, is more likely to be in spirit and attitude.

On a day when the game plan can't be executed or frustration sets in, things are a train wreck. As fans we despair, left out of the fun like the third grader not invited to the birthday party.

But on those glorious afternoons when the body and the spirit are as one, we rise near the top of the collegiate mountaintop. The view is spectacular. We agree it was worth the climb.



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