Dec. 17, 2008
The 1982 Vanderbilt football squad won its last five games to earn a bid to the Hall of Fame Bowl in Birmingham. Coach George MacIntyre led the Commodores to the school's third bowl game in its history with an 8-3 record. The opponent was the Falcons from the Air Force Academy.
This offensive display would see 41 Hall of Fame Bowl records either tied or broken. Legion Field was the site as more than 70,000 fans filled the stadium. Senior quarterback Whit Taylor led Vanderbilt's potent passing attack while Air Force relied on a controlled wishbone formation.
Air Force would pile up 19 fourth quarter points to outlast the Commodore's defense for a 36-28 win. Vanderbilt scored first in the opening quarter covering 75 yards in seven plays. Norman Jordan slipped out of the backfield for a 28-yard touchdown reception. Vanderbilt led, 7-0.
The Falcons tied the game at 7-7 on a short 37-yard drive following a Keith Edwards fumble. Air Force quarterback Marty Louthan ran a sneak from the one-yard line for the score. After Vanderbilt failed on its next drive, the Falcons came back with an 80-yard march to lead, 14-7. Mike Brown's 19-yard touchdown run capped the drive.
Vanderbilt struck back quickly with a pair of touchdowns. Taylor hit Phil Roach for a 15-yard TD to finish a 63-yard drive in just five plays. Before the half Vanderbilt covered 50 yards in five plays with Jordan taking another Taylor pass into the end zone. Vanderbilt led at the half, 21-14.
The Commodores were looking good at the end of the third quarter. Air Force managed a 21-yard Sean Pavlich field goal while the Commodores got another Taylor to Jordan touchdown pass from the four-yard line in the third period. Ricky Anderson kicked his third of four conversion attempts. Entering the final period, Vanderbilt was leading the Falcons, 28-17.
The Air Force rally began with a 92-yard drive early in the fourth quarter. Ted Sundquist capped the drive with a three-yard plunge into the end zone. The conversion failed. Vanderbilt still led, 28-23.
The Commodore's offense was ridden with fourth quarter mistakes. Taylor gave the Falcons a first down at the Commodore 21-yard line when Falcon end Carl Dieudonne intercepted a pass. Taylor would be intercepted three times on the day with two being picked off in the end zone.
John Kershner would score the go ahead touchdown with a three-yard run. The two-point attempt failed on the conversion, but the Falcons led 29-28. Later in the fourth quarter an Air Force gamble shook the Commodores. The Falcons had the ball on the Vanderbilt 46-yard line with a fourth-and-one. Vanderbilt clogged the line, but Louthan ran the option play and scampered for the 46-yard touchdown. The conversion kick was good and Air Force led 36-28. A final desperation comeback by the Commodores came up short.
Taylor was named the game's Most Valuable Player. He connected on 38-of-51 passes for 452 yards and four touchdowns. Jordan caught 20 of those passes for 173 yards and three touchdowns. Vanderbilt collected 495 total yards while Air Force totaled 451 yards. The Commodores only attempted 12 rushes for 35 yards. The Falcons gained 331 rushing yards.
"He is one of the most exciting quarterbacks the SEC has ever had," MacIntyre said about Taylor after the game. "Our timing was a little off considering the time we have had between games. I'm sure there are some passes Whit would have liked to have back. We simply couldn't stop their wishbone. Louthan did a great job of reading our defense. We didn't play well with our kicking game, either."
Another disappointment to Vanderbilt was the departure of offensive coordinator Watson Brown. Brown had earlier accepted the head coaching position at Cincinnati. He is credited for developing Taylor into the All-Southeastern Conference quarterback. Of course, Brown would go on to coach also at Rice University and he later replaced MacIntyre (1986-90).
Brown currently is the head coach at the Tennessee Tech. It was an emotional day for Brown in the post game locker room.
"It has been the toughest day of my life," said Brown the former Vanderbilt quarterback. "I came out to the stadium, knowing it was my last with these guys knowing I was going to have a tough time saying goodbye. I was determined to keep my composure, but I didn't. I lost my composure. I lost my poise. I cried.
"It hurt. Walking off the field, it was all I could think about, Whit, and these other kids. But, I can deal with it now, because I feel they are winners no matter the outcome of this game. Looking back on this season, no one could think differently."
Jordan's 20 receptions is still a Vanderbilt single-game record. He broke five Hall of Fame records himself. Air Force nearly doubled the time of possession with 39:18 while Vandy controlled 20:42. Junior safety Manual Young collected 16 tackles (10 unassisted) while linebackers Jeff McFerran and Bob O' Conner totaled 14 tackles.
"The loss hurts," said Taylor. "Because I get the credit for winning, and I have learned to accept the blame when we lose. The interception in the end zone, and the one in the fourth quarter leading to their winning touchdown, were just mistakes. I wish I could get them back.
"The last interception came on a special play designed for Air Force and not previously called. The receiver (Phil Roach) was clear. I just threw the ball short. It was very hard for me to accept the trophy (MVP). Right now I'm just trying to get over the hurt. We should have won. That's what we wanted."
Originally, the Hall of Fame selection committee wanted Stanford as a foe for Vanderbilt. Stanford, with Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback John Elway, would have been a great passing match with Taylor. Stanford had the bid if they beat underdog California in their last regular season game.
That was the infamous Cal/Stanford band game. With Stanford winning the game and the victory locked up, a routine Cardinal kickoff would have ended the game. But, the Stanford band prematurely ran on the field during the final play causing confusion and a Bear TD. Cal won on the bizarre play and Air Force was then asked to replace Stanford.
Traughber's Tidbit: The first Music City Bowl game was played on Vanderbilt's Dudley Field in 1998. While the Titans downtown Nashville stadium (Adelphia Coliseum) was being constructed, the inaugural game was played on the Vanderbilt campus. Virginia Tech defeated Alabama, 38-7.
Tidbit Two: The Commodores only appearance on LP Field (Adelphia Coliseum) was in 2000. The Vanderbilt administration moved the home game with Tennessee downtown to accommodate a larger attendance. The Vols held on to defeat the Commodores, 28-26.
Tidbit Three: The only times that Vanderbilt has faced Music City Bowl foe Boston College was in 1962 and 1963. BC won the first game at Vanderbilt, 27-22 and defeated the Commodores in Boston, 19-6.
If you have any comments or suggestions you can contact Bill Traughber via e-mail WLTraughber@aol.com.