We have officially reached the halfway mark in the week. In the coming days, the streets that are still relatively quiet in Memphis following Christmas, will slowly begin to be flooded by fans from Vanderbilt and Cincinnati. Vanderbilt's fan events officially kickoff on Thursday with the B.B. King's Vanderbilt Party at 6 p.m. It costs $10 at the door for the event, which includes live entertainment, appetizers and beverages.
The James Franklin Call-In Show will broadcast live from B.B. King's at 6 p.m. with the Voice of the Commodores, Joe Fisher, as the host. Following Coach Franklin's show, fans are encouraged to stick around and watch Vanderbilt's men's basketball team as it plays at No. 14/13 Marquette at 8 p.m. CT on ESPN2.
Day 3 in Memphis began a little slower for members of the Commodores on Wednesday. Instead of having meetings in the morning like on Tuesday, the team activities were held in the afternoon on Wednesday. Although the player's had a light morning and were able to catch up on sleep, Vanderbilt's coaching staff and football administrators were up early with a 7 a.m. meeting. Following the staff meeting Coach Franklin joined other Vanderbilt staffers for a GridIron Club breakfast. The club has seen substantial growth since it was revamped in the early fall.
One thing that people tend to forget at times during bowl week is that while it is a business trip and the objective is to win the game, the bowl experience also provides an opportunity for families of Vanderbilt's coaches and staffers to spend time together away from home - something that does not occur during the regular season. On Wednesday morning, coaches and staffers were able to put football aside for a few hours and spend quality time with their families at the Memphis Zoo.
Vanderbilt's visit to the zoo leads perfectly into another outstanding benefit of attending a bowl game. Virtually every bowl game has a community service endeavor which connects the team with the host city and the AutoZone Liberty Bowl is no different. Just before the noon hour on Wednesday, members of Vanderbilt's team were joined by Coach Franklin at the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital, where they met with patients and signed autographs. It was a touching experience that made everyone involved realize how fortunate they are. Read further down the blog for more details from the visit.
After eating lunch, the team met briefly at 1:30 p.m. to discuss the rest of the day's activities. Again Franklin reported that every player made curfew, so no one was added to the Breakfast Club, and that is a good thing. While it may not seem like an area of high importance to an outsider, it can say a great deal about the character of a team when coaches can trust their players with so many distractions of being in a new city for a week. Franklin and the staff realize this.
"I really appreciate this," Franklin said. "I've been running around all day and the fact that I don't have to deal with stuff that 98% of other coaches around the country have to deal with, I appreciate that. I treat you like men because you are acting like men and I really appreciate it."
Franklin also discussed the finality of the season being just over the horizon. "We've only got two practices left together as a family and one walk-thru. This is the last time this team will ever play together; let's take advantage of it."
Lastly, Franklin concluded the meeting by talking about the importance of the bowl game and finishing with a winning record. "There is a big difference between bowl participants and bowl champions," Franklin said. Just coming to the bowl game is not a reward. Just coming to the bowl game is not enough. You've got to finish this thing."
Team Visits St. Jude Children's Research Hospital
Fifteen Commodores, consisting of Head Coach James Franklin, players, and staff, visited St. Jude Children's Research Hospital Wednesday at 11 a.m. CT. St. Jude Children's Research Hospital works to advance cures, and means of prevention, for fighting cancer and other pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment.
The visit was an emotional experience for the Commodores, and it could be seen on their faces from the mile-wide smiles to the noticeable tears. The Vanderbilt contingent spent 45 minutes touring the facility and meeting with young patients. Down every hallway, kids would approach the team asking for autographs. The players happily obliged, giving high-fives, fist bumps, and even teaching the VU hand sign along the way.
One patient told the team, "I hope you have a good time here." The child then asked, "Are you guys going to the Super Bowl?" Wide receiver Jordan Matthews laughed and responded, "Something like that."
After the tour, an autograph line was set up with a long line of patients waiting to meet the student-athletes. The Commodores handed out autographed posters, t-shirts and other gifts to the children.
While much of the focus this week has been on preparing for Saturday's AutoZone Liberty Bowl game, Matthews remarked that "it's making an impact on these kids' lives that's really important.
"A lot of people make a big deal about us coming here and being a blessing on them, but in retrospect, it's also a blessing on us. It's not every day you get to come here and impact people's lives like this. It's a really great experience and I hope to have many more like this," Matthews said.
Franklin was proud of his team for making it a priority to visit St. Jude. He noted that 78 players signed up to volunteer their time, but only 15 could come due to limited space for visitors in the hospital.
Franklin and the Commodores also regularly visit The Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt at least once per month in Nashville.
Vanderbilt had its third practice at Memphis University School on Wednesday afternoon that lasted two hours. Franklin was once again encouraged with what he saw, and he doesn't expect there to be any rust come Saturday despite the team's previous game coming more than a month ago.
"This late in the year, you are not going to have a whole lot of rust, and to be honest with you, we didn't have a real big break," Franklin said. "We got a few days off for Christmas and a few days off for finals, but we pretty much went the whole time through. I think we are pretty sharp. I think we are ready to go."
A perk of attending a bowl game are the extra activities the team gets to experience throughout the week. On Wednesday evening, Vanderbilt's players had the option of attending the NBA game between the Memphis Grizzlies and Oklahoma City Thunder or the AutoZone Liberty Bowl Pro Rodeo.
During halftime of the game, Grizzlies General Manager Chris Wallace presented Vanderbilt and Cincinnati with framed Grizzlies jerseys with "Vanderbilt" and "Cincinnati" inscribed on the back of the respective team's jersey. To accept the jersey and be recognized on the floor for Vanderbilt were Coach Franklin and linebacker Chris Marve.
The game was Memphis' home opener and was a rematch of last year's memorable quarterfinal playoff matchup that went seven games before Oklahoma City advanced. On Wednesday, Oklahoma City again left Memphis with a win, 98-95.
While most of the Vanderbilt travel party attended the NBA game at nearby FedEx Forum, two dozen Commodores enjoyed a far different athletic pursuit Wednesday night, cheering on cowboys at the 24th Annual AutoZone Liberty Bowl Pro Rodeo.
Held at the Agricenter Show Place Arena east of Memphis, the Pro Rodeo drew a near-capacity crowd of more than 4,000 spectators to witness cowboys competing in steer wrestling, calf roping, bareback riding, saddle bronc riding, barrel racing and bull riding.
Perfect Bowl Attendance
The 2011 AutoZone Liberty Bowl will be Vanderbilt's fifth all-time bowl game. All of the bowl appearances have fallen in different decades, beginning with the 1955 Gator Bowl. Last week, VUCommodores had a story on Vanderbilt graduate Monnie Lusky ('42) who has attended all of Vanderbilt's bowl games and will be in Memphis this weekend. Given the span between games, Lusky's loyalty puts him in a small fraternity of fans that have been to every bowl game.
To find others who have also been to every Vanderbilt bowl game, we asked fans to e-mail us and reach out to us through Facebook. As a result, we compiled a list of 12 individuals who have attended every game.
Bob Alley Charlie and Betty Daugherty Bill and June Denny Bill and Elise Goodson Gordon B. Guess Bob and Sharon Keith Coleman Lowery Monnie Lusky
Providing the photo of the 1955 Gator Bowl watch was Rob Alley, son of Bob Alley. Bob is the son of former Vanderbilt Head Coach Herc Alley.
Below are a few excerpts from e-mails sent in by folks who reminisced about attending every bowl game.
Gordon B. Guess, '58 We were with a large group affiliated with UT who came to the game. We cruised Jax in a brand new red and yellow Olds Holiday 98 that weekend.
The Music City bowl vs Boston College was my co-favorite game with the Gator Bowl as Vandy overcame their underdog label and won both games. I loved the Nashville game until the sun went down over the stadium. It got very cold, but fortunately we were prepared and finished the game in comfort with our hand warmers and hunting clothes.
I'm really looking forward to the Liberty Bowl - GO COMMODORES!
Bill Goodson, '57, '60 Bill and June Denny and my wife, Elise, and I have been to all the bowl games. Bill and I were juniors at VU for the Gator Bowl, and not yet married. (For the record, Elise and June had one motel room and Bill and I the other. These were the fifties.) We drove down in Bill's big sedan, he and June picking us up in Huntsville on the way down there.
One curious thing happened after the glorious victory. Somehow a Gator Bowl road sign ended up in Bill's trunk and later adorned our room at the SAE house. Go figure. (Is the statute of limitations over?)
Just one request of the weather gods: Please, no more 27-degree windchill in Memphis like we had at the Music City. I've never been so cold in my life.