Bowl week is well underway, but on Friday the festivities surrounding the bowl game kicked into another gear with the start of bowl-specific activities.
After a similar morning and afternoon schedule as Thursday with breakfast at 10 a.m., a team meeting at noon and practice at 1:40 p.m., the Commodores attended the Team Welcome Party at the General Jackson Showboat.
In attendance were bowl officials as well as travel parties from Vanderbilt and NC State. It was the first time the two teams had been together since bowl week began Wednesday.
The Team Welcome Party commenced at 7 p.m. and was emceed by Dawn Davenport of WKRN and Willy Daunic of 102.5 The Game. The few hundred in attendance were treated to a meal that included brisket, ribs, baked beans, mashed potatoes and macaroni and cheese.
Following dinner, Scott Cantrell a local magician and comedian performed for the captive audience. The loudest applause came when Cantrell displayed his juggling skills. After juggling three balls at one time, Cantrell took three large knives out of his case. He then proceeded to call Vanderbilt linebacker Archibald Barnes to the stage and had him sit in a chair. Once Barnes was seated, Cantrell said that he would be juggling the knives over Barnes.
After Barnes nervously agreed to have the feat performed, Cantrell took his sport coat and placed it over Barnes' head. With the crowd's assistance, he then acted as if he was juggling the knives over Barnes without actually attempting it. Cantrell even dropped a knife by Barnes' feet a few times to add to the drama.
The main event of the night took place near the end when representatives from Vanderbilt and NC State went head-to-head in a rib-eating competition.
Earlier in the day, Head Coach James Franklin had surprised the team by announcing Vanderbilt's participants in the contest at the team meeting.
All five players announced were linemen on either side of the ball, but Franklin had one more name up his sleeve.
"Our secret weapon," Franklin exclaimed, "from Brandywine, Md., Brandon Banks." The announcement drew laughter and loud cheering from players who loved the selection. A freshman defensive back, Banks, of course, is the lightest player on the roster at 5-foot-10 165 pounds.
Little did the players know at the time, but only five players from each team were to compete in the competition. So unfortunately, Banks never got his opportunity to dig in to the ribs.
In 2008, Vanderbilt defeated Boston College in the rib-eating contest and former offensive lineman Eric Hensley won the individual title. The Commodores were unable to defend their title on Friday against the five representatives from NC State.
Despite a gritty effort and words of encouragement by offensive line coach Herb Hand, who repeatedly walked toward the stage and tried to motivate his players, NC State was able to claim the title by eating 19 more ribs than Vanderbilt. NC State defensive end Rogers Clark also won the individual title with a total of 21 ribs.
But the team title was not without a little controversy. When the time had expired in the competition, Vanderbilt offensive lineman Adam Butler immediately questioned the method used by at least one NC State player and claimed that instead of eating the meet off the ribs, some players were simply ripping the meat off the bone, leaving it on their plate and placing the bone in the bucket.
Butler's protest led to a friendly exchange of words between the two teams, but did not sway the judges.
The rib-eating contest concluded the evening on the General Jackson Showboat. By the time the contest ended, the boat had reached its final destination downtown Nashville and players, coaches and staff members exited the boat and loaded up buses to return to Gaylord Opryland Resort.
Sights & Sounds From Practice
Vanderbilt has just two practices remaining in the 2012 season. On Thursday, exclusive practice footage was captured. One major takeaway from the footage is the high level of energy in which the Commodores have practiced in preparing for the bowl game. (Watch)
Vanderbilt practiced in inclement weather on Friday afternoon inside Vanderbilt Stadium. It was another chilly day in Nashville with temperatures in the 30s and a steady rain fell throughout practice. Afterwards, Coach Franklin met with the media. (Watch)