Dec. 31, 2011
Game Recap: Cincinnati 31, Vanderbilt 24
It was an almost perfect experience for a revived Commodore Nation. Almost is an important word.
The largest traveling collection of Vanderbilt Commodore fans this side of the 1982 Hall of Fame Bowl enjoyed near perfect weather and tremendous Memphis hospitality during the lead up to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl. By the mid-afternoon kickoff, over half of the sun-splashed crowd of 57,103 was showing its gold.
Alas, there was no Cinderella ending for a gallant Commodore football team, one that had captured the hearts of so many after winning just four games in the previous two years combined. In the end, the `Dores were im-PEADED or perhaps stam-PEADED by a talented tailback named Isaiah and his Big East Conference co-champion teammates by a 31-24 margin. Where is the Hollywood finish when you need it?
Here's hoping the vast majority of the nearly 30,000 wearing black and gold will remember the fun, the excitement and the electricity and not the tiny scoreboard's final message. Rome was not built in a day.
The huge crowd was the first thing Coach James Franklin mentioned in his post-game remarks. Weeks ago after Vanderbilt had blown through its initial allotment of 10,000 tickets, the popular Franklin tweeted that he wanted 20,000 fans and then revised his marching orders to 30,000 when he realized the Liberty Bowl held 60,000. Most people - and quite probably some Liberty Bowl officials - thought that was wishful thinking.
A Commodore Nation reacted to his game plan the same way the 100 football players have responded all season. When push came to shove Saturday afternoon, the 30,000 quota was not pie-in-the-sky.
Those on the Liberty Bowl grounds hours before kickoff felt the passion. As the team buses entered the complex, they were greeted by a sea of gold shaker waving tailgaters, a scene these players have often witnessed with opposing fans at battlefields in Gainesville, Tuscaloosa, Baton Rouge and other pigskin mad places.
Star cornerback Casey Hayward said afterwards that the Dore Walk was beyond expectations with thousands of fans on hand to urge their favorites on as they exited the buses.
What the team wasn't able to see was a Liberty Bowl sponsored tailgate that was so jammed with Commodore fans that the fire marshal ordered ticket sales stopped after Vanderbilt had pre-sold 1,100 and was asking for many more. An auxiliary tailgate, hastily put together after the late sold-out notification, drew many hundreds more Vanderbilt fans on this breezy, 65 degree New Year's Eve.
Pre-game felt like Times Square at midnight. There was 90-year young Monnie Lusky, who is one of very few fans that have attended all five Vanderbilt bowl games. There was Lee Ann Hawkins, the Grand Dame of Commodore baseball, alumni from at least seven decades, football lettermen (who had their own awesome reunion) and every demographic in-between.
There have been times in the nearly forgotten past when Commodore football fans showed up dressed as though they were in witness protection - wearing grays, blues, greens...darn near anything but identifying black and gold. Not here, not today! Virtually everyone showed up smartly attired in proper colors and proud of it.
There is no doubt that Coach Franklin is the pied piper to many and in that regard, it should be noted that he made a point to say that his program is just starting and will be back. There is little doubt that is the case so this huge throng of `Dore faithful has already received its marching orders for 2012.
There's a Black and Gold Spring Game around the corner that needs to be well attended. As for the season opener next August 30 against South Carolina...well, get your tickets and plan to have more fun following this exciting program. Now we understand what we can accomplish when we band together.