Vandy strikes gold in Music City

Victory over N.C. State caps greatest season ever

Pictured (l to r): Vanderbilt Coach James Franklin; MVP RB Zac Stacy; Vice Chancellor/Athletic Director David Williams II; QB Jordan Rodgers
(photo by Cass Teague).

A 71-year old former Vietnam paratrooper stole the show in the postgame press conference. He wanted to thank Vanderbilt Coach James Franklin for the joy he had given him in turning around Vanderbilt football, something neither he nor few others ever thought they would live to see. In the signature moment of the gathering, Franklin called him to come up toward the table and hugged him. It was Franklin who wanted to thank him, for never abandoning the program or giving up on seeing success. It was a moment those in attendance, especially this reporter, will never forget. It symbolized everything, past and present—and pointed to a great future.

Vanderbilt’s 38-24 victory over North Carolina State in the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl in front of 55,801 mostly black clad fans on a cloudy day at LP Field was far more than just a win on the football field. It portends of much more to come and for those who have been forced, or forced themselves, to witness so many years of just plain bad football. It was a day in the sun never conceived of—something that seemed so impossible it was never really even dreamt of.

Nine wins, including a blowout of Tennessee and a convincing bowl victory over a respected program, constitute a season beyond the dreams of most. This is not the case for ultimate football visionary Coach Franklin.

“We’re not going anywhere so everybody better get used to it. We’re not going anywhere. This is the brand new Vanderbilt, so get used to us.”

After a pair of 2-10 seasons, Franklin came in from Maryland facing the impossible—as countless others had before him. Longtime supporters (few as they have been) always wondered what would happen if Vanderbilt ever truly made a commitment to football and found a great coach to lead it? Two years later, we know the answer.

Vanderbilt has won nine games in a season for the first time in 97 years, seven straight for the first time in 64, and has the longest winning streak in the mighty SEC—a feat not thought to have occurred previously. Who seriously could have believed these things could happen at Vanderbilt, especially those who have seen all the years of terrible football? Who seriously could now question Franklin’s sincere belief (no, knowledge) that championships are in the future here?

Zac Stacy rushed for 107 yards in being named MVP; Jordan Rodgers was steady though unspectacular in passing 16-for-25 with two TDs; and the defense rose up, forcing five turnovers and largely stuffing State on the ground. As all season, this was a true team effort.

The Commodores took the opening possession and went 65 yards capped by a spectacular catch by Chris Boyd for a five-yard touchdown. VU would never trail, even despite some tense moments following a Tobias Palmer kickoff return cutting the margin to 21-14 in the second quarter. Vanderbilt overcame the adversity helped by the opportunistic defense led by Kenny Ladler who recorded 10 tackles, a fumble recovery and an interception.

The new day is here. Success never imagined is here. James Franklin’s oft-mentioned four values, i.e: positive attitude, unbelievable work ethic, fierce competition, and sacrifice, have become the way of life for everyone with the Star V. Vanderbilt is not only holding their own, they are prospering. Vanderbilt should be feared on the gridiron for years to come. Strive to be great.