Spring Football practice has just ended on campus with diehard Vanderbilt fans (are there any other kind?) once again hoping that this coming fall will bring the school its first winning season in just over a quarter of a century.
Like our Senior Year (1972) Homecoming Queen Lucy Scott Fuqua (seen above with her runnerup in the voting, the Collective Senior Women), we didn't have a lot to applaud on the gridiron during our time in school.
But for one night, during our freshman year in the fall of 1969, things were very different. In fact, the contest played at Dudley Field that evening still ranks as one of the greatest games (and upsets) in Vanderbilt history.
It was October 1, 1969. VU came into its first Southeastern Conference home game against Alabama having lost its first three contests against Michigan, Army and North Carolina. The Crimson Tide, under its already legendary Coach Paul "Bear" Bryant, came in undefeated and nationally ranked.
But behind the leadership of quarterbacks Watson Brown and (West End) Denny Painter, Vanderbilt rolled up 473 yards in total offense while the defense harressed Alabama quarterback Scott Hunter into completing just four passes in 25 attempts for a paultry 91 yards.
But the final outcome was still in doubt well into the 4th quarter as Alabama led 10-7. That's when Vanderbilt linebacker Christie Hauck (now more famous for his cookies than his football prowess) intercepted an Alabama pass in the end zone and returned it to the Commodore 8.
Let's let Ira Deitsch of THE VANDERBILT HUSTLER tell the story as he did in article two years later in October, 1971. "At that point Painter took over the reins of the offense and cooly directed the team to the Tide 21-yard line by way of four passes--three to Curt Chesley of 18, 6 and 17 yards and one to David Strong for 19 yards."
"Brown then returned to the field and on third down from the 21, he handed the ball to Doug Mathews (now more famous for his years as a UT assistant football coach and local radio talk show host) who galloped ten yards (for a first down) to the 11. Brown then flipped the ball to Jim Cunningham in the end zone for the winning points."
When the game ended, many fans (and students) stormed the field in victory. Suddenly things looked bright. Vandy had had a winning season the year before (5-4-1 in 1968) so who knew what was possible. Unfortunately while we were there over the next four years Vanderbilt would win but 4 other SEC games and post an overall record of 15-27, 5-18 in the SEC.
But, even so, a revival was being built. With Coach Bill Pace dismissed after our senior season, a former Alambama quarterback, Steve Sloan, was selected to lead the Commodores and within two seasons (1974) he took many of the players recruited by Pace and had a team that won 8 games and garnered a berth in the Peach Bowl in Atlanta.
So what our your memories of Vanderbilt football? As I remember it was a big place to go on a date and get dressed up. What about the parties, both pre and post-game? Did you go for the game itself or to be seen (or what we call networking today)?
Well, be sure and make your plans to come to our 35th Class Reunion October 24-25. One of the highlights of th weekend is our football game against Duke. And who knows, if things go right, Vanderbilt could be playing for its first winning season since 1982. Beating the Blue Devils...now wouldn't that be some kind of Homecoming treat just a few days before Halloween!