Monday, April 7, 2008

The Night We Beat The Bear

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 wouldn't that be some kind of Homecoming treat just a few days before Halloween!


Anonymous said...


vandypitcher said...

there were SEVERAL great football games 1969--1975 ( the ALA win being the best or tied with the best..we best TENN AT TENN in front of 100,000 in 1975 that was incredable..i was there for both thank god...watson brown almost singlehandly beat UT at vandy ( he ran back punts, kickoffs, played QB etc ) one of those yrs...we beat davison ( LOL ) or SOMEBODY 155 to 0 and set the NCAA total offence record or something like that...i think we were ahead 49--0 at was fun any way..people dont realize how close those football teams were to being great..a bunch of those guys played pro ball ( ken stone played safety in the NFL for about 8 yrs and was really good ) if waston brown had not gotten hurt we would have had winning seasons in each of his years....but we also had some other really good players...many of whom got hurt also and we just didnt have the debth..jamie orouik ( sp ) got BOTH of his knees destroyed in ONE practice...jay chelsey was was his older brother..a deff lineman played for the cowboys for yrs...bob asher might have even been ALL PRO with the bears i think...doug mathews was all SEC...barry burton was one of the finest football players i EVER saw...but i got to tell ya...jeff peeples was as fine an athlete as you will ever read about..( my buddy and pitching partner in crime )..ken stone was a world class athlete who could run with the wind and tackle like a sherman tank...( he might have lead the NCAAs in interceptions one of his yrs AND he played baseball with us one yr until i think he got hurt..i had played against him in highschool in TENN and he was a legend even then ( he was at columbia military academy ) ) VBK was as good a basketball player that STILL has EVER played at vanderbilt and played about 9 yrs in the NBA to prove it...he was a tremendous athlete and his " blood lines " were pure ( his father played in the NBA also..for the NICKS ) but the very finest ALL AROUND athlete i have EVER seen ( admittaly i saw him for 4 yrs up close and he was a friend of mine ..but so were the other guys as well ..VERY good friends )...but i am talking the finest athlete i have EVER SEEN...was WATSON BROWN before injuries took so much of it away from him...he was the finest option QB in the nation...AS A SOPH...his passing stats ( his arm was not his strong point as a QB) were almost 70% completetion ratio..thats an amazeing stat..especially back in 1970..i saw him run back kickoffs and punts IN THE SEC for TDs...i am quite sure he could have played safety as well ..i mean....he beat THE BEAR....i saw him play basketball a million times after football practice in our "workout gym " in the new building they just had built for us ( football lockered next to baseball ) and he did things i saw VBK and the boys do in front of fifteen-- five...." on sat nights " he came out and played baseball with us one yr and was the starting SS until he broke his hand....again.....( the guy who REPLACED him...ted shipley...went on to being ALL SEC ALL AMERICAN ..a 1st round draft choice and played 4--5 yrs of pro ball and i saw his name in major league box scores in spring training games for the TWINS OK..the guy who had to WAIT to REPLACE watson brown at SS that yr )i have NO IDEA what OTHER sports watson brown could play at a big -time level back then...i had a close friend tell me several yrs ago he was playing golf with watson ( watson was maybe 40 or so...i dont know exactly ) and watson hit a shot that hit a tree right in front of him and the golf ball came flying back at him at 200 MPH ( concrete tree i guess ) well most of us would 1) duck and 2) scream for mom ....aparently watson did not see it as a life and death crisis but rather as an athletic he quickly reloads his golf swing back over his right shoulder i guess and plays baseball with the golf ball coming BACK at him at 200 MPH ( a REAL baseball is 150 times LARGER than a golf ball but what the hell..this is WATSON BROWN ) and swings his golf club like a baseball bat and HITS ( we are talking 10,000 to 1 shot for a GOOD athlete...for a mear mortal....1,000,000 to 1 shot ) the golf ball and bats it away from him thus : saving his life, stunning his playing partners out of their minds , pissing off a strong tree that THOUGHT it was going to get INSTANT revenge for getting hit by watsons golf ball in the first place....butttttt...not really surpriseing any of the rest of us who knew watson brown back most of you know....watson and his brother MACK ( who played here too and was a great athlete ) both are college football coaching legends now...watson brown was and still is to this day for ME...the finest athlete i have ever seen compete at very high levels...and he was also a very nice guy and great teammate who could praise others..and laugh at you know how rare that is to find in ANYBODY truely great ??? mark bode class of 1973