Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The Excitement Continues!

In the wake of the Vanderbilt football team's 4-0 start and its first national ranking in nearly a quarter century, the excitement continues to build on campus, in Nashville, and indeed throughout the Commodore Nation!

The next game against nationally-ranked and SEC West rival Auburn has been picked for national telecast by ESPN beginning at 5:00 PM (Central Time) on Saturday, October 4. This will mark the third time this season that the Commodores have appeared on one of the ESPN channels, having been on ESPNU for its opening season victory on the road at Miami of Ohio, and then one week later (another Thursday night game) on ESPN 2, a home-season opening victory (two in a row now actually) over Steve Spurrier and the South Carolina Gamecocks at Vanderbilt Stadium.

While Vanderbilt fans have learned over the years not to look too far ahead, it should noted the next home game after Auburn is Saturday afternoon, 2:00 PM, October 25 versus Duke. That's Homecoming and our Class of '73 35th Reunion Weekend.

And if things go well in our next few games (Auburn, Mississippi State, Georgia) or even if we lose a game or two, this contest against the Blue Devils could be a game...dare I say it...with bowl implications (you need at least six victories to to be bowl-eligible).

So what more reason do you need to come back to campus for Reunion? Maybe it can also help you forget some of those frustrating football memories from when we were students at Vanderbilt.

In my last posting, we talked about the ups and downs of the team our freshman year in 1969. Now let's look back at the teams from 1970 to 1972:



The 1970 season began with two impressive home victories over UTC
(39-6) and The Citadel (52-0). But looks can be deceiving as the Dores went on the road and lost rather easily to Mississippi State 20-6 at a neutral field site at the Liberty Bowl in Memphis. Actually what I remember best about that game was all the rain we had to endure (and it got cold and windy after that cold front went through) along with all those cowbells the State fans brought to game and rang all night.

A close loss at home to North Carolina followed (10-7) and as the Black & Gold dropped 6 consecutive games, winning only over UK (18-17) and Tampa (36-28) to close out another season with 4 victories. We had one more loss for the year than 1969 (7), because for the first time college team got to play 11 games, not 10. Steve Burger was the team's leading rusher that year.

Some other highlights of the year included the final season for a brillant Vanderbilt wide receiver, Curt Chesley. Almost four decades later, he is still in the Vanderbilt Top Ten in terms of career catches with 125. That includes two games the season before in 1969 when he rolled up 128 yards receiving against Army and 108 yards versus Georgia. All of this during a time in college football when offensive firepower was like a small pop gun compared to today's high powered attacks.

Some other interesting highlights in that 1970 season, a 71-yard kickoff return by Jeff Peeples against Alabama and 81-yard punt return for a TD by Ken Stone. Stone was defensive back, who after he left Vanderbilt became a very valuable player in the NFL for several years with Buffalo, Washington, Tampa Bay and St. Louis.

Then there was a halfback by the name of Mack Brown. He gained 158 yards in our win over Tampa. But unfortunately, Watson's brother soon transferred to Florida State to finish his college football playing career. He then began a very successful head coaching career that saw him win the national championship with Texas a couple of years ago.

One other home game of note that year versus Ole Miss and Archie Manning. The Rebels won 16-26, in one of the hardest rain storms I have ever seen at Dudley Field, producing near-flood conditions, as water poured off "our beautiful Tartan Turf." Finally, if you read the comments from the last post, you'll find a story by Steve Womack from that game involving the rain and Mr. Commodore that we still laugh about today 38 years later.

Post-season honors in 1970 included punter Steve Smith who was named first-team All-SEC, while tight end Karl Weiss played in the East-West Shrine Game and the Coaches All-American game. Tight End Jim Cunningham, fullback Bill Young, and defensive halfback John Burns were named Academic All-SEC.



When the season began with a narrow 20-19 victory over Chattanooga and was followed by a 0-0 home field tie with Louisville, prospects for a winning season looked pretty bleak right away.

But then the Dores rebounded with an astounding 49-19 rout of Mississippi State in Starkville with Doug Nettles returning an interception 28 yards for a TD and Walter Overton taking back a punt for 57 yards and a touchdown. But then came a close loss (23-27) at Virginia, as the team dropped four straight games, including a 42-0 romp by Alabama and All-American running back Johnny Musso here in Nashville. It all added up to another 4 win season with the other Vandy victories coming against Tulane and Tampa.

It was year of ups and down. The 0-0 tie with Louisville was such an offensive bust for both teams that that game still holds the school record for most combined punts (16). Another low point came in losing the UK game 14-7 on an intercepted pass return as the clock ran out (and with Vandy receivers running open down field behind the UK defense).

But there were some highlights: Doug Nettles returned a kickoff 95 yards for a TD versus UVA and running back Jamie O'Rourke began a stellar Vanderbilt career, rushing for more than 100 yards three times that season (UK, Tulane, Tampe). That included gaining 187 yards on 35 carries versus the Green Wave in New Orleans. That number of carries in a game is still a school record.

And let me correct my last post, it was in 1970 that Jeff Peeples set the single season school record for most kickoff returns in a game with 7 against Ole Miss and most for season with 33. It had to be in 1970. Peeples, a Class of '73 member was a freshman in 1969 and was not eligible to play in those days. My bad.

Post-season honors in 1971 included defensive end and Class of '73 member George Abernathy and defensive back Ken Stone being named to the All-SEC team.

One last near-highlight I will always remember about the 1971 team is when it held powerful and nationally-ranked Tennessee in check for three quarters in Knoxville, even leading the contest 7-0 going into the final period before losing 19-7. That Vanderbilt team left it all on the field that day.

McGill Hall celebrates Homecoming 1972



The season got off to a tough start before the first game was even played, as star running back Jamie O'Rourke blew out both his knees and was out for the season.

But the team rallied to win its first game fairly handily against Chattanooga 24-7 with both Walter Overton and Paul Brogdon rushing for more than 100 yards in the contest. With O'Rourke on the sideline, young Lonnie Sadler emerged at the team's leading rusher. But Vandy would win just two other games that season (back to back home victories over Virginia and VMI)and closed with six straight losses and just 3 victories total. Coach Bill Pace was dismissed at the end of the season to be replaced by young Steve Sloan. Sloan using a lot of the talent recruited by Pace, posted a 5-6 record the next year, nearly beating UT in Knoxville and then a 7-3-2 record in 1974 to take the team to the Peach Bowl in Atlanta.

Just like it was for the Sarratt Student Center, we graduated a couple of years too soon to enjoy the Promised Land as students.

1972 post-season honors included guard L.T. Southall being named to the All-SEC team, and Southall joining split end Doug Martin on the All-SEC Academic team. Ken Stone, a Class of '73 member played in both the East-West All Star Shrine Game and the Canadian American Bowl in the post-season.


Steve said...

Hey Pat,

Do you think anybody is listening to us out there?

This is beginning to sound like one of our usual get-togethers where one of us brings up an obscure stat, and the other yells "Right!" while everybody else rolls their eyes.

Anyway, I wanted to share a story of how Jamie O'Rourke still made a huge contribution to Vanderbilt athletics our senior year.

That spring Jamie had pretty much recovered from his knee surgeries, and was attending the Vandy UT Baseball game. The crowd that day had been merciless on UT's third baseman, Phil "Scrap Iron" Gardner.
The same Phil Gardner that later played and managed in the major leagues for over thirty years.

Well, Jamie stood down as close as he could to the third base line, just ragging the living heck out of Gardner, when suddenly Gardner took off and started climbing the protective fence right in the middle of an inning to get at O'Rourke.

The UT players ran to get Gardner down off the fence, I think the entire football team rallied around O'Rourke, and the umpires issued a warning to the teams and the crowd.

That changed the entire context of the game and the series. UT (who had a really good team that year) had been ahead, but after that we just kept chipping away, until Tommy Powell came up in the bottom of the ninth.

Yeah, Tommy did hit a ball that cleared the fence that earned him eternal fame, but we need to give an assist to an injured football player named Jamie who set the whole thing up.

Baseball is not only a physical contest it's a mental one too, and Jamie O'Rourke proved that one day back in 1973.

Steve Womack

Pat said...

Great story, Step!

I hope lots of other folks are logging on and enjoying what we are doing here.

And, if so, I hope they leave some comments as well, just so we know we have a little company.

By the way, we broadcast that UT-Vandy baseball game you referred to on WRVU that day, and I thought it was you and I handling the broadcast?

Maybe it was Mike Anzek or Don Powell or someone else.

But if you were there, when did you wander off from the broadcast position on top of the Vandy dugout and go down the third base line to get such a great view of what Jamie did?

Regardless, it is a great story not only about Jamie but about the rabbit baseball fans and students we had at Vanderbilt back then...especially when we played the Orange!

Keep those great stories coming, Step!


Steve said...


You are correct about the two of us doing that game together. It was our Sports Director Elliott (Fake) Rothberg (Class of 74) who went down and interviewed O'Rourke.

Steve Womack

Dan said...

thanks steve,

As one of Jamies sons I will make sure I find a time when I can use that story against him haha.

p.s. let me know if you have any more ammo for me.

L.T. Southall said...

We did not play VMI that year.

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