Monday, September 22, 2008
Photo courtesy of John Russell, Vanderbilt University
For the first time in 24 seasons (1984), the Vanderbilt University football team is nationally ranked, coming in at Number 21 in the Associated Press poll and Number 25 in the USA TODAY balloting.
While the team's 4-0 start continues to draw national interest, Commodore fans likely remain a bit leery, given the Dores' past history, and with the meat of the SEC schedule just now coming up, beginning with the game against Auburn here in Nashville on October 4.
The off-week coming up for Saturday, September 27 gives the team a much-needed opportunity to heal up from several injuries and for fans to get pumped up for the rest of the season.
It also gives us a chance here at the Centennial Class blog to remember some of the highs and lows of our football experience while we were on campus. Let's start with our freshman year:
GREAT GAMES & INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCES--1969
1. Vanderbilt 14-Alabama 10: We beat Bear Bryant for what I think is the only time during his career at Bama. Quaterbacks Watson Brown and "West End" Denny Painter are named National Offensive Players of the Week. Still the sweetest game of all.
2. Vanderbilt 42-UK 6: Watson Brown takes back a punt return 62 yards for a TD. Before injuries took their toll, Watson Brown was destined to be one of the greatest players ever in VU football history (and maybe in VU baseball history too before injuries intervened).
3. Vanderbilt 63-Davidson 8: The competition wasn't much, but this contest still holds the Vanderbilt single game record for most first downs in a game (40) and most first downs rushing (27). Watson Brown rolled for 115 yards, while halfback Doug Mathews gained 158 yards and returned a punt 89 yards for a touchdown. The defense stepped up too, allowing Davidson just 16 rushes in the game, which is still a school record almost 40 years later.
4.Vanderbilt 26-Tulane 23: Christie Hauck, later of Christie's Cookies fame, returns a fumble(it had to be caught in the air in those days) 70 yards for a touchdown. Senior Doug Mathews, converted to running back after spending all of his earlier VU career at defensive back, rushes for 214 yards against the Green Wave. Mathews, a former Vandy and UT assistant coach, is now a prominent radio sports talk host in Nashville and a big UT supporter.
5.A few other miscellaneous records were set that year:
A. Doug Mathews led the SEC in rushing in 1969 with 849 yards, still the third highest total ever by a senior running back at VU.
B. Watson Brown set a school record that still stands for highest pass completion percentage for a season at 62.2% (69 of 111 passes for 896 yards).
6. Two well-remembered Vanderbilt players completed their careers in 1969. Bob Asher, an consensus first-team, All-American and All-SEC offensive tackle, played in the 1970 Senior Bowl and was taken in the second round of the NFL draft by the Dallas Cowboys where he played during the 1970 season. Asher also played for the Chicago Bears in 1972.
No other Vanderbilt player on that 1969 team earned any post-season honors, believe it or not. Nevertheless, two players, defensive end Pat Toomay and defensive back Neil Smith were invited to play in the Blue-Gray Classic. Toomay was also drafted by the Dallas Cowboys where he began a decade-long career in the NFL, also playing for the Buffalo Bills, the Tampa Bay Bucs and the Oakland Raiders. He wrote a best-selling book on life with the Cowboys and playing in the NFL called THE CRUNCH.
7. This VU squad had two members on All-SEC academic team, Dave Strong, wingback and Noel Stahl, a defensive end.
1. Given all the positives above, it may be a little hard to believe this 1969 VU team finished only 4-6. But it may be easier to understand if you look at some other still standing school records set that season: Most kickoff returns in season by an individual, Jeff Peeples, 33 returns for 545 yards and a 19.9 yard average. And most kickoff returns in a game 8 by Doug Mathews against Florida(a record that has been matched unfortunately a few times since).
2. It was likely the trio of early season losses to Michigan, Army and North Carolina put this team in a hole it couldn't quite dig out of the rest of the season, despite the historic upset of Alabama and some of the other impressive achievements of this group. Big losses (by double digits or more) to Georgia, Florida and Tennessee didn't help either.
More in our next posting when we look back at the achievements and challenges of Vanderbilt football during the other years (1970-1972)we were students on campus. If you have any thoughts or memories to share about Vanderbilt football, please leave them below.
Go Vandy! Beat Auburn! And don't forget the Duke game for Homecoming and our Reunion Weekend October 24-25!