Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Antagonizing my friends

As a young man born and raised in the hills of East Tennessee, much of my childhood was spent watching and cheering the Tennessee Volunteers. And, as many of you know, four years in Nashville, as a student at Vanderbilt University, changed me in many ways: especially when it came to the Vols.

Over the course of my undergraduate career, the Dores slowly, but surely, converted me from a life-long Tennessee fan to a dyed-in-the-wool Vanderbilt fan (in addition, of course, to being a faithful alum). The turning point, for me, as the Tennessee-Vanderbilt football game during my senior year. Watching our boys almost-win against those people (as most Vanderbilt people call Tennessee fans) made something click.

Since then, I've become a true Vanderbilt fan, and our defeat of the "Vawls" in Knoxville this year was the capstone of my transformation. Needless to say, I've taken a bit of heat, and while it's true that I still pull for UT when they're not playing Vandy, I am fully a Commodore.

That's why this article from the Nashville City Paper makes me smile a little wider as I look on this past year, and ask, "Who ya with!"

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by Brett Hait
The Nashville City Paper
December 27, 2005

Vanderbilt vice chancellor David Williams was shopping recently at Costco with his wife. Football was the last thing on his mind.

One person after another, many of whom Williams had never met, approached him and gleefully wanted to discuss Vandy’s November victory at Tennessee.

It’s not that Williams didn’t appreciate the enthusiasm. But his wife wasn’t getting the shopping done. Finally, Williams retreated to the car and waited on his wife.

For Williams, who oversees Vanderbilt athletics, the point was clear: For Commodores fans, the win at Tennessee represented much more than the end of a 23-year losing streak.

“This gave them something to be proud about,” Williams said. “It allowed people to feel really good about putting that Vanderbilt shirt or hat on.”

Nothing energizes that Vandy fan base like victories over the hated Volunteers, and it has never been better for the faithful than it was in 2005.

For the first time in recorded history, Vanderbilt beat Tennessee in football, won both men’s basketball games and won a baseball series in the same year.

It began with VU’s 88-63 basketball victory in Knoxville on Jan. 8. On Feb. 2, the Commodores knocked off the Vols again, this time in a 67-62 decision at Memorial Gym.

In April, Vanderbilt won two of three games from the Vols in a weekend baseball series at Hawkins Field.

Then, on Nov. 24, a touchdown pass with 1:11 remaining from quarterback Jay Cutler to wide receiver Earl Bennett handed Vandy a 28-24 football win at UT’s Neyland Stadium.

Vanderbilt’s unprecedented success against Tennessee will reverberate beyond 2005, Williams said.

“When I got here, one thing that I was concerned about is everyone said Nashville is Volunteer Country,” he said. “I thought, ‘Wait minute, this is our country.’ They should have Knoxville, but certainly we should have Nashville.

“The battle for Nashville and the battle for middle Tennessee certainly helps us when we can beat UT in all sports, and in particular those sports. I think it’s very significant.”

Williams and the Vanderbilt athletics community were all ears last month when first-year Tennessee basketball coach Bruce Pearl proclaimed that Nashville is “Big Orange Country.”

No offense was taken, but the battle lines were drawn yet again.

“Who knows if it has been true, but certainly I can tell you our plan is to make sure it’s not true going forward,” Williams said. “I understand what they’re trying to say. They are the state school, and kids will grow up with UT on their minds.

“We’re a private school, and quite honestly, it’s harder to get in here. But I think we’re making inroads in saying that we might be a private school in Tennessee, but Nashville is our home and we’re going to do all we can to make this Commodore Country.”

Williams also believes that Vanderbilt’s athletic success against Tennessee and other Southeastern Conference opponents validates VU’s philosophies.

“We did all of that in an environment where we are the smallest school in the SEC, and we take pride in the fact that we’re an emerging athletic power, if you like, but we’re an academic juggernaut,” he said. “If we have to choose between educating people or winning a game, we’ll choose education, but we have stood on the grounds that we think you can do both. We are accomplishing that.”

In 2005, at least, there would be no argument from Tennessee.

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LISTENING TO: My mom and my sister talking about New Year's


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