Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Response to a requiem: even at the grave we make our song of defiance

The faithful few: even after twenty-five years of losing seasons, Vanderbilt fans remain steadfast. Photo by Stan Jones,
Though I commented on this just last week, it seems that after our loss to Auburn, people are already giving a requiem for Vanderbilt football: arguing that Vanderbilt should not be in the SEC.

Well, if we're going to talk about requiems, then I'm going to fight fire with fire:

"All we go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: alleluia, alleluia, alleluia!"

It could just as easily be "all we lose football games, yet even at the grave of our season we make our song: Dynamite, dynamite, when Vandy starts to fight."

I know that I talked about this in yesterday's Naval Intelligence, but after I re-read the article on From the Bleachers, I had to respond with more than I did in the NI briefing.

Every season (and now, it seems, every week), SEC fans begin to grumble that "Van-duh-built shouldn't be in the Ess-ee-see; they ain't as good as us."

Their arguments usually aren't sophisticated, but instead rely on a "gut feeling" that like an easy SAT problem, we just don't belong.

I strongly and vehemently disagree. Let's talk about why.

First of all, the easy part: "Vandy's just not good enough."

Every year, there are SEC football teams who are as bad as us, and except for a stretch in the early 2000s, we beat SEC teams in football every year, both of the lower (Ole Miss), middle (Arkansas), and upper-tier (Tennessee & Georgia) variety.

Does that mean that those behemoths (UT and UGA) don't belong in the SEC because we beat them? Of course not.

"Well, those were just flukes, of course. You've got to win every week."

No, you don't. Just ask Mississippi State or Ole Miss. If this is your reason, then we can answer the same way that the State of Mississippi does: "Why in the world would we want to leave this conference and miss out on the money?"

Another objection goes something like this: "Van-duh-built is so bad, they bring the rest of the conference down; make us look weak."

Well, while that argument may have had merit in the past, lately, our program usually represents the conference well when we're playing outside the SEC (with the miserable, lamentable excpetion of MTSU -- and let us not go into how much I hate them with all that I am).

In the past couple of seasons, we have wins over ACC foes Wake Forest (the reigning ACC champ) and Duke, and our wins against lesser I-A teams (like Temple, Eastern Michigan and (God help us make this true) Miami of Ohio later this year) only add to the conference's strength in national eyes. After all, if "even Vanderbilt" can beat middle-of-the-road teams from lesser conferences, then surely "the SEC must be strong."

What about our record against the behemoths themselves? The answer is that no, we don't beat the class of the SEC, but so what?

Neither does Ole Miss or Mississippi State or, until this year, Kentucky. And what about Georgia? Their 1-of-7 in the SEC East over the past few games. Should they be kicked out now?

Of course not.

If the only argument for us to leave the SEC is because we don't go to a bowl game, then that's easy, too: no matter which SEC teams go to the bowls, the SEC will send the same number of teams and get the same amount of money.

If the reason for kicking us out is because we lose a lot, no problem taking care of that objection, either.

First of all, if we, the Vanderbilt stakeholders, are not complaining, why are you wanting us to leave? Don't we give you a conference win? Don't we give you a I-A opponent to claim in your bowl record?

It would be ridiculous for us to leave the nation's best conference.

The reason folks who aren't Vanderfans think we should leave is because of the mentality they have about their own team.

They imagine us Vanderfolks to be miserable and sad and down-trodden. After all, that's how they are when their football-powerhouse school is down in the dumps (witness Yew Tee before the Georgia win, Auburn after the Miss. State loss, and Georgia this week).

But with Vanderbilt that's just not the case. We don't work like that.

Yes, we hurt when our team loses, particularly when its in ugly fashion like this past Saturday on the Plains.

But the thing is -- and I think this is the reason an Auburn or a Florida or an LSU fan just can not understand us -- all of the hurting and losing and the being-the-butt-of-jokes is all worth it when we win.

When we go into a gigantic, ancient-Rome-recalling, megastadium full of 104,000 screaming, arnge-clad maniacs in Knoxville, with all their "student"-athletes and cheating and thuggery, and we come out of that game victorious, it is a feeling of joy and exuberance and pride that cannot be properly understood unless it is experienced.

And the fact that it hadn't happened in 23 years only made the win that sweeter. It was as though we were witnessing history. For all those years, we had seen the photograph of Whit Taylor running the football into the end-zone, and many of us (like me, born in 1983) weren't even alive when it happened.

But on that day in 2005, I became a part of the story of Vanderbilt football. I can tell my children and grandchildren that I saw the mighty Vawls fall to the lowly heroes of West End in their own lair. It was a win of mythic proportions for us.

Winning against a team like that, and doing it the right way -- without cheating, grade inflation, or getting kids out of jail -- and knowing that these kids are not stronger or faster, but that they won just the same... there's something incredibly powerful in that. So powerful that it is very difficult to describe it in words.

It's like the U.S. beating the Soviet Union in hockey. It's like watching Rudy get the win. Like the end of every good sports movie you've ever seen: the underdog, who has no chance but whose players do their best and try their hardest and play the right way, wins against all odds.

And that's why I cannot explain to so many of my friends, SEC fans all, why we Vanderfolks desire so ardently to remain in the SEC, taking on the best the nation has to offer every week.

No, we usually don't win. But we try. Our players do their best and try their hardest. Our fans, as few as there may be when compared to the great and storied programs of this conference, continue to come to the games, wear our colors, and cheer on our team.

We play the right way, with young men who, while competing against the best in the nation on the field every Saturday, must also compete against the nation's best every day in the classroom to get the grades and stay on the team.

And when we do win, when we walk out of State U.'s stadium to the victorious strains of "Who ya with," it justifies every single year of so-called "futility."

You know, that cheer sums up a lot about what it means to be a Commodore: it's about no matter what else happens and no matter what the rest of the SEC fans say, we're with VU, come what may.

You could say it's our own version of "We are Marshall."

This commitment -- that so many SEC fans find bewildering -- it's why Vanderbilt fans are the most loyal and the most committed fans in the SEC. It's why Vanderbilt players are among the most incredible student-athletes in the country, whether they win the national championship or not.

And it's why we will not go quietly into the non-SEC night.

Who ya with?


BestofSEC said...

Well done. Well done, indeed.

VanDSIRROM said...

You have not only captured the "essence" of being a Vanderbilt fan...but you have captured the "spirit" of being a Vanderbilt fan...keep up the good work...

PhilipVU94 said...

Great post.

Just to be pedantic, when did Kentucky beat the class of the SEC this year? They beat a mediocre Arkansas team, but so did we in 2005. That's their one SEC win.

Louisville's not in the SEC, of course, but UK's one claim to fame this year besides the Arkansas win is that they beat a "top ten" Louisville team. Of course no one thinks Syracuse or Utah is good enough to win the SEC East, but they didn't beat a top ten Louisville team. They beat a bad Louisville team. It's just one more reason why the polls are ridiculous; if you switch Louisville's Syracuse and Kentucky games, people would see UK for what they are: a mid-level SEC team with only an outside chance at winning the East.

sennsm said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
sennsm said...

absolutley great piece. You have put on paper, actualluy online and in words what many of us have tried to describe to our friends and enemies for years. Who Ya With?

HaveFunExpectToWin said...

Nice job S&S.

p.s. - isn't it "Who U Wit!"