Sunday, September 21, 2008

Watching history in the making on a Saturday night in Oxford

Ranked twenty-first in the nation, the Vanderbilt Commodores are making history in 2008. The Black and Gold are 4-0 for only the fourth time since World War II. A.P. Photo.
It's not every day that you get to watch history unfold before your eyes.

But on Saturday, September 20, 2008, I stood on the front row in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and watched Chris Marve force a fumble. And as he did, these Commodores announced that destiny had a date to keep in Nashville.

Today, the Vanderbilt Commodores, for only the second time in my lifetime, are ranked among the best 25 teams in college football.

Number 21 (or 25, if you prefer the coaches' perspective).

And with that ranking comes a whole host of new responsibilities for the Golden Men of West End.

No longer can Vanderbilt hide behind the "SOV" mentality that is so pervasive across the SEC (the same attitude which leaves state-school victims of Commodore success so horrified after their team "inextricably" loses to Vanderbilt). No more will fans be happy with a rest-of-the-season collapse (particularly with teams like Duke and Mississippi State still on the schedule).

History was broken on a Saturday night in Oxford, but it remains to be seen whether the weight of history will continue to hold this program down.

Bobby Johnson's men must now ensure that they do not fall victim to whatever ailed the 1984 and 2005 teams that also started out 4-0. Each one suffered a catastrophic end-of-season collapse that left both holding 5-6 records.

It may be, however, that the 2008 Commodores have something the most recent Vanderbilt successful-season-openers lacked: a frame of reference for how to deal -- and not deal -- with success. Today, there are still players on this team who remember Jay Cutler's senior year, and the 5-6 finish.

Will their experience, and their words of caution to their teammates about the need to continue pressing on be the extra "something" that helps the 'Dores get over the hump? Perhaps.

As the rest of the 2008 season unfolds, we can be assured of at least one thing: this Commodore team has already written their names into the history books.

I do not think they're done writing just yet.

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