Let me begin this post by admitting that I’m not a big sports spectator or fan. Even though I used to play various sports a lot when I was younger and I’m still relatively athletic today, the games lost their luster for me as I grew up, and now, if I do ever watch something about sports, it’s usually nothing more than a highlight reel. (Side note: I do enjoying watching the Super Bowl, but it’s mostly for the witty commercials and the drunken festivities surrounding the game; the actual plays on the field are only secondary.)
Unsurprisingly, I’ve only ever attended two Vandy Football games in my life. The first was when I rushed Dudley Field as a freshman back in 2007, and the most recent was last night, when I returned five years later for my first game as an alumnus. My girlfriend, a fellow Vandy alumnae and Spirit of Gold graduate, had guilted me into going by reminding me that I never watched a game when she was performer down on the field. Thus, in order to defend my honor and reclaim my lost Good Boyfriend points, I had no choice but to go.
As we walked into the Vandy stadium, I began thinking about all the years that had passed since I last watched a live, legit sporting event. Sure, I’d been to other arenas and stadiums for concerts in the interim, but the last game I could remember attending was as a sophomore in high school back home in the New Orleans Superdome, back when the Saints were absolutely terrible and commonly referred to as the “Aints.” (Devout fans and season-ticket holders wore brown paper bags over their heads during these “dark days.”) More than anything else, I was struck by the duality of the Vandy stadium. It possessed this strange sort of grandness, despite being smaller than that of most other SEC teams, but it also had a coziness that allowed its fans to stroll around like they were at home. Maybe they’d actually watch the game, maybe they’d text the whole time, maybe they’d just gone for the atmosphere and to get away from studying for a bit. Regardless, they were comfortable and in their own.
As we passed the lettered seating sections in the under bowels of the stadium, I recognized faces from my past years as an undergrad — older alumni, folks from my graduating year, former professors, and current students — and we threw polite waves and maybe exchanged hugs and a few minutes of “what the hell are you doing with your life these days?” chatter back and forth. One friend was now working on a congressional campaign, another had just gotten engaged that day and was beaming to share the news, a third was just sticking to the daily grind and waiting to hear back from grad schools.
My girlfriend and I giggled at the babyfaces of the new crop of freshies as we searched for suitable seats, and we eventually found a group of my old friends in the student section who were still living around Nashville for various reasons. They knew a lot more about football than I did and were happy to teach me new things, like the fact that Vandy didn’t pay UMass to come and play us for homecoming and the term “Pick Six,” which I now know is when an interception turns into a touchdown run for a quick six points. My girlfriend disappeared for a bit to visit her Spirit of Gold friends, and I made up a new dance with my friends to stay warm.
As the game wore on and the night grew colder, it became evermore apparent that Vandy had this one in the bag. With a final score of Vanderbilt 49 and UMass 7, I was happy to see the Black and Gold walk away with such a solid victory. More experienced spectators would say that the game Vandy played was sloppy, but to me, a win is a win. As my brother once pointed out to me, the better Vandy does on the football field, the more the notoriety and value of my degree increases.
In the end, a game is merely a game, but this particular game was never solely about the game. The football may have been the catalyst for coming home, but it was more about the communion amongst the students, the alumni, the players, the fans, and the mantra and history of Vanderbilt. That familiar something we can always slip back into as we walk onward onto unfamiliar ground. Something that will help to keep us anchored, both to our origins and to each other.