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Been To The Mountaintop: The Mount Rushmore of Vanderbilt Sports, part 1

Who are the faces who belong on Vanderbilt's own Mount Rushmore?

Yeah, that's a face that belongs on a mountain.
Yeah, that's a face that belongs on a mountain.
Don McPeak-USA TODAY Sports

I tossed out an idle tweet a few weeks back, after Dansby Swanson hit a home run in the top of the 9th and made a stupifyingly amazing play in the bottom of the 9th to clinch a win...something about how he's going on Mount Rushmore with Clyde Lee and Josh Cody.  And it was from there that I got the notion that this needs exploration and by more insightful (read: not gooned on antihistamines, melatonin and Fernet Branca) people than myself.  So let's run with it and see if we can kick off a whole bunch of these.

If you've ever been to Mount Rushmore, like I did on the 4th of July in 1988, it's a lot more impressive than it looks.  The real thing, after years of seeing photos and drawings and it must be on a quarter or something I don't know, is the sort of thing that just looks incredible in person, especially at night when they've put up a curtain in front of the viewing area, discussed the history, play the national anthem and then say "Ladies and gentlemen: Mount Rushmore, the shrine" and drop the curtain and there's this gleaming not-quite-marble-or-alabaster-but-whoa carving out of the side of a freakin' mountain.  And I mean.  Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and, okay, Teddy is probably the 4 seed in that regional but 4s can win too.

So who belongs there for Vandy athletics?  This should going to be a minimum five-part series, going through our four major sports historically (football, mens and womens hoop, and baseball and in that order because we may want to rethink the last one before we're done) and then hopefully the All-Sports Four.  And you know, it might be worthwhile to do one extra which I will bring up eventually.  But for now, let's start with our second-oldest sport, the one that to most people defines us, that perfect nightmare of autumn Saturdays.  Hello darkness my old friend...


The four I settled on for myself, after a little idle rumination (i.e. Makers and absinthe):

1) JOSH CODY.  You may not know the name, but you should.  Former Clemson head football and basketball coach, former Florida head football coach and athletic director, former Temple basketball coach, former head coach of Vanderbilt baseball and basketball.  But the reason the College Football Hall of Famer is on this list is because he was three times an All-American at tackle for Vanderbilt. Read that sentence again.  The Franklin native and Battle Ground Academy alum entered Vandy at age 22, where he measured out at 6-4 and 225.  In modern football terms, that's roughly the equivalent of 7-10 and 450 pounds with a 3.5 40 time.  He played tackle both ways, quarterback, running back, and kicked. In four seasons with him on the team (1914-16 and 1919 owing to that unpleasant business in the green fields of France), the Commodores went 23-9-1.  And the first season they went 2-6, so that means he went 21-3-1 the rest of the way through three seasons.  Different times. That 1915 team went 9-1, which was the highest win total for Commodore football until 2012.  The best player on the best team Vanderbilt would field for a century? He gets a spot on the mountain.

2) BILL WADE.  The best Commodore ever to play quarterback in Chicago.  Sorry, Hollywood Jay Cutler, but until you deliver a title like Wade did for the Bears in 1963, you're playing for second place.  Bill Wade, local boy and Montgomery Bell Academy product, was the #1 overall pick in the 1952 NFL draft after being SEC MVP and a second-team All-American, not to mention a Look magazine cover boy.  He threw five touchdowns against Auburn in 1950, at a time when some college quarterbacks might not throw five passes in a game, and some of his career records still stood when he was an inaugural member of the Vanderbilt Athletic Hall of Fame in 2008. And to cap it all off, he wound up on the Los Angeles Rams at a time when they were on the cutting edge of passing offense in the NFL and wound up a Pro Bowler for his trouble before being traded to Chicago and winning a title. Basically, imagine if David Price had been a quarterback and not a pitcher, and you've got Bill Wade.

3) WIL WOLFORD. "See what you can get with a Vanderbilt sociology degree!" was the handmade sign on the office door in Garland Hall one day in 1994 when I walked in, tacked over the cover of Sports Illustrated showing Will Wolford the previous year as the first NFL tackle to cash in big-time in the new era of free agency. But before he took a big bag of money from Indianapolis, Will Wolford was a first-round pick by Buffalo.  In an era where being Vanderbilt quarterback was arguably the next best thing to a death sentence, Wolford was the stalwart protector - and his efforts in a bad cause were enough to persuade the Bills to make him Jim Kelly's bodyguard.  Three Pro Bowls and three Super Bowl appearances later, it's not a stretch to say he was the Commodores' finest offensive lineman since Josh Cody and arguably the best until Chris Williams replicated the first-round feat.

4) JORDAN MATTHEWS.  I mean, come on.  If he's not on here, you may as well dynamite the mountain.  Greatest Commodore receiver of all time, arguably THE greatest Commodore football player of all time, hero of so many games, the guy who could run a pattern with three guys on him when every single human being on Earth and several higher animal life forms KNEW the only play was to him and STILL come up with the ball...oh, just watch it again for crying out loud. To coin a phrase: if he ain't the best, he's the best yet.

ALSO RECEIVING CONSIDERATION: Irby "Rabbit" Curry, Josh Cody's quarterback and a bona fide war hero who was shot down over France (and whose spirit was credited with leading the Dores to victory over Texas in Austin in 1921).  Corey Chavous, the king of watching game film and the forefather of the modern string of Commodore defensive backs. Hollywood Jay Cutler, the NFL's greatest active heel QB. Whit Taylor, last QB to beat Tennessee in Nashville until Jordan Rodgers did it.

So...anyone want to move some folks in? Out? Bear in mind we're talking the whole thing, 1890-2014 here...