(1) Woody Widenhofer Calls a Fake Punt, October 16, 1999 vs. Georgia
Vandy stalled on the next possession and then failed on a fake punt on fourth-and-16 from its 21 when Jonathan Shaub was tackled for a 5-yard loss. The Bulldogs needed only three plays before Robert Arnaud scored on a 1-yard run to tie the game with 12:02 left.
Coach Woody Widenhofer took the blame for calling the fake. A similar play had worked last month against Duke, and he said that the play had worked most times in practice.
“That time they changed the rush and had two players on the outside. If I had it again, I still would have called it,” Widenhofer said.
In some ways, Woody Widenhofer was kind of a proto-James Franklin. Recognizing that Vanderbilt faced a talent deficit in most of the games on its schedule, Widenhofer was more than willing to gamble. The difference between Widenhofer and Franklin is that Widenhofer’s gambles were (a) less successful, but also (b) often in places where gambling made no sense.
1999 might have been one of Vanderbilt’s best shots at making a bowl game between 1982 and 2008. For one thing, the NCAA had recently changed the rules to allow teams to count a win over a 1-AA (now FCS) team toward the six required for bowl eligibility, and Vanderbilt scheduled The Citadel. The Commodores also scheduled Northern Illinois (at the time, a mediocre MAC team) and Duke (Duke). Those were three of the six wins required. The formula that seemed to be developing to get to six wins in the 1990s was: win all your nonconference games, beat Kentucky, and steal a couple of SEC wins elsewhere. Easier said than done, of course, particularly in an era when beating teams like Northern Illinois wasn’t a given.
And then, after squeaking by Northern Illinois in the second game of the season, Vanderbilt went into Oxford and upset Ole Miss. South Carolina was coming off a 1-10 season and was on its way to an 0-11 season. Suddenly, bowling looked like a real possibility.
Vanderbilt sandwiched wins over Duke and The Citadel around a 42-14 home loss to Mississippi State, and then Georgia — ranked 14th in the country — came to town. Vanderbilt went up 17-0 early and still led 17-3 in the third quarter when Greg Zolman threw an interception deep in Georgia territory, with Vanderbilt having a chance to go up 24-3. Georgia scored early in the fourth quarter to cut the Vanderbilt lead to 17-10, and then the Commodores’ ensuing drive stalled.
And then the fake. Georgia snuffed it out and scored three plays later to tie the game. Another Zolman interception, again in Georgia territory, set the Bulldogs up for the go-ahead score, and they would win 27-17.
Now, you can’t just assume that Vanderbilt would have won this game without the failed fake punt call — but of course, it didn’t help. Meanwhile, Vanderbilt — 4-2 entering this game — would finish the season 5-6, only beating South Carolina (by an 11-10 score) and missing a bowl game for the 17th year in a row.
The entire aura of Woodyball was distilled into this single fake punt call: an extremely risky gamble at a time when honestly a gamble was unnecessary (Vanderbilt, after all, was still winning at that point), that backfired spectacularly — and that Woody would have absolutely called again in hindsight.
(8) February 26, 2015: I’ll Fucking Kill You
The 2015-16 basketball team might have left a bad taste in our mouths, but the reason that that team got so much preseason hype had to do with how the previous year had ended. After a 1-7 start to SEC play, Vanderbilt went 8-2 the rest of the way, including a five-game winning streak to end the regular season.
The second game of that winning streak was a master stroke. Vanderbilt went into Thompson-Boling Arena and, after falling behind by 11 points at halftime and 13 points with 13:14 left, the Commodores went on a 16-3 run and went on to outlast the hated Vols for a 73-65 victory.
But that was all overshadowed by what happened after the game. As Vanderbilt dribbled out the clock, freshman guard Wade Baldwin IV had the audacity to begin clapping in front of Tennessee players on the court. What followed lives on in ignominy:
“I’ll Fucking Kill You.”
Vanderbilt was on SportsCenter for all the wrong reasons. Stallings later apologized (we’re almost certain the Goldfather made him an offer he couldn’t refuse), but the damage was done. Arguably Stallings never recovered from this moment, as it left him with little good will when the team underachieved the following season.
Which moment wins?
This poll is closed
Woody calling a fake punt
I’ll Fucking Kill You