If you knew prior to this week that former Vanderbit DE/OLB and current Carolina Panther Stephen Weatherly was an amateur glass blower, your fandom concerns me, and he should seek a restraining order immediately.
Regardless, Weatherly served as a guest judge on Episode 7 of Season 2 of the Netflix glass-blowing competition show Blown Away, and I happened to watch it just now whilst eating some leftover Italian wedding soup I made earlier this week. Yes, my pandemic life is a rich tapestry of blah blah, oh shut up, everything is terrible all the time always... but still, there are moments that peak through the raw sewage of our current existence and give us pride. There is also soup. I’ve made a lot of soup this year.
Weatherly’s appearance on this show was one of those moments that make me a proud believer in the “It’s not a 4 year decision; it’s a 40 year decision” ethos of Vanderbilt football. Let me explain.
First, if you’re wondering why I have now watched the better part of two seasons of a glass blowing competition show, know this:
1) Like many of you who have been doing the right thing during this pandemic, I have reached the end of many a streaming service, my DVR is empty, and I cling like grim death to anything new. Season 2 of Blown Away was just released this week.
2) I grew up in a small town in South Jersey that only existed because of a 16th or 17th century glass factory. Beyond that, the sand in the Pine Barrens is quite conducive to glass making. Beyond even that, my dad used to take me on “weird dad” weekend day trips deep into the Pine Barrens to towns with names like “Ong’s Hat” where we would watch people blow glass, show us how pig iron was forged, and take a Jersey Devil tour where some crazy lady in Colonial garb would tell us about Mrs. Leeds’ 13th child who came out with cloven feet and a tail. Yeah, my dad was the best, and I miss him every day.
3) The open-ended furnace that is used in the blowing of glass heats up to 2000 degrees Fahrenheit and is, I shit you not, called a “Glory Hole.”
4) They make art from fire and sand that’s fun to look at and whatnot. A few years back, when I was in Asheville, NC, the then lady friend demanded we go to The Biltmore, so I set a couple hundred dollars on fire to tour some rich dick’s old house. As luck would have it, they had a Dale Chihuly blown glass exhibit in the gardens, and that didn’t suck.
Ah, who am I kidding, you know the reason I watch is to giggle uncontrollably every time they say “Glory Hole.” I lost it when I was seven years old and saw glass blowing for the first time, and I lose it every time I hear it in this show. (*Side note: You find me a man who doesn’t chuckle at the term “Glory Hole,” and you’ve found me a man who secretly visits them.)
Wasn’t this article supposed to be about how Stephen Weatherly made me proud of Vanderbilt University and its woebegone football team? Ah yes, let’s get back to that.
Though Weatherly’s appearance on the show was likely craven stunt casting, by the end of the episode, I was as impressed with him as a person as I was with many of the glass blowers’ artistic achievements.
Now I won’t spoil the show for those of you who now want to see it (note to self: get Netflix to pay me for this article as promotional press), but as it’s episode 7 of the season, the remaining artists aren’t fucking around. They’re all bad-asses, especially Chris Taylor, who not only has 30 years experience in the field, but is a professor in it.
Weatherly was serving as a judge of all of this alongside experts in the field.
The Challenge: Create a piece of hot glass art that represents what you have had to overcome.
Dear God, not only did he, an amateur, have to judge a cadre of damned professionals alongside another cadre of damned professionals, but he had to do it on “College Application Essay Day.”
In other words, not only did he have to have the confidence to critique those who had way more experience than he did, but he had to interpret their reifications of personal pain.
Put anyone else in that position, and they might yield the floor to the experts, or simply nod and agree with whatever they say.
Not Weatherly. For one, his analysis/interpretation of what each artist was going for was spot on. Further, when one made a sculpture meant to represent her macular degeneration that’s sped up by her love for glass-blowing—as this is not a field that’s easy on the eyes—Weatherly not only understood what she was going for, but also related to it personally. He pointed to the fact that playing professional football puts him in the same dilemma, as the longer he does the very thing he loves, the more likely he will suffer the debilitating after-effects on his joints and mind.
Weatherly also seemed to be right on the aforementioned glass-blowing professor’s wavelength when Chris Taylor made an abstract piece about his mother dying in a car crash when he was a teenager—Taylor, himself, was also in the car, but lived—and filled the sculpted “cracked windshield” with handwritten notes he wrote to his mother which he allowed to burn up in the process.
What impressed me the most about Weatherly, though, was when he was the first judge to confidently point out that Eliot Walker—a British glass blower of impressive talents—had not really committed to the challenge. In fact, Weatherly seemed offended by Walker’s “Don’t Cry Over Spilled Milk” sculpture, as even though it was visually stunning—the thing legit looked like real milk pooling out of a glass—it was a bit of a slap in the face to the challenge, itself.
You represented Vanderbilt well, young Mr. Weatherly. Now go sack that human dong, Tom Brady, a few times next year for us.