In the early hours of Sunday morning in my Washington, DC apartment, I sat alongside four of my closest friends, all of which are also Vanderbilt alumni. Logged into the CBS Sports Network app via one of our parents’ Xfinity logins, we’d watched the wave of emotions that was Saturday night’s win against Colorado State. What started as self pity as the Rams jumped out to a 14-0 lead gradually turned into invigorating glory as we witnessed a formerly impotent team eventually find the courage within themselves to win their first game since 2019.
When Joseph Bulovas’ 38 yard kick snuck inside the left upright for the game-capping field goal, the four of us erupted in emphatic cheers and high fives right as the clock struck 1:30am EST. We woke up my two sleeping roommates, whose alma maters had hours before secured comfortable wins and who may never fully understand why we were celebrating that one of the most insignificant games college football had to offer happened to go our way.
Here lies the often misunderstood beauty in being a Vanderbilt fan. Somewhere at the crossroads of a comeback story, redemption, and the irony of gloating in a win over an 0-1 Mountain West team came one of those Vanderbilt moments that reminds you why it can, in fact, be rewarding to watch the ‘Dores play a game. Few understand this unique dynamic like the Commodore faithful do, but that identity is something to firmly and proudly embrace.
Midway through the 2nd quarter, those of us watching the game felt a seismic tonal shift in the team when we witnessed the first touchdown of the Clark Lea era on Ken Seals’ touchdown pass to Chris Pierce. The team on the sideline, while still depleted of the talent we have seen in past years, carried themselves with a new confidence that many simply hadn’t seen in a while. All credit to our new coach who, after five and a half quarters of gut punches and disappointment to start his career, trusted his process and players to come back and get a win in a road environment.
You could see how much it meant to the players, too. Just look at Ken Seals’ when he steps up to his first press conference (14:30-22:00) following a win of his career. Watching that video, you will join Seals in the inability to keep a smile off of your face while thinking of the win that just happened. After Coach Lea awarded Seals the game ball in the locker room, the sheer joy felt by everyone, especially by the sophomores who earned their first ever win, is hard not to experience alongside them.
In the larger scheme of college football, this game did not matter. Neither of these teams will go on to do anything that will rewrite history books in 2021. Ten days ago, this Vanderbilt team still lost to East Tennessee State, and people certainly jeered at that reality in response to Saturday’s win. While self awareness and humility certainly are important for perspective and to maintain any credibility for Vandy fans and writers alike, games like these do matter to Vanderbilt. They matter to Coach Lea, whose resolve gave him a first victory on his quest to fight the uphill battle that is coaching Vanderbilt Football. More importantly, it mattered to the players, who work just as hard as the championship contenders but rarely get any benefit or recognition for it.
So where do Vandy fans go from here? I suppose that after very nearly hitting their wall, some may have just gotten a reason to care again. The slight indication that, if nothing else, this team will give its utmost effort week after week despite the gaps in talent it will inevitably experience. Will this just be a single win that holds fans over for another few months until the next one eventually rolls around, or could it be a reason for hope that maybe Clark Lea has started to build something different? Patience will again be the answer in the short term for Vanderbilt Football, but at least for the next couple of days fans should feel no guilt celebrating. If someone judges you for it, they just don’t understand what you’ve been through.