Gunn: First bowl game carries special memories

Friday, January 2, 2009
Vanderbilt's George Smith proudly hoists the Music City Bowl trophy up into the air in front of his teammates. (T-G Photo by Danny Parker)

NASHVILLE -- I had never been to a bowl game until New Year's Eve afternoon when Vanderbilt took on Boston College in the Music City Bowl. The T-G asked me the morning of the big game day, and I jumped at the opportunity to cover this event.

When talking to the other sports writers in the press box, most expressed doubt that Vandy would pull off a win. They barely snuck into a bowl game with a 6-6 record while Boston College made it to the ACC championship. Add that to Vanderbilt's past bowl inexperience, it made it difficult to believe that they would pull off an upset, even with a hometown advantage. But these factors going against Vandy made the victory even sweeter.

The frigid, 30s weather didn't keep 54,000 fans from pouring into LP Stadium. Vandy fans were bundled up like solid black penguins with gold-lettered bellies. From above I watched the hot chocolate vendor walk up and down the aisles and he would sell out instantly.

Vandy fans were loud and proud; if they thought there was a bad call or if one of their boys made a big play, the roar of the crowd would rise from the lower decks and sweep like a wave over the stadium. The thick, black sea of fans beneath me made the few maroon shirts look lost at sea. Vandy fans most definitely came out and supported their local players. Twenty-one of Vanderbilt's players are from Tennessee, including Nashville native Bryant Hahnfeldt, who kicked his way into scoring 10 of Vandy's 16 points, including the game-winning field goal.

For the last five minutes of the game, I headed down to the field. I had never been on the sidelines of a major game before, and at first I didn't think it would be that big of a deal. But when I reached the open tunnel that led to the field, I was amazed at the vastness of the stadium and the outpouring of positive energy that the fans and players emitted. They knew this was history in the making.

The interception by Myron Lewis (5) sealed the Commodore victory and sent their faithful into a frenzy. (T-G Photo by Danny Parker)

The field was lined with photographers all trying to freeze frame this potential monumental moment. The outcome was still uncertain until Myron Lewis intercepted the ball with 1:36 left to play. You could feel the fans' relief when the Commodore offense took the field for the last time this season and took a knee.

Fireworks shot off and everyone rushed the field. As a 5-foot-2 female reporter, I tried not to get in the way of football players who seemed double my size. There was a glorious celebration with streamers and big smiles. So many people had been waiting for a long time for this moment to come. And for it to come on a home turf made it seem even more special.

Vanderbilt's win serenaded Nashville by treating fans to a night of celebration for not only a new year, but for a new beginning and brighter prospect for Commodore football in 2009.

Mary Beth Gunn is a free-lance writer for the Times-Gazette.