Thursday, November 20, 2008

Vanderbilt football players should take a lesson from hoops and hug their mamas after the senior day game

I've got a theory: Senior Day is bad for players, especially Vanderbilt football players.

As you know Senior Day is that time when a university and its fans honor each senior, which means before the game his name is called over the public address system whether he played a snap or not and he walks out to midfield to greet Daddy and Mama and Granny and siblings and sometimes even a favorite professor or administrator and everybody hugs and the fans applaud warmly.

And then these guys are supposed to go out and kick some butt? After they've just had Granny crying on their jersey and telling them they're the greatest?


In 2005, I took my family to Nashville to see the 4-5 Commodores play 2-6 Kentucky. I'd bought the tickets earlier in the season, back when we were 4-0. As a matter of fact, it was on the eve of our game with MTSU, and I'd figured we'd beat the Blue Raiders, lose to LSU, Georgia, Florida and South Carolina, and then beat Kentucky for our sixth win and bowl eligibility.

Of course, we lost to MTSU the next day and then as expected we lost those next four games. But hopes were still high on that day in Nashville with my family.

It was a beautiful fall day — cool breezes and leaves of red and gold and all that stuff. The week before, we'd lost to Florida 49-42 in double overtime, a moral victory if there ever was one, and the SEC was abuzz with talk of Jay Cutler, Earl Bennett and the scrappy Commodores. We'd beat the Wildcats for sure, and then we had a chance to get win No. 6 against Tennessee in Knoxville.

And it was Senior Day. One by one, Jay Cutler, Moses Osemwegie and all the other seniors hugged their mamas and we all applauded warmly.

And then the game started. Vanderbilt was losing by four touchdowns before you could say, "Thanks for the memories."

We mounted a furious comeback but lost 48-43. The next week, we beat Tennessee for win No. 5.

And I blame it all on Senior Day. In his six Senior Days, Bobby Johnson is 1-5. Woody Widenhofer was 0-5. Rod Dowhower actually went 1-1, because somebody had the foresight to schedule Louisiana Tech instead of a team from the SEC.

Here's Bobby Johnson's record on senior day:
• 2002: Lost to Tennessee 24-0
• 2003: Beat Kentucky 28-17
• 2004: Lost to Tennessee 38-33
• 2005: Lost to Kentucky 48-43
• 2006: Lost to Tennessee 39-20
• 2007: Lost to Wake Forest 31-17

And Bobby's defenses have been particularly ineffective on senior days, giving up about 33 points a game.

At any rate, I think the football Commodores should do what the basketball Commodores do. Celebrate the seniors... after the game. Remember what happened on Shan Foster's senior day? The kid scored 42 points, tied the game with a three-pointer in regulation and then won the game with a three-pointer in overtime.

And then he hugged his Mama. And the fans didn't just applaud warmly. They blew the roof off that place.

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