The year was 1982. New Year's Eve, to be exact. The Vanderbilt Commodores faced off with the Air Force Falcons in the Hall of Fame Bowl (Then known as the All-American Bowl or the Hall of Fame Classic).
The coaching staff for that year's team reads like a roster of never-weres: Mark Bradley (not the Mark Bradley of Kansas City Chiefs fame, the other one). Watson Brown. Bob Brush. Monty Crook. Gene DeFilippo. Kurt Van Valkenburgh. Greg Mantooth. Oh, and head coach George MacIntyre.
You remember him, right? After leaving the Commodores (due in large part to a diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis), he worked for a company that recruited college football players to sell fire extinguishers, then coached five years as the Defensive Coordinator at Liberty University before retiring completely from sports.
No disrespect for Mr. McIntyre regarding his disease; but as for his coaching career, he definitely took a downward turn.
This motley crew of never-rans guided the Commodores to an 8-3 record to earn them the bowl bid. Being 13 at the time, I don't recall much of the game, only that my Uncle Martin was decked out in Black-and-Gold for the entire month of December.
Notable players for Vanderbilt in that game include quarterback Whit Taylor, Phil Roach, and Norman Jordan (don't bother...I couldn't find much on any of them besides Taylor: USFL—enough said). As a team that was pass-happy at a time when the wishbone formation and the option play were cornerstones of college football, Vanderbilt went into the game ready to decimate the Falcons secondary.
They didn't do too badly in that regard; Taylor threw for 452 yards and four touchdowns. Norman Jordan set a still-standing Vanderbilt record of 20 receptions in a single game.
But it wasn't enough. The Falcons picked up 331 yards on the ground, and intercepted Taylor three times—twice in the end zone—in route to a 36-28 comeback win.
With that loss the Commodores bowl record fell to 1-1-1: a win against Auburn in the 1955 Gator Bowl, a tie with Texas Tech in the 1974 Peach Bowl, and of course, the loss to the Falcons.
Vanderbilt hasn't made it back since. Oh, they've tried; they will start off fast, winning their first few games before succumbing to the pressures of playing in one of the most competitive conferences in college football (I KNOW that will elicit some responses).
Finally this year they managed enough wins against good enough teams to earn a bowl bid. They face the 25th-ranked Boston College Eagles in the Music City Bowl. BC comes into this bowl game with a nation-leading eight-game bowl winning streak.
Here's where the irony comes in. I know you've been waiting for it.
The Air Force Falcons—the last team Vanderbilt faced in a bowl game—are now the Air Force Eagles.
Gene DeFilippo, a member of the coaching staff for the 1982 Vanderbilt squad, is currently the Athletic Director for Boston College. Talk about old home week.
In a twist, this Vanderbilt team is more run-oriented than pass-oriented. Quarterback Chris Johnson is as likely to run the ball as he is to throw it. And McKenzie Adams is a running back who happens to line up under center.
Boston College, on the other hand, is not particularly strong in the passing or running game, but they do have a better than average defense. In Vandy's last bowl appearance, the opposing offense ran the ball all day, and got the win more on bad throws by Taylor than on a stalwart pass defense.
(End of irony, for what it's worth—I warned you it was only a touch...)
The result of this game has playoff record implications for both teams; Boston College hopes to extend it bowl winning streak to nine, while Vanderbilt just wants to finally have a winning bowl record, or at least not a losing one.
It's not much, but .500 sounds a lot better than .333.
It's taken Vanderbilt better than two decades to get back to a bowl game and avenge it's last loss. All of the players from the last bowl game are old enough to be fathers of the entire Commodores roster.
If patience is a virtue, then the 'Dores have it in spades.
It's time. Go Vandy. Beat the Eagles.
Oh, and Bobby Johnson? Make sure George McIntyre has a ticket. He still lives in Nashville, and he was, after all, your coach at one time. If you guys can pull this one out, it'd be nice to see both of the last two bowl-winning coaches on the sidelines.