There was no need to ask Bobby Johnson how it felt to beat a Top 25 opponent at home for the first time since 1992. The look on his face following Jared Hawkins’ seven-yard run on third-and-five in the closing minutes, which sealed Vanderbilt’s 24-17 victory over South Carolina last Thursday, said it all.
“I'm sure glad we got (the first down) because I hadn't figured out exactly what I was going to do, whether I was going to punt or take a safety,” Johnson said Monday. “So when (Hawkins) went across that line, I went, ‘Whew!’ That's one decision I don't have to make. That's why I was so happy on the sideline.”
Johnson smiled as he made that final comment and the room full of media members broke into laughter, knowing full well that his display of pure emotion on the sideline was the result of something much bigger than one play. Even the players could sense it.
“He's a native of South Carolina so I know that every South Carolina game means something to him, maybe just a little bit more than the others,” said senior quarterback Chris Nickson. “To please him, that's all you want to do. That's the guy who brought you here, the guy who recruited you, who gave you a great education.
“You want to try to do your best for him, and to see him happy makes you happy. That's all there is to it.”
Senior safety Reshard Langford saw a replay of the game on ESPN and said he felt the same way while watching an elated Johnson tear off his headset and embrace anyone in sight following Hawkins’ game-clinching run.
“I was extremely happy for him and the rest of the coaches because they work so hard and put so much work into preparing the game plan for us and preparing our practices and setting stuff up for us so that we just have to go out there and execute,” Langford said. “My hat goes off to those coaches. It's a great reward for them as much as it is for us.”
That’s quite the statement, one that shows just much how the players respect Johnson and his staff.
And one of the best parts about beating Steve Spurrier’s Gamecocks on ESPN? The rest of the country got to see what Langford, Nickson and the rest of the guys already know.
Johnson was on the road recruiting over the weekend and seemed to relish his newfound celebrity status.
“I'll tell you one thing that I realized even more, even though I thought I knew it, a lot of people watch ESPN,” Johnson said. “I was in the Dallas airport and people were stopping us left and right, and in Shreveport and in Nashville. It was kind of cool.”
Asked if anyone mistook him for comedian Steve Martin, Johnson replied, “Not a soul.”
Vanderbilt did not get over any magical hump with the victory, nor is it guaranteed any future successes because of it. Still, it is impossible to downplay its significance.
“For the Vanderbilt community, we finally stepped it up and did something to make them proud,” Nickson said. “They could actually see and feel it for themselves.”
The Commodores have been close to winning these games in the past. This time they finished it.
“We expected to win,” Langford said. “We don't expect to lose going into any game and certainly didn't expect to lose Thursday night. We work hard and put that work in so we know that we're going to get the results out of what we put in.”
Johnson knows that too.
“I think we are now playing good enough to compete with everybody we play against,” Johnson said, “and I think that in itself is a charge to our players to say, ‘Hey, play as good as you can play. If you do, you've got a chance to win.’"