Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Vandy, thanks for 4 unforgettable years (and a bowl game)

After graduating from Vanderbilt University earlier this month, these are the four things I think.

1. I think the Class of 2009 just might be the most fortunate class in school history.

Seriously, has there ever been a better or more exciting time to be a Commodore fan?

Like the students before us, we have experienced an unhealthy amount of heartbreak and disappointment (special thanks to Georgetown's Jeff Green and Michigan's Alan Oaks). Fortunately, we have also experienced an excessive amount of triumph and celebration (for Vanderbilt standards, at least). Consider:

- The men's basketball team has beaten two No. 1 teams on its home court and advanced to two NCAA Tournaments, including a unforgettable Sweet 16 run that ended in heartbreak.

- The baseball team, perennial doormats prior to the arrival of Tim Corbin, captured a SEC regular season and tournament title in 2007 when it was ranked No. 1 for nine consecutive weeks and despite its postseason struggles, West End remains a preferred destination for elite recruits hoping to follow in the footsteps of Alvarez and Price.

- The women have continued their athletic dominance. The basketball team has served as a model of consistently, earning two SEC tournament championships and a pair of Sweet 16 berths over the past four years. In addition, the golf, lacrosse, soccer, and tennis teams have enjoyed success, while the bowlers captured the school's first ever national title.

- And, of course, how could we forget about Bobby Johnson's squad, which picked up the school's first bowl victory in 53 long years? Great to be gold, indeed.

2. I think that these are my 10 most memorable games:

a. December 31, 2008: VANDY 16 BOSTON COLLEGE 14

No explanation needed, is there?

b. March 16, 2007: VANDY 78 WASHINGTON ST 74

I'll never forget when Derrick Byars turned to the Vanderbilt section of the Arco Arena crowd and yelled, "We ain't going home!" following the Dores' double-overtime victory in the second round of the NCAA tourney. Just a surreal moment.

c. February 17, 2007: VANDY 83 FLORIDA 70

DB put it best when he said, "This is one for the ages. Twenty years from now, I'll be able to tell my little kids this. This is special. You can't explain it."

No, you certainly can't. The buzz in Memorial Gym that Saturday afternoon in mid-February was unlike anything I've ever experienced. And storming the court after trouncing Joakim Noah's Gators? One of the highlights of my college career.

d. November 15, 2005: VANDY 28 TENNESSEE 24

One of the greatest sentences in Vanderbilt football history: "Jay Cutler pass complete to Earl Bennett for 6 yards for a TOUCHDOWN." While the Commodores wouldn't go in to win a bowl game for another three years, this victory was monumental for the program.

"You see grown men crying and you realize how long it's been since we've won," Jay Cutler said at the time. "It tells us how much it means to this program."

e. February 26, 2008: VANDY 72 TENNESSEE 69

Memorial Magic is a crazy, unexplainable, and amazing thing.

f. October 4, 2008: VANDY 14 AUBURN 13

It started Friday afternoon with one of the best College GameDay crowds Lee Corso had ever seen and ended Saturday night with one of the biggest home victories in school history. The Commodores stunned the Tigers to improve to 5-0 and 3-0 in the SEC for the first time since 1950.

Who would have thought we'd see a day when Vandy was ranked higher in the Associated Press than U.S. News & World Report?

"This is what coaches live for," said Vanderbilt coach Bobby Johnson. It's what us fans live for, too. That was one weekend I'll never forget.

g. November 15, 2009: VANDY 31 KENTUCKY 24

D.J. Moore had two touchdowns and two interceptions as the Dores became bowl eligible for the first time since 1982.

h. March 5, 2008: VANDY 86 MISSISSIPPI ST 85

One of the greatest individual performances by one of Vanderbilt's all-time greats. Shan Foster scored 42 points on 16-for-25 shooting, including a ridiculous 9-for-15 from 3-point range, the last one coming with one second remaining in overtime and the Commodores trailing by two. Did I mention it was also on Senior Night? You couldn't have scripted it any better.

i. February 25, 2007: VANDY 7 BC 6, VANDY 67 KENTUCKY 65

Within a matter of minutes, shortstop Ryan Flaherty called his shot, hitting a walk-off two-run homer at Hawkins Field to keep Vanderbilt undefeated, while Byars and company rallied to beat Kentucky at Memorial Gym, giving the Dores their second straight season sweep of the Cats. Can't get much better than that.

j. TIE March 23, 2007: GEORGETOWN 66 VANDY 65 and June 4, 2007: MICHIGAN 4 VANDY 3

I didn't want to put any losses on the list, but I'm making an exception because these moments epitomize what it means to be a Commodore fan. Sure, both ended in heartbreak, but I've never been prouder of a group of guys than I was after these games.

From Derrick Byars and Dan Cage to David Price and Pedro Alvarez, we've been able to follow some pretty special individuals who have taught us all how to handle adversity with dignity and class.

Disagree with my choices? I'd love to hear your top 10s in the comments section below. I'm confident that your rankings will be better than mine. And stay tuned for my top 10 favorite athletes in the coming week.

3. I think the past four years went by way too fast.

It seems like just yesterday I was getting ready to interview (if you can even call it that) star quarterback Jay Cutler for my first football article. I ended mumbling and stuttering my way through a series of incoherent questions.

Since then, I've had the privilege of interviewing (gradually more successfully) hundreds of remarkable student-athletes. Intelligent, driven, respectful and well-rounded, these young men and women represent the best in college sports, and I extremely grateful to have attended one of the few universities that values the balance between academics and athletics and refuses to compromise its ideals.

I've also had the privilege of road tripping across the country with an amazing group of friends to root on the Commodores. From the Southern college towns of Athens, Knoxville, Gainesville, Lexington, Oxford and (unfortunately) Starkville to the big cities of Sacramento, New York, Atlanta, and Tampa, I have learned that Commodore Nation extends well beyond Nashville and that there is nothing better than rooting for the underdog.

Finally, I've had the privilege of getting to know some truly great people, from the dedicated athletes and coaches to the hilarious and hard-working guys like Brandon Barca, Larry Leathers, and Thomas Samuel in the Vanderbilt Media Relations Department to Brett Hait, Chris Lee, Jesse Johnson, Maurice Patton and the rest of the Nashville media members from whom I've learned so much.

4. I think The Sports VU is back.

Not to the three-post-a-day variety (things like friends, a job, and a life make that more difficult these days), but to the extent that you should begin checking back here daily. (I think).

I missed you guys (or maybe just writing) too much to give it up for good. So yeah, spread the word, and if you're interested in joining The Sports VU team, just shoot me an email at jarred.amato@gmail.com. Thanks, and as always, Go Dores!