Vanderbilt Stadium becomes Neyland West

Vanderbilt Stadium becomes Neyland West

November 21st, 2010 by Mark Wiedmer in Sports

NASHVILLE - Neyland West.

That's what Vanderbilt Stadium looked like during Saturday night's football game against Tennessee. Despite the Commodores officially being the home team and the visiting Volunteers arriving with a 4-6 overall record and a 1-5 Southeastern Conference mark, Vandy was overwhelmingly a guest in its own home.

"It's definitely depressing," longtime Commodores fan Chris Pastina said as he and wife Denise weaved their way through a sea of orange in the stadium concourse.

"But we have to win games for it to be all black and gold."

It hasn't been all black and gold for a long time. The 39,773-seat facility - easily the smallest in the SEC - hasn't been filled a single time the past two seasons, though Saturday night's crowd was expected to come close.

Then again, as Pastina noted, Vanderbilt entered the Tennessee game with a 2-8 overall record and a 1-6 league ledger. Beyond that, interim coach Robbie Caldwell is almost certainly gone at the close of the season after Bobby Johnson shocked all of college football by retiring in July, less than three weeks from the start of preseason practice.

No wonder that on those rare occasions that Vanderbilt Stadium is filled, it's usually the visiting fans doing the heavy lifting.

"It's probably at least 80-20 orange," one Vandy official grumbled just before kickoff. "But you can't quote me on that."

Indeed, when Tennessee defensive back Prentiss Waggner made his fourth pass interception of the season midway through the second quarter, the place erupted in cheers so loud and proud that even the UT band's rousing rendition of "Rocky Top" appeared to struggle to hold its own on the noise meter.

"I don't want their program, but it would be nice to have fans like that," Pastina said.

It's not easy being a Vandy fan, of course. The Commodores had locked up their 27th losing season in the last 28 years by Nov. 6, when they lost 55-14 at home to Florida.

Vanderbilt's Music City Bowl win over Boston College two years ago was its first bowl appearance in 26 years. The Commodores followed up that monumental moment by finishing 0-8 in the SEC in 2009.

"You just wish we could fast-forward and get another Jay Cutler in there," 28-year-old Mike Vacek said as he recalled the day in 2005 when the Vanderbilt quarterback led the Commodores to their only victory over UT since 1982.

"We've always seemed to have a better luck getting five basketball players who could win in this league rather than the 53 or so you need for football."

Not to mention the 15,000 fans needed to fill Memorial Gym rather than the 39,733 needed to stuff Vanderbilt Stadium.