After the Red Wings fell 3-2 to the Blackhawks at the United Center, I boarded a plane from Chicago early the next morning, and touched down in the land of the Delta blues, in the middle of the pouring sunshine. It was a beautiful New Year’s Eve day in Memphis, especially by my recently recalibrated Northern standards, and I’m not sure anyone could reasonably protest the prospect of tailgating outdoors in 60 degrees and sun on December 31st. Whenever I go to Memphis, I’m always (I write this as if I go there so often) struck by the lowness of the terrain. It isn’t just flat, it’s low. (Or maybe it was the lowrider dunebuggy of a rental car we had. It’s a tossup really.)
Hearing no reasonable or unreasonable protest, tailgate we did, the site graciously hosted and organized by the VSL Braintrust. After gorging ourselves on food, drink, and conversation, we made our way into the Liberty Bowl, which presents as large and grand but operates as small and comfortable. There’s an imposing fortress-like structure at the main entrance that would be impressively and confusingly lit at the end of the game, the moat area being a concourse that certainly felt like it was in the stadium but operated as a sort of DMZ for people to finish their outside consumables and proceed into the technical, ticket-taking entryway.
Once inside, I found myself in the best seats I’ve ever had for a sporting event of consequence. It wasn’t a surprise– I knew where the seats were– but there was something pretty neat about saddling up in the second row, right behind the Vanderbilt bench and about turning around and seeing a sea of black and gold stretched from end to end of the Commodore side of the stadium.
The game itself was quite exciting from beginning to end, even if Cincinnati consistently executed its game plan (hand off to #23) while Vanderbilt did the complete opposite (alone, the knowledge that Larry Smith saw substantial action at quarterback should tell anyone that something was awry). This team was completely different under head coach James Franklin throughout the season, but they looked much more like a Bobby Johnson squad (i.e., struggle offensively, be kept in the game thanks to sheer defensive will) at the Liberty Bowl, and I’m not sure why.
After the game, we regrouped and tried to distract ourselves from the disappointing outcome with plates full of barbecue and a New Year’s Eve celebration downtown. Beale Street was an absolute mad house:
The Liberty Bowl offered Vanderbilt a chance to make its best season since 2008 into a winning season, and that part of the loss is frustrating. It’s clear that there’s a winning vibe about this program, though, and it starts with James Franklin. Given the date of the game, the 2011 season is wholly contained within the year 2011. If Franklin was able to turn a 2-10 team into a 6-7 team, how much better might he do in 2012, with a full cycle of recruiting and preparation available to him?
Previous Live Coverage:
Bpbrady’s Long Overdue Sugar Bowl Writeup
Windy City recap: Red Wings fall to Blackhawks 3-2
Michigan’s unfriendly welcoming of Nebraska
B1G Roadtrippin’: Michigan at Illinois
Nashville recap: Georgia escapes, 33-28
B1G Roadtrippin’: Michigan at Northwestern
The Little Brown Jug stays in Ann Arbor
Recap: Detroit Red Wings’ Red & White Game
Motor City recap: Tigers win, 2-1
Music City recap: Vanderbilt wins, 45-14
Concert report: Lyle Lovett and his Large Band
Concert report: An evening with Bruce Hornsby, Béla Fleck, the Noisemakers, and the Flecktones