Jordan Rodgers threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score in Monday's victory. (Mark Humphrey/AP Photo)
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -
A long-suffering Vanderbilt football fan wanted to speak his piece, but patiently waited his turn in the media interview room after the Commodores won the Franklin American Music City Bowl Monday.
Frank Arias never attended Vanderbilt. The 67-year-old New York native moved to Nashville in 1967. He saw his first Vanderbilt game that year against Alabama.
Arias recalled Vanderbilt getting out to a 21-0 halftime lead. The final score was 35-21. Asked who won, Arias laughed. Alabama, he said. Of course.
His emotional testimony Monday was directed to head coach James Franklin, aka the Game Changer.
He profusely thanked Franklin for rescuing him from all the dark days he spent over the years following Vanderbilt football.
So what if it wasn't a question. Arias wasn't a media member, but he had a lot to get off his chest and I imagine if you had been through what he and other Vanderbilt football fans like him have endured, you wanted to say what he did. He was speaking for so many, covering a lot of years, and getting sucker-punched by countless numbers of ridicules from fans of other teams.
His passion and emotion hit home with Franklin. He asked Arias to come give him a hug. The two men met each other half-way. It was a hug all right. a bear hug as it turned out.
I thought it might turn into a media hug-fest before realizing Franklin might be crazy, but he is not stupid.
Franklin has brought this Vanderbilt football program out of the dark ages to a point where fans can finally be proud of their team, proud of their players and how they conduct themselves in public and private.
Winning nine games this season didn't hurt.
You have to go back to Biblical scrolls to find the last time Vanderbilt won nine football games in five seasons, much less one season.
It was 1915 when Dan McGugin took a team to a 9-1 record against some teams you never heard of. That team beat what is now MTSU 51-0, Southwestern 47-0, Georgetown, Ky., 75-0, Cumberland 60-0, Henderson Brown 100-0, Tennessee 35-0, Ole Miss 91-0. Its only loss was to Virginia, 35-10.
Franklin put the year 1915 in proper perspective.
"You're talking about these guys great-great grandparents,'' he said.
McGugin was a game changer in his era and Franklin is a modern day game changer, trying to make drastic changes at a private school whose football program has been the butt of jokes while playing in the Southeastern Conference, where national champions play.
"The significance of winning nine games is different. It's different to me. I think it's different to the team. It's perceived different than when you win six or seven games. When you get in a nine-win category, it's a completely different conversation,'' Franklin said after beating North Carolina State team, 38-24 in the Franklin American Music City Bowl.
He credits the improvement on two things.
"One, the university decided to hire some psycho that nobody ever heard of and gave him a chance and an unbelievable group of guys that bought in and believed in everything we asked them to do,'' Franklin said.
It is a program based on personal relationships just as much, or more, than X's and O's. They have nights when they share everyone's highs and lows, their problems, their families.
"We spent a lot of time getting to know these guys,'' Frankling said. "Our coaching philosophy is about relationships. I think we've been able to maximize these guys experience here because of how we care about each other.''
Franklin knows there is more hard work ahead. Other SEC teams are not going to roll over for Vanderbilt. They are just as busy trying to grab the brass ring.
"This is a great foundation,'' Franklin said. "We're not going anywhere, so everybody better get used to it. We're not going anywhere. This is the brand new Vanderbilt.''
For Frank Arias, it has been a long time coming. Franklin's words were music to his ears.
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