Vanderbilt, Alabama matchup has long history dating back to McGugin era


Photo by Michael Frascella.

Isaiah Salazar

As Vanderbilt students and fans file through the turnstiles at Dudley field on Saturday afternoon, the outlook on the game ahead could probably be best described as a “sobered optimism”.

Vanderbilt fans have a few reasons to be optimistic: their team is coming off one of the biggest wins in recent school history, Alabama allowed 23 points to an inferior Colorado State team in week two, and (perhaps most importantly), Vanderbilt will have the all important “element of surprise” as an unranked sleeper team. Still, it’s a sobered optimism because, well, it’s ‘Bama. But hey, Alabama rarely plays Vanderbilt, so they might overlook them.

That way of reasoning might comfort some fans now, but it definitely hasn’t always been the case. In fact, other than Mississippi State and Tennessee, there’s no team in the SEC that’s played Alabama more than Vanderbilt. You wouldn’t typically associate Vanderbilt and Alabama as SEC rivals, but they have the sample size to warrant it. So, as long as we’re on the subject, lets have a little history lesson on the Vanderbilt-Alabama “rivalry”.

Any discussion about these teams’ history has to start and end with two men: Dan McGugin and Bear Bryant. That’s about where Vanderbilt’s success in this matchup started and ended. In fact, until Bryant was hired at Alabama, Vanderbilt actually held a 17-16-2 edge in games against the Tide, most of which were wins guided by Coach McGugin. Vandy even went on one long run between 1903 and 1919 in which they went unbeaten by the Crimson Tide. This was a golden age in Vanderbilt football; they held an overall record of 197-55-19 and were winners of four conference titles in that span.

A little history on Bear Bryant: Bryant attended the University of Alabama in the 30’s, accepted a coaching position at an obscure Christian college in west Tennessee after graduation, and before long was so successful in coaching that he began receiving offers to come back to his alma mater as an assistant coach. Interestingly enough, Bryant didn’t stay long in Tuscaloosa but was quickly snatched up by a certain rival team…you guessed it, Vanderbilt.  Bryant didn’t stay long in Nashville, deciding to enlist in the Navy, but he always expressed a fondness for Vanderbilt and (checkmate, Alabama) a desire to return as head coach later on. Obviously, Bryant did return to college football, leading the Crimson Tide to six national titles, thirteen SEC championships, and (I must add) many lopsided victories over the lowly Commodores.

Altogether, Vanderbilt has won only 19 of the 83 games against Alabama. Doing the math, that’s a staggering 2-46-2 record since Coach Bryant rejoined the Tide. In spite of the numbers, I invite you all to join me in remembering Bear Bryant as the guy that always wanted to coach at Vanderbilt.

So, how can Vanderbilt fans be encouraged by this history lesson? Here are a couple takeaways:

  1. Vanderbilt actually has beaten Alabama before
  2. Vanderbilt currently owns the most lopsided win the series, having trucked Alabama 78-0 way back in 1906
  3. Bear Bryant is no longer on the opposite sideline (Nick Saban who?)

Regardless of the outcome, the illustrious history of this matchup is about to change. Can Derek Mason rekindle the magic of McGugin?