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When I see or hear references to Vanderbilt University in Nashville, it conjures up a variety of memories and connections for me.  In the 1950s, my father took education classes at the George Peabody College for Teachers, now a part of the Vanderbilt University system.  While an undergrad at Lipscomb University across town, friends and I would attend music and film events on VU’s campus.  When I lived and ministered in Middle Tennessee, I frequently availed myself of Vanderbilt’s Divinity Library for study and research.  I saw LSU junior Shaquille O’Neal take on Vandy on their home court.  I attended a week-long Residency in Cancer for Clergy at VU’s Medical Center.  It was a caring team of physicians at VUMC who diagnosed five month-old Coleman with Dubowitz Syndrome and chronic neutropenia and referred us on to NIH for further study and treatment.  However, there is one thing that I have never associated with Vanderbilt: a winning college football program.

ESPN is currently in the midst of a five-month, 150-day commemoration and celebration of 150 years of college football with numerous documentaries, interviews, testimonials, and vignettes.  A few days ago, I saw a brief “My Story” segment featuring Mike MacIntyre whose father, George, coached Vanderbilt’s football team from 1979 to 1985.  He shared an incredible story involving his father and Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.

In 1982, the Vanderbilt Commodores were coming off of several all-too-familiar dismal seasons in which they had suffered 33 consecutive losses to SEC opponents.  They began the ‘82 campaign 1-1 against non-conference schools before heading to Tuscaloosa for the conference opener against the Crimson Tide, ranked 4th in the nation at the time.  It was a surprisingly close, hard-fought game.  Vandy had a legitimate chance at an upset victory late in the game, but fell just short as time expired, losing to Bama 24-21.

Coach MacIntyre ran across the field for the post-game handshake and was quite surprised when Coach Bryant asked, “After I talk to my team, do you mind if I come in your locker room and talk to the Vanderbilt team?”  MacIntyre graciously accepted the unusual request.  Silence fell over the Commodore locker room as Coach Bryant walked in.  Bryant addressed the players and said, “You should have beaten our guys today.  You’re an excellent Vanderbilt football team, and I guarantee you, you won’t lose another game for the rest of the year.”  MacIntyre’s son, who was in the locker room with his dad, recalled, “There’s nobody better than Bear Bryant to walk into your locker room and say, ‘Hey, you’re going to be successful.’  That gave them that extra little click to go on and so something special.”  Bryant nearly proved himself to be a prophet as Vandy went 7-1 over the remainder of the regular season before losing their bowl game for a final 8-4 record.  I know many of you are thinking, “8-4?  What’s so great about an 8-4 season?”  But, you’ve got to remember, we’re talking about Vanderbilt football!  They wouldn’t have another winning season for the next 25 years.

Never underestimate the power and lasting impact of your words of encouragement to others as they pursue their goals, dreams, and aspirations.  Don’t stop believing!


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October 2019