The Jump

Well, the $100 discount code offer on an unlocked device was too good to pass up.  A week from Friday, maybe sooner, I’ll take possession of an unlocked Moto X.

Black on black on black, 16 GB, $300 plus tax for an unlocked American-assembled smartphone. I have yet to see a negative review of this thing, a device that is probably the most intriguing Android gadget I’ve ever encountered – this is the one, unlike the Nexus One or Nexus 7, finally induced me to put down cash.

So why this and not the Moto G?  Why spend the extra $100, and conversely, why not splash out to go up to 32 GB?  Well, to answer the second bit first – because I’m not going to be using it as my primary music device and carrying 12 GB of iTunes content on it.  If I could get by with 16 GB on the Moto G, I can get by with 16 on the Moto X.  And in return for the extra $100, I get an AMOLED screen and larger battery (so better usable life on a charge) and a slightly larger display in a slightly smaller package (which is nice), plus LTE (which is frankly non-negotiable when it supports both AT&T and T-Mobile bands).  Were I to get the Moto G, I’d have to choose between either international “4G” non-LTE coverage or having full use of both AT&T and T-Mobile “4G” in this country.  The Moto X handles both – so LTE everywhere in the US and “4G” abroad.

More to the point, though, the Moto X includes the stuff beyond stock Android that intrigued me – like the co-processor based listening feature for voice commands, or the ability to detect driving and automatically flip to a voice-controlled mode (reading out your texts and the like).  And unlike almost any Android phone I’d ever heard of that wasn’t a Nexus, the Moto X got an update to Android 4.4 shortly after it shipped, so there is the prospect of actual future-proofing.

But why Android? Why now?  Why throw in with the Beast of Mountain View?

Two reasons.  One: I need to be able to work the other side of the street.  Despite being hired on as a Mac tech, I went most of 1998 and well into 1999 without a Mac on my desk at work, because it was the only way to learn and get comfortable with Windows NT.  I know iOS inside and out, but unless I force the issue, I’m never going to get familiar with Android.  Certainly not by playing with phones at Best Buy or the like.

And two: this is an experiment to see how far you actually CAN go with Android without giving in to Google.  I’m going to try to get my apps via Amazon instead, where possible, and I don’t intend to use my Gmail account for anything.  In fact, I don’t rely on a single Google service for anything right now, so the only Google functionality I’m going to be employing on the phone is what it forces me to use, and that alone should be useful and informative.

And to be perfectly honest: this may be my last chance to ever buy a phone from an American company that was assembled in the USA.  I remember the days when Motorola had 50% of the worldwide market for cellphones and churned them out domestically – in the early 90s they were cited by Time magazine as proof that the US could still innovate and manufacture the best things in the world.  I don’t exactly trust Lenovo not to pack the whole thing off to Shenzen or something.

Plus, let’s face it: I have an iPad mini with 200MB free LTE data per month which substitutes for keeping personal data on my work laptop. It’s not like I have to abandon the iOS world altogether if this doesn’t quite work out.

So that’s it.  We’re going to spike the Android glee once and for all, and I’m going to put my own money on a phone for the first time in three and a half years.  And to be honest, if it works out, Apple’s going to have to really pull a rabbit out of the hat with iOS 8 and any notional iPhone 6, because what’s winging its way to my hand is legitimately the most innovative new smartphone since the original iPhone.  And innovation ought to be rewarded.

I don’t think I realized…

…during their two-season “punishment”, Penn State football went 8-4 the first year and 7-5 the second.  And to remedy this horrifying state of affairs, they brought in a new staff, all but two of whom were coaching Vanderbilt three weeks ago to their best back-to-back regular season record in decades: 8-4 and 8-4.  

Put another way, the last time Vanderbilt did as well as Penn State’s “punishment” seasons? 1929-30, when Dan McGugin took the Commodores to 7-2 and 8-2 respectively.

So Penn State claimed basically our whole staff and a quarter of our verbally committed recruits so they wouldn’t have to be as bad as our best stretch in 80 years.

No good deed goes unpunished, I guess.  But I wish nothing but ill to that team on the field.

Phone glee, updated

I did some measuring.  As best I can tell, the Magpul case on the iPhone 5 gives me a package that is almost identical to the Moto X or Moto G on every axis – height and weight are within a tenth of an inch, max thickness is within a couple hundredths of an inch (to the Moto X’s benefit!) and the weight of the cased iPhone is heavier than either Moto.

So in basically the same size package, the Moto X has upped the screen size from 4″ to 4.75” and added a battery with 50% greater capacity.  And the Moto G is sporting a 4.5” display with the same pixels per inch and a battery only somewhat less capacious than the X.

Much as the Nexus One threw down the gauntlet to the iPhone 3GS, the Moto X and G are doing the same to the iPhone 5.  Sure, the 5S has the TouchID and the first effort at a co-processor for battery purposes, but Motorola’s gone not that much larger and stuffed half again as much battery into the package for their trouble – and battery, as I frequently insist, is THE defining measurement of a modern phone.  And both the Moto phones are breakthroughs – the X for providing the best Android experience yet and the most innovation on UI, the G for delivering a modern unlocked phone for half the price normally expected of such a device.

And I’m not on contract right now.

Cupertino, make me smile by September, or it might be time to get rash.

How We Got Here

The more complicated the plumbing, the easier it is to make it leak.  As with your bathroom, so with our technological life.

Consider the computer, to start with. 1993 was the last time I had a summer job in an office that didn’t come with a computer on the desk.  Ever since then, if I’m in an office, at a desk, in a cubicle, whatever – there was some sort of computer waiting for me.  Maybe not a great one – that briefly-held HR job in 1997 meant a 486 pushing Win95, and typing 6 characters for your Peoplesoft password instead of 5 would cause the entire computer to crash – but a computer. Suffice to say that for two decades or so, the use of the computer has been normalized.  That means networking.  That means email. A computer that isn’t on a network is a computer that isn’t worth very much to Ed Earl Brown beyond Word and Excel and one-person gaming (and when’s the last time a solo game on a PC was a big deal? Wolfenstein? Maybe?) – what do we do with a computer? Email. Twitter. Facebook. Web surfing. Blogging. World of Warcraft.  Minecraft. Pinterest. Buy stuff from Amazon. Watch things on YouTube or Netflix.

All things that generate data traveling over a network and stored somewhere else.

That the government has all this data isn’t amazing in the least.  The data monitoring and collection is already there, in house, as a function of the services themselves.  All Uncle Sam has to do is turn up with a warrant.  We’ve clicked through enough EULAs and stuck enough pictures in Instagram and plotted our every daily move in Foursquare and sprayed our political opinions all over our friends’ walls.  And the thing is – we have an entire generation that’s come up believing that it’s perfectly normal to put your entire life on exhibit, and CEOs at places like Google and Facebook who don’t understand why personal information ought to be private at all.

That split difference is becoming a serious issue.  On a more personal level, I used to see it every day from cyclists on Caltrain riding their bike up the “Dismount Zone” tunnel and directly past the “Walk Your Bike” signs before complaining about non-cyclists in the bike car.  Or Googlers arguing that their private shuttle buses are just fine using MUNI stops for pickup because the alternative is for them to all drive – not to move closer to work, or work closer to home, or actually use the public transit whose infrastructure they choose to appropriate.  When it’s done by The Government, it’s the oppressive heavy hand of the old-fashioned legacy powers.  But when it’s done by techies, it’s “disruptive” and “rethinking” and “advanced.  When really, it’s all the same thing and all of similar concern.  Pious techie glibertarians go on about how “Google doesn’t have drones,” but by the same token, Uncle Sam doesn’t depend on advertising against your NSA profile for his income.

In the real world, unencumbered by Randian fantasy, Ed Earl Brown is far more likely to see his personal data abused for profit by Facebook than the CIA.  Consider the Nest thermostat and the acquisition of Nest by Google – and the ensuing online panic about Google suddenly having access to regular data from inside the house.  Tony Fadell – the CEO of Nest and the mastermind behind the original iPod, the guy that Google is probably counting on to figure out consumer hardware for them – has come right out and said that he doesn’t plan for anything like that to happen with Nest’s data, but the problem is, it’s not his call anymore. Instead, his network of devices now belongs to a company that’s built its fortunes on data-mining for dollars.

Ultimately, of all the companies in the Valley that people know, there are only two I don’t hold in immediate suspicion: Apple and Amazon.  Because at the end of the day, both of them are in the same business: trading cash on the barrelhead for goods and/or services.  Maybe they’re doing a better job of it than anyone else, and that’s what makes them respectable.  The second director I ever had in this industry put it bluntly: “Shit costs money.”  And half the delusion and deception of Silly Con Valley consists of trying to persuade Ed Earl Brown otherwise.

Well, the horse is gone and the barn is on fire

The FCC’s bluff has been called and the courts have basically taken a giant shit on Net Neutrality. The way is paved, at least on paper, for ISPs to revert to a fully cable-TV model of tiered access, speeding up (and slowing down) all manner of services however it suits them.  The obvious one that everyone goes to: Comcast, but for the consent order forced on them by the NBCU merger, could start their own Netflix-like service and then exempt it from throttling or broadband caps, with the result that Xfinity customers could either struggle with Netflix at 128kbps and three movies’ worth of data per month, or else subscribe to Comflix.

This is bullshit.  It’s bullshit that stemmed from the original misdiagnosis that ISPs were “information services” rather than “communication services.”  That might have been true for the likes of AOL or Compuserve or Prodigy. but it was never true for broadband ISP services.  Comcast might try to spin their “triple play” offerings as “information services” based on the presence of TV, but as television converges with the Internet, it’s becoming more false with each passing season.

Right now, there is exactly one surefire way of bringing this back under control: Congress will have to declare broadband ISPs to be common carriers and communication services.  Good luck with that.  There’s no more reason for this to pass Congress than anything else, unless somebody comes up with a wiggle that allows the GOP’s mental-defective wing to be separated from its techno-libertarian pretenders so the latter can team up with Democrats on a quick fix.  And to be blunt, the same thing needs to happen to wireless, because AT&T has already announced a plan for “Sponsored Data” that will allow companies to pay for their content not to count against user quotas…which opens the door for wireless data to be used only to access those services willing to pay the freight themselves.

It’s really hard not to be pessimistic about the direction of the country.  But hell, we don’t have kids, so in fifty years or so it won’t really be our problem anyway. Right?  It’s a shitty attitude, but then, we have pretty shitty politics.

Of which etc.

Phone glee 2014

I’ve got a case on my phone.

It’s a Magpul case endorsed by none other than William Gibson – it’s a little bit Mall Ninja but not obviously so. Good grip, good protection, only obstructs about half my charge cables. I don’t mind it, and it doesn’t make the phone too big. Which begs the question: if I’m going to carry something of that size, why not get a phone of that size that doesn’t require a case and is using the added volume for bigger battery and a screen to match? Sturdy polycarbonate, Gorilla Glass…you see where this is going.

Seven years after the introduction of the iPhone, I’ve finally started giving active consideration to what my life would look like without it. To be honest, a lot of this thinking has been enabled by the acquisition of the iPad mini – a guarantee of iOS functionality in a go-everywhere package. But a lot of it has been driven by the frustration of battery on my iPhone 5 in the past six months or so. The problem is, my daily work life is in places where signal is compromised at best, and Verizon phones never deal well with compromised signal. And the battery has already been replaced once, which isn’t encouraging.

The problem is, battery technology isn’t keeping up, so the only solution is to cram in a bigger battery. And since Android’s power management was unspeakably bad until very recently, Android phone makers made a virtue of necessity by using 5-inch screens on phones too big to use with one hand…but which could make it through the day with the correspondingly oversized power supply. Apple did a little of that, but not much, when the 5 arrived. But now…

Now we have the Moto X. In addition to the larger battery, it uses several other tricks. Slightly smaller screen. AMOLED. 720p instead of unnecessarily higher resolution that the human eye can’t distinguish. And most innovative of all, a series of coprocessors that make it possible to staff out certain key functions to their own ultra-low-power CPUs and save the phone from lighting up the main processor (itself dual-core rather than quad). The Moto X is all about user experience, and the first big step is the elimination of the battery anxiety that goes with any heavy use of a modern smartphone.

The other problem has been diagnostics. I’ve had the very devil of a time trying to see what exactly has been taking the piss out of my battery. The only thing I can do is delete one app at a time, or turn off one functional at a time, or not play audio back, and do each of these things for a full day while making meticulous notes on usage times and battery percentages. And that’s purely a function of iOS. At least with Android, the potential exists to monitor the functions of the phone at a more granular level and see what’s hitting the CPU so hard.

So then, let’s be practical: what are the implications of going to an Android phone, based on my frequent usage? Well, number one is podcasts: I have to be able to download my two or three podcasts on the fly and play them back on a weekdaily basis. Then there are the other things on the dock: music playback (possibly challenging given that a good chunk of my music is still FairPlay protected m4p), RSS, and text messaging – and that becomes a challenge simply because so many of my friends and colleagues are iPhone users. Killing iMessage means committing to burning through a lot of text messages relative to what I use at present.

After that, it’s a whole pile of free apps: Instagram, Evernote, things like weather and IMDB and mail. And mail is tricky, given that I do use iCloud for my primary personal email. Not insurmountable, obviously, but a quality IMAP client would be essential to getting by otherwise. And obviously I would need a calendaring solution for work. And I suppose you get maps for free, along with transit info via Google Now, and…

And there’s the rub: while you don’t necessarily have to treat with Apple for anything other than the App Store, it’s almost impossible to deal with Android without working with Google. And while Apple wants your money, Google wants your data – and wants to keep having it. It’s not a question of paying off the phone and being shut of them; in almost every way that matters, going with an Android device means learning to live with Google as your middleman.

So…is it worth taking a flyer on? It would be the biggest adjustment since acquiring the Dell netbook, and for similar reasons, and that flamed out after six months…but then, is is possible to really be a good IT professional without working both sides of the street? And heaven knows I need to be forced if I’m going to leave the warm embrace of AAPL…

Something to think about.

The Chip Forever

Here’s the thing…here’s the reasons why is utterly a shitshow on multiple levels:

1) this is the first time in decades that we had a coach who aspired to more than “try not to die.” We were encouraged to believe in the program, we were encouraged to hope, we were told that we could be competitive with everyone in the country and that no one should settle for less. Then, at the peak of our success, he goes somewhere else. That kinda hurts.

2) everyone in the SEC – hell, everyone in college football – spent most of the season saying that he would inevitably leave for another job. Find a Power Poll at Team Speed Kills that didn’t allude to his imminent departure once the USC job opened up. The rest of the world keeps telling us that we essentially don’t deserve to have a successful coach, and he gave them the chance to say “told you so.” That really stings.

3) this is the most success this program has had in a lifetime. Literally. You have to look at the 1920s to find this level of success. Nine wins in back to back seasons, back to back wins over a rival, back to back bowl victories – it sounds pretty damn modest elsewhere, but it’s literally as good as it’s ever been for Vanderbilt. We didn’t have this for almost a century. And then, a historically successful program that’s on the rocks – and deservedly so – is able to swing in and poach a big chunk of our success so they can restore themselves? It kind of smacks of punching out a homeless guy and taking his money because you forgot to bring your wallet and you really want a Coke from the vending machine. Having our brightest moment in over 80 years purloined so Penn State can get right quicker…it’s football, not feelingsball, but it’s fucking heartless.

This is the chip. No one wishes us well. Nobody else has our best interests at heart. Nobody thinks we deserve anything more than to be their easy automatic W. We have to stick close, we have to stand together, we have to fight for each other, because nobody else will, and we’re all going down together. To the last man, to the last play, to the last snap, to the last second – we fight.

Vanderbilt Helt Hostage, day n+1

Honestly, it’s like they moved the campus over top of an Indian burial ground while we weren’t looking.  Now Eric McClellan is not with the team, leaving Vandy basketball down to seven scholarship players.  Couple that with the two walk-ons, and we no longer have enough live bodies to scrimmage 5-on-5. The real risk at this point is that guys will have to play so many minutes that injury starts to take a further toll, with long-term implications.

And that has almost gone unnoticed because of the drama around James Franklin.

Look, it’s an unalloyed good that Vanderbilt has a coach so highly thought of that he’s been explicitly named as a candidate for (deep breath) USC, Texas, Penn State, U of Washington, the Cleveland Browns, the Washington Redskins, possibly Louisville, possibly the Detroit Lions, and for all we know CEO of Microsoft (still vacant).  Plainly he is now the hottest thing in coaching, not impeded by his ubiquitous presence on ESPN’s coverage of the last BCS championship game.  Vice Chancellor David Williams (heretofore referred to as the Goldfather, in the formulation of one particularly smartass Vandy blogger) has been one thousand percent vindicated in his choice of three years ago – not to deny candidate number one’s credentials in getting Auburn from 3-9 to 1:30 from a national championship in one year.  But if we can’t have Gus Malzahn, James Franklin is pretty good.

Consider the numbers: we finished 6-7 the first year (by virtue of losing the bowl game), but all but two of those losses were by a single score.  The second year, we went 9-4 including a bowl win, 5 SEC wins, and our first home victory over Tennessee in 30 years in an utter blowout – our best overall record since 1915.  This year, despite losing our starters at QB and punter, our top DB, and the best running back in school history, we racked 9-4 again.  First back-to-back nine-win seasons ever.  First back-to-back wins over Tennessee wince 1926, in an epic come-from-behind road victory led by a QB with a brace protecting a torn ACL. First win over Florida since 1988, in the Swamp (where it was the first win since 1945). First appearance on SEC on CBS in twenty years.  First win on CBS in 30 years, another come-from-behind win over Georgia led by our then-third-string QB.  A 24-point lead in the bowl game at halftime, blown completely by the end of the third and finished with 17 unanswered points.  Vanderbilt has as many bowl wins since James Franklin arrived as they’d accumulated from 1890 to 2010.

And let’s not understate this.  Since the establishment of the BCS in 1998, some of the teams that made it there include Purdue, Maryland, Georgia Tech, Utah, Pitt, Hawaii, Wake Forest, Baylor, UConn, Northern Illinois, Boise State, Central Florida, and of course Stanford, which clocked three Rose Bowls in that span.  Look further back, and since 1986, Duke’s won an ACC title (under Steve Spurrier in 1990) and Cal’s won a share of the Pac-10 title (in 2006) and Tulane’s had a 12-0 season (in 1998) and Northwestern’s been to the Rose Bowl twice.  That’s all in the 25 year span from 1986 to 2010.

And in that entire stretch of time, Vanderbilt’s best regular season record was 6-6.  Once.  They went to one bowl game, that very year in 2008, all of four miles away from campus in their same town, and won 16-14 in a game where their punter was MVP. Hell, they won a whopping five games twice in a four-year span from 1991-94, and it was a good enough record for LSU to poach away Gerry Dinardo as head coach.

Fans around the country can moan and weep and point at their collective futility over time, but no one – no one – enjoyed a longer stretch of uninterrupted despair in college football than the Vanderbilt Commodores.  And it was that perennial basket case, that tire fire, that toxic waste dump of a program that James Franklin has delivered to back-to-back 9-win seasons with bowl victories and triumph over the archrival…in a span of three seasons.

And he’s only turning 42 years old on Groundhog Day. If you are an athletic director or general manager with a head coaching vacancy, and you don’t at least call down to Nashville and make an inquiry, you’re probably too stupid to be running a football program.  Not to be chasing James Franklin would be an act of professional malpractice.


It’s really hit the Kubler-Ross stages in order, let’s face it:


1) DENIAL. “He’s not going anywhere. He’s got a contract. He’s made commitments to these players. It would fly in the face of his whole entire shtick if he left now. The NFL isn’t going to hire a guy with only three years’ head coaching experience, especially all in college.”

2) ANGER. “Fuck you for assuming we’re a stepping stone.  Fuck you for assuming everybody’s dying to leave Vanderbilt for a real job.  Fuck you for treating us like an afterthought when we’re out there kicking your ass on the field and in recruiting. Fuck you, fuck you, FUCK YOU.”

3) BARGAINING. “It’s got to be a leverage thing. If we commit to building a new stadium, if we get the Board of Trustees on board and break ground already, if we just prove that we’re serious about this and it’s not a flash in the pan the way they treated it when Steve Sloan was here or when we lucked into bowls in 1982 and 2008, he’ll stick around.”

4) DEPRESSION. “He’s gone. We are so fucked. The dream is dead. Normal service will now be restored. We can never have nice things.  God hates Vanderbilt.”


…you know, the thing about Vanderbilt football, when you get to stage 5 it’s basically the same as stage 4.


The thing I’m worried about is this: even if he is coming back, the whole strung-out process, the trauma, the fans losing their minds every hour of every day…that’s the sort of thing that maybe you come back from, maybe you don’t. I worry that this is going to poison the fan base at a time when we need that fan base alive and active and fired up – and that the whole protracted saga is going to soak up and absorb and nullify any momentum from a triumphant weekend in Birmingham and another top-25 finish.  It’s like calling off the engagement without ending the relationship – maybe you get back there, but maybe you don’t.

And the other problem is that we went through this last year.  Not to the same extent, but we did go through it (and hell, we even went through a little of it after that first 6-7 year, because 6 wins at Vanderbilt is enough to make other folks come calling.  Or was.)  If he returns next year, and if McCrary or Carta-Samuels the Younger is a stud at QB, and if the young guns in the secondary come through, and if the senior-heavy offensive line can pave the way for a stable of talented running backs, and Vanderbilt somehow breaks through a down SEC to win 10 games and play on New Year’s Eve or New Years’ Day…how much louder is the clamoring going to get?

And make no mistake, no contract will ever stop the clamoring. ESPN’s got Franklin’s bags already packed for State College, once they unpacked them from Austin. Every other school has spent two years telling recruits “Don’t go to Vanderbilt because Franklin won’t be there for long.” If we’re always waiting for the other shoe to drop, that will affect casual fans, it will affect donors, it will create a cloud of doubt that will act as a drag on the program until the day James Franklin finally leaves and the rest of the world gets to bellow a triumphant “TOLD YOU SO” to a crushed fan base in black and gold.  Or until Vanderbilt swoons back to five wins…and the same thing happens.

Honestly, there’s no solution. Franklin could come back, announce he’s going to leave Nashville only in a pine box, win a national championship, and people will be saying that now he’s sure to leave Vandy for a real program.  And at no point has Franklin said a single thing that points to him leaving…but then, right now he hasn’t said anything that clearly points to him staying either.  And because we’re Vanderbilt, we’re expecting the worst.  We’re Charlie Brown lining up to kick the football, we’re Wile E. Coyote trusting that this shipment from Acme will finally be the one that gets the job done, we’re the eternal schlimazel of college football waiting for the soup to get spilled in our lap.

Maybe our lot in life will change.  But it isn’t going to be this offseason.

That Game

A lot of things have gone sideways in the last 24 hours of my life, so I want to get this down while it’s still somewhat fresh in my memory and I still have the reflected memory of what went down this past weekend.

I didn’t want to go.  I mean, I did, but I was slipshod on the planning (bailed out heavily by my lovely bride) and that usually leads to continuing anxiety as events get closer and closer without plans settled. Plus it’s Alabama, and the obligations of family, and there’s stress that goes with that.  Plus flying, of course.  But most of all, I think there was just the creeping fear that we’d lose, that it would be another thoroughly demoralizing experience like the Holiday Bowl in 2004 – that a team done wrong by the vagaries and politics of the bowl system would trip up and make it all for naught.

Oh me of little faith.  But more on that in a bit.

The first 24 hours after arrival were tied up with discharging family obligations, except for the mad dash to the coach’s call-in show.  Siri almost let me down, but then got my rental car to the right spot, and lo and behold – a bar, in Birmingham, completely full of Vanderbilt fans.  I saw all sorts of VIPs, I saw several players’ parents, and of course I saw Coach Franklin – I told him I’d gotten up at 3:45 AM in San Francisco to make it there, and he shook my hand vigorously and looked me in the eye with a smile and said “Glad you were able to make it.”  And I let it go at that, because he was working the whole entire room and I didn’t want to make an ass of myself, but he sure as hell didn’t look or sound like a guy with one foot out the door.

So anyway…Friday lunchtime, I finally meet up with my crew, and we decide that we need to pre-game the pep rally in Five Points South.  Long story short, we parked ourselves at J. Clyde’s, on Cobb Lane – a cobblestoned back alley that houses some secluded shops and restaurants.  I know that twenty years ago, a bar called the Back Alley Pub was a traditional senior night college spot…well, it turns out that we were in the former Back Alley Pub.  Better late than never.  They had an amazing selection of beers on tap – and this is an endorsement for Good People Brewing, the Birmingham craft brewery whose goods and services can stand up to any and every beer maker in America, for my money.

The pep rally itself was right on the corner of Highland and 20th, where they closed the streets for both teams.  That was the first indication that there were going to be some Vandy fans in town…they were swarming.  In short order, I was handed a Yuengling and introduced to a couple of players’ mothers, which led to doing a couple of shots with said players’ mothers after it got dark but before the pep rally started.  Which was pretty smart, because it got pretty damn cold out there.  But I looked around me and it was just black and gold as far as the eye could see, and everybody was wearing our logo and our colors and our name.

So after Franklin warmed up the crowds and introduced the new Mr. C (younger, bigger eyes, black hair, still creepy as hell), our by-now-enormous posse commandeered the shuttle bus to Dreamland.  Ribs, sweet tea, recovery time, and – ridiculously – a Birmingham barbecue joint packed FULL of Vanderbilt fans, occasionally letting rip with the Anchor Down cheer (I freely admit to leading four of them on the shuttle back from Dreamland to Five Points. The ride is three-quarters of a mile) and a huge chorus of “WHO YA WIT” as we rushed out the door.

Back through J. Clyde for a nightcap, and the most Vandy Lifestyle question ever: “Does anybody else think the new $100 bill looks like canned ass?”  And a comical incident with the next table over asking something about a cheer, which I promptly led everyone back into…yeah, we were kind of That Table.  But the thing is, the place was crammed with Vanderbilt fans.

You may be seeing a theme here.

Saturday morning, we get dropped at Legion Field.  Some walking around, and then the NCC official tailgate, and they have to pull an entire side off the huge tent to get everyone in. There are refreshments, and cheers, and barbecue and mimosas, and we formed up a HUGE contingent for Star Walk as the team went from bus to locker room (kicker Carey Spear actually had on an WWII army helmet).  Oh yeah, and Zac Stacy was in the crowd with us cheering the team on. And we get ourselves good and revved up before entering Legion Field – the same place where I used to watch the World League of American Football, or the CFL, or the XFL.

The announced crowd was 42,000, and that sounds about right.  But it was easily 90% Vanderbilt.  It was loud and rowdy and black and gold, and really felt like what the Vanderbilt home game experience should be like (aside from scoreboards and screens that haven’t been touched since Olympic soccer in 1996 and are barely suitable for a high school game). And we got to see Jordan Matthews deliver two touchdowns in the first half, and a 24-point lead in the first half…and a collapse in the third quarter and a 24-24 tie at the end of three.

And then we got to see Brand New Vandy, a team that takes care of business in the fourth quarter, and 17 unanswered points nailed down the victory behind dogged running from Seymour and Kimbrow and ferocious defense from the Black Death (and another hero interception by Andre Hal). And we won our ninth game for the second year in a row for the first time ever, and we were pretty sure we would finish in the top 25, and we were right.

The thing is…the thing I take away from this whole weekend…is that I may have finally, conclusively, once-and-for-all filled in the black hole of having no college friends.  This felt like I was going back to the game and seeing the old crowd and hanging out with people and having a good time – and because it was in Birmingham, I knew my way around and knew where to tell people to go and had memories and stories I could tell of this bar or that restaurant or what used to be around that corner.  For the first time, the whole package from those seven years could be rolled up and recycled for the weekend, and that was something I never expected to feel.

It was a triumph.

Unfortunately, the crisis in Nashville meant we didn’t get to enjoy it and relish it like we should, as we remain on tenterhooks to see whether we’ll still have a coach tonight or tomorrow or the next day, and it’s not sounding too good.  But for one weekend, Vanderbilt football was perfection.  And it’s something I won’t soon forget.