NASHVILLE, Tenn. — For Jimmy Mullinax, a lifelong devotion to Vanderbilt Athletics began with a sandwich.
A loaf of bread, to be more accurate.
The wrapper, to be precise.
As a kid growing up in South Carthage, Tennessee, about an hour east of Nashville, Mullinax had often asked his dad to take him to a Commodore football game. His father, a factory worker in Lebanon, Tennessee, often regaled the family with stories of legendary Vanderbilt players and teams – and Tommy Mullinax wanted to see a game for himself.
When Jimmy Mullinax found a coupon for discount tickets on a bread wrapper one day, he was finally able to convince his dad to take him to a Commodore football game: Oct. 7, 1978 vs. Tulane.
It wasn’t the greatest game – VU lost 38-3 – but for the 13-year-old Mullinax, the score didn’t matter. Sitting in the South End Zone, Mullinax was wowed by the sights and the sounds, the pageantry of college football. He was hooked – a Vandy fan for life.
Five years later, he bought season tickets of his own, a habit that lasted for 17 years. With or without season tickets, he and his wife and kids remain regulars at Commodore sporting events in multiple sports, whether at home, on the road, at bowl games or in Omaha, Nebraska.
At an NCAA Super Regional game at the University of Illinois in 2015, Mullinax got hit in the face by a foul ball, requiring 17 stitches. He was back in his seats the next day, a mini-celebrity posing for photos with Vanderbilt head coach Tim Corbin and the student-athletes with a wide, stitched-up grin.
When Mullinax returns home after working the day shift at a factory in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, reminders of his Vandy fandom are everywhere: Commodore Game programs, coffee mugs, Thermos bottles, autographed posters and photos all over the house, stuffed into closets, stored in the garage.
Mullinax recalls the time former Vanderbilt head football coach Woody Widenhofer let him wear his Steelers Super Bowl ring; the time he placed second in a rib-eating contest prior to the BBVA Compass Bowl in Birmingham, Alabama, in 2014; the time he was able to eat lunch with former Vanderbilt head football coach Bobby Johnson; the time he and his daughter led the Vandy cheers at a Liberty Bowl pep rally; the time he saw the women’s basketball team beat Tennessee to win the SEC Tournament in Chattanooga, Tennessee; the time he purposely served up a gopher ball in a slow-pitch softball game to former Vandy quarterback Whit Taylor (and then got Taylor to sign the ball).
He’s worn No. 00 on every recreational league softball or basketball team he’s played on since the 1980s in tribute to his favorite Commodore basketball player, Phil Cox.
But he says his favorite Vandy memory of all-time came in 2019 when he was on a road trip with his family. As they drove to Minnesota and over to Mt. Rushmore in South Dakota, the Vanderbilt baseball team was advancing their way through the College World Series.
“We kept saying, ‘We’re going to make it (to the championship), we’re going to make it,’ ” Mullinax recalled.
So on the morning the family visited Mt. Rushmore, they decided to cut their planned vacation short and detour to Omaha. They made it in time for Games 2 and 3 vs. Michigan, sitting in the outfield and holding up a Vandy flag in the front row just beyond the fence.
For Mullinax, victory was sweet. A former plant manager who cheered for another team had once triumphantly held up tickets to an NCAA championship game, boasting that he had something Mullinax never would – the opportunity to see his favorite team win a title.
As he watched the Commodores capture the College World series title in Omaha, Mullinax had reached the pinnacle of a lifetime of cheering for the Black and Gold, a passion that began with a bread wrapper in South Carthage.
“I finally did get those tickets to a Vanderbilt national championship game,” Mullinax recalled. “It was all worth it.”