ATLANTA — On Monday evening, atop the Glenn Hotel in downtown Atlanta, Robert Ransom spoke of his days as a Vanderbilt football player in the late 1960s.
His teams went 5-22-3 which, he admitted, wasn’t great. But the Commodores played a lot of close games and were perhaps better than their record showed, Ransom said.
Ransom’s son, also named Robert Ransom, played on the first Vanderbilt baseball team coached by Tim Corbin in 2003. The younger Ransom would be drafted by the Chicago Cubs and tried to make it in professional baseball before injuries derailed his career.
The elder Ransom told these tales while he and a rooftop bar full of other Vanderbilt alumni and fans waited for the guests of honor – Vanderbilt football head coach Clark Lea, quarterback Mike Wright, tight end Ben Bresnahan and linebacker Anfernee Orji.
Lin Stradley, a 1971 Vandy graduate, was eager to meet Lea. After all, Stradley remembers being in the stands in the early 2000s when this fullback no one had heard of entered the game and started opening holes and paving the way for Commodore running backs.
“That’s been one of the more energizing aspects of my Year 1 in this position is just that mission to connect the Vanderbilt football community. And it needs connection,” Lea said about Monday’s two-hour event. “This is a need that I saw externally that was really a mission-specific goal for me which is how do we become the tightest-knit group of football alums in the country? Me showing up is the first step in that.
“All these guys helped to build this program. There’s a part of them in our facility. I want to make sure they feel welcome and to be back and to be a part of something and have a sense of belonging with what we’re building. I get incredibly energy from those interactions because I get to be around people that care about Vanderbilt. That means a lot to me.”
When Lea and his student-athletes arrived each was immediately immersed in conversations ranging from the direction of the program, the state of the current roster and long history of Vanderbilt football. Quarterback Tim Olmstead, who played his final year before Lea arrived at Vandy as a player, was there, as was another former quarterback Tom Gray.
From the class of 1953, Vanderbilt University School of Engineering Distinguished Alumnus Howell Adams showed up. So did 2013 graduate and sports journalist Eric Single.
“It’s amazing because you see the legacy of Vanderbilt and you see how many people truly care about this program and believe in the future of this program,” Wright said. “As a player, when you have people in the past and people who are still invested and invested in you? It makes that drive a little better, it makes that drive to keep going even bigger.
“Just to meet them and shake their hands and actually put faces to names, it was amazing. The legacy of Vanderbilt football, the legacy of Vanderbilt the institution, how so many people care, how so many people are around you and believe in you – it makes your will a whole lot stronger.”
Vanderbilt has less than 10 days before it starts fall camp July 29. The Commodores are about one month away from departing Nashville ahead of the Aug. 27 opener at Hawai’i.
When Bresnahan, Wright and Orji put the uniform on that day they’ll have a further understanding of what it means to wear the black and gold.
“Obviously we play for the guys in the locker room and our families, but then it’s cool to see all the alumni we’re representing as well,” Bresnahan said. “Just trying to do the best we can for them.”
— Chad Bishop covers Vanderbilt Athletics for VUCommodores.com.
Follow him @MrChadBishop.