The last time Vanderbilt played Baylor University in football was 64 years ago on September 25, 1954 on the Commodores' field. This was the second clash between the schools and served as the first night game ever played at Dudley Field.
Next week on Dec. 27, the Vanderbilt football team will roll into Houston, Texas to play Baylor for the third time in the Academy Sports + Outdoors Texas Bowl at NRG Stadium. In the 1954 installment of the Vanderbilt-Baylor series, evangelist Billy Graham, who had held his crusade at Vanderbilt Stadium earlier that year, donated the permanent lights to the Commodores' stadium. It was reported that the lighting for nighttime football at Dudley Field was one of the best in the country. However, photographers tested their cameras the night before during a Baylor workout. They were not pleased with the darkness of their photographs; the equipment and film in those days were far behind the advanced technology used today.
Vanderbilt played its first night game in program history on October 28, 1933 in Baton Rouge, La. against LSU.
Quite a bit of comparison was made to the Nashville Vols baseball club (Southern Association) that played its first night game at the Sulphur Dell ballpark 23 years earlier. During this period of Commodore history, Vanderbilt's football attendance had been slipping due to poor records. Night games came into existence hoping to draw a larger number of fans, and players enjoyed playing in cooler temperatures at night.
In 1954, Vanderbilt's matchup with Baylor served as its season-opener with coach Art Guepe in his second year as the Commodores' coach. Baylor came into the game as a three-touchdown favorite and was coming off a walloping of Houston, 53-13. The year before, Baylor beat Vanderbilt 47-6 in Waco, Texas. Reports put the attendance at around 25,000 "screaming" fans as the 10th-
ranked Bears exited the tunnel to take on the Commodores.
The Commodores opened the scoring with their first possession of the game. The 82-yard drive was capped by halfback Charlie Horton's three-yard blast. Horton had eight carries during that initial drive for 31 yards. Quarterback Jim Looney completed his two passing attempts to continue the drive. A 29-yard pitch to end Joe Stephenson set up the Horton touchdown at the Baylor three-yard line. Vanderbilt took an early 7-0 lead.
After a Baylor fumble was recovered by Commodore defensive tackle Buck Watson, Vanderbilt would score more points on an 18-yard field goal by kicker Bobby Goodall. Vanderbilt now led 10-0.
Baylor came storming back. Baylor running back, L. G. Dupre, took the Vandy kickoff 34 yards to the Bears 44-yard line. A few plays later Dupre plowed through the Commodore line for a nine-yard touchdown. The point-after kick was wide. Vanderbilt held on to a 10-6 lead.
Early in the second quarter, Commodore quarterback Don Orr threw an interception to Baylor's defensive back Delbert Shofner at the Baylor 46-yard line. Dupre later scored his second touchdown on a three-yard run. The conversion was good and Baylor retook the lead 13-10 with 6:13 left in the first half.
Vanderbilt was held on its next possession. The Commodore punt sailed into the end zone, but Dupre attempted to run the ball instead of downing it. He was slammed to the ground at the Baylor six-yard line. Two plays later a Baylor pitchout was fumbled and Dupre was tackled in the end zone.
Vanderbilt end Terry Fails and tackle Jason Papuchis were credited with the Commodore safety. Vanderbilt closed the gap to 13-12. The Commodores were in good shape as they received the free kick. However, a Baylor interception gave the Bears a first down on their own 13-yard line.
Two running plays later, Baylor had the ball on the 34-yard line with 15 seconds remaining. A miracle pass from Baylor quarterback Bobby Jones to end Henry Gremminger covered the remaining 66 yards as time ran out. The kick was missed and Baylor went into the lockerroom with a 19-12-halftime lead.
Midway in the third quarter, Papuchis recovered a Bear fumble at the Baylor 27-yard line. It would take eight plays for Vanderbilt to score a touchdown on the short drive. Horton bulled his way into the end zone from the two-yard line. The conversion was good and the game was tied at 19-19.
Vanderbilt's defense gave Baylor a heroic effort until just before the end of the game. Vanderbilt was forced to punt from its own end zone where Dupre called for a fair catch at the Commodore 41-yard line. Keeping the ball on the ground, Baylor drove the ball to the 12-yard line.
An offsides penalty against the Commodores placed the ball on the seven-yard line. Three plays later, Jones smashed his way into the end zone for the winning touchdown with 1:37 to play. The conversion failed. Baylor led, 25-19.
Vanderbilt tried to score in desperation, but it was stopped and the game ended with Vanderbilt losing its first home night game.
Baylor rushed for 312 yards to Vanderbilt's 129. Dupre led the Bears with 92 yards in 20 carries. Shofner gained 88 yards in 12 attempts. Horton recorded 42 yards with 12 carries to lead Vanderbilt. Looney was 7-of-14 for 115 yards passing for the Commodores. The defensive leaders for Vanderbilt were Bobby Goodall, Watson and co-captain Pete Williams. Vanderbilt would go on to finish the 1954 season 2-7 (1-5, SEC).
One year earlier the Commodores played Baylor for the first time in Baylor Stadium in Waco, Texas, Guepe's first season as Vanderbilt's head coach. Vanderbilt entered that game 0-3 with the Bears ranked No. 8. The Bears blasted the Commodores 47-6. An estimated 17,000 fans sat in 82-degree weather on this October afternoon.
Vanderbilt did not score until the final 21 seconds of the game a 28-yard scoring pass from Billy Holmes to Horton. The Commodores were in Baylor territory only four times during the day once in each quarter. Vandy defensive back Bill Krietemeyer intercepted a Baylor pass in the opening quarter to the Bears' 36-yard line but a fumble two plays later gave the ball back to Baylor. Vanderbilt never threatened again the rest of the day.
The Bears got off to a fast start after picking up the Vandy fumble, marching 65 yards in six plays for the initial score. Baylor led 7-0. Vanderbilt was forced to punt on its next possession. Baylor kept the ball on the ground and marched to the Commodores' one-yard line ending the first quarter. On the first play of the second period, Baylor punched its way into the end zone and a 14-0 advantage.
Vanderbilt made its first first down of the day following the kickoff before punting from its own 38-yard line. Baylor was at it again starting a drive from its own 28-yard line and moving the ball to the Commodore seven-yard line. From that point, Baylor used a pitchout to score the six-pointer for a 20-0 lead as the point-after was wide.
A pass interception thrown by halfback Horton set up the Bears next touchdown at the Vandy 43-yard line. Baylor coach George Sauer changed quarterbacks but continued running the offense with success against Vandy, leading the Bears to another touchdown and a 26-0 lead as the extra point was missed. Baylor scored three more touchdowns for the 47-6 final.
Charley Horton was ultimately enshrined into the Vanderbilt Athletic Hall of Fame in 2015. In 1955, Horton was named an All-American, First Team All-SEC and SEC Back of the Year. He was also selected as Vanderbilt's SEC legend (1998).
The Commodores finished the 1953 season 3-7 (1-5, SEC).
Vanderbilt's third trip into the state of Texas took place on October 22, 1921 in Dallas against the University of Texas. The Commodores surprised the heavily favored Longhorns with a 20-0 victory. On the mind of legendary coach Dan McGugin (1904-34) was his former All-American quarterback Irby "Rabbit" Curry
. Curry (1913-16) who was born in Marlin, Texas. Curry joined the U.S. Flying School after graduating Vanderbilt during World War I, and he was shot down and killed during aerial combat over France near Chateau Thierry. Ahead of Vanderbilt's matchup with Texas in 1921, McGugin remembered Curry, the Texas native, in his pregame talk to his team:
"I am glad Mr. Curry is here," McGugin said. "Some of you knew Rabbit. We felt toward him the tenderness a mother feels towards her own little boy. He had a little slender body; he weighed only 128 pounds, but he had a heart as big as a loving cup over there on the mantel. He was modest; his life was absolutely clean; and what a fighter he was. His life was a great contribution to Vanderbilt —traditionally to our athletic traditions. The influence of his spirit will always abide. He always wanted to play with Vanderbilt against Texas. His body is resting only a few miles south of here, but his spirit is hovering above us now. Some of these days I want to see his likeness looking down our athletic fields. I am glad his father is here so that he can see, face-to-face, how we regard his son."
The original Dudley Field [present site of the Vanderbilt School of Law] was renamed Curry Field when the present Dudley Field was dedicated in 1922. Curry Field continued to be used for baseball and track.
If you have any comments or suggestions on the Commodore History Corner, contact Bill Traughber via email WLTraughber@aol.com.