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The Vanderbilt Commodores football team represents Vanderbilt University in the sport of American football. The Commodores compete in the Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) of the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) and the Eastern Division of the Southeastern Conference (SEC). They play their home games at Vanderbilt Stadium, located on the university's Nashville, Tennessee campus.
Vanderbilt and the University of Nashville played the first college football game in the state of Tennessee in 1890. In 1894 Vanderbilt was among the seven founding members of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association. Just after the turn of the century, the team enjoyed fairly substantial success, with a composite record of 20–3–2 from 1901 –1903. That same year, Vanderbilt began one of its oldest rivalries: the Vanderbilt-Ole Miss rivalry. Even so, Dan McGugin's arrival as coach from his brother-in-law Fielding H. Yost's Michigan program in 1904 showed an immediate impact. The 1904 squad outscored its opposition by 474 to four in winning all nine games. McGugin's tenure spanned the years 1904–17 and 1919–34 with a record of 197–55–19.
In 1922, Vanderbilt hosted the University of Michigan to inaugurate Dudley Field. The game ended in a 0–0 tie and figures prominently in the program's history. VU football historian Bill Traughber chronicles the event:
The game between Vanderbilt and Michigan had a carnival-like atmosphere.
Dignitaries and politicians were invited to participate at Dudley Field, the largest football-only stadium in the South at that time. The guest of honor for the dedication game was Cornelius Vanderbilt, the great-great grandson of the university's namesake.
Accompanied by his wife, Vanderbilt arrived at Nashville's Union Station on the morning of the game, his first trip to the city. The day's first event was a luncheon for the young Vanderbilt couple, which was held at the Hermitage Hotel and hosted by Vanderbilt University Board of Trust.
Thousands of Vanderbilt students and alumni met downtown for a parade with Tennessee Governor Alf Taylor riding in the lead automobile. Decorated in orange and black, their automobile began the parade at Twelfth and Broadway, weaving through the side streets to a reviewing stand at the foot of the Capitol Building.
A young Earnest Albert Craft, born in 1898, employed with the construction team that built the Dudley Field wooden stands was in attendance the day of the game vs. Michigan. Earnest was called on to raise the first American flag during the national anthem. Later, Rev. Earnest Albert Craft would become city councilman of in the West Nashville area and 40 year pastor of Sylvan Park Free Will Baptist Church in Nashville. Clippings of this event are documented in archives of the old Nashville Banner newspaper. A copy of this newspaper account is held today by grandson by adoption, Albert D. Mitchell. Albert, named after E. A. Craft, lives on the west side of Nashville in Bellevue. He was a graduated of Cohn High School and later return to teach and coach at Cohn High School, finally retiring from the Metro Nashville School system in 1898.
1922 was also the year that Vanderbilt entered the Southern Conference as a charter member. The Commodores tied for the conference championship in 1922 and 1923 and continued to finish in the upper half of the conference standings for the next decade.
In 1932, Vanderbilt—at the pinnacle of its athletics dominance in the South joined the other SoCon schools south and west of the Appalachians in founding the Southeastern Conference. The other charter members were Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Ole Miss, Tennessee, Auburn, LSU, Mississippi State, Sewanee, Georgia Tech, and Tulane.