Just the Beginning
By Greg Kehr, 1/12/00

A week has passed since the biggest and most exciting game in Virginia Tech history was played. Our beloved Hokies went down to New Orleans and almost came away with the biggest prize of all. No, not a stellar performance on the craps table in Harrah’s Casino, resulting in thousands of dollars, numerous trips to the buffet (which wasn’t bad), and a limousine ride home. No, the biggest prize was the Sears Trophy. And last Tuesday night, in the Louisiana Superdome, amongst the largest gathering of Hokies ever at a bowl game, the Hokies almost did it. A few plays here, a few plays there, with the crowd we had, we may still be dancing up and down Bourbon Street.

As much as it still pains me to think that we actually lost a game, this week has allowed me to reflect on what happened down on the Bayou, in the city known as the Big Easy, in a game that was anything but.

I left from my home in Buffalo to meet the rest of my buddies in Washington, DC (I guess that would be NOVA for the locals). Before arriving in NOVA though, I had to stop in Northern Pennsylvania to drop off the dog with my family, and then travel to Hoboken, NJ, a stones throw across the Hudson from the Big Apple, to pick up a member of my crew. Of course, the Big Apple meant nothing on this trip. It was a mere rest stop on my way to the Big Easy, for the Big Game, and a Big Chance to win the Big Cell Phone, in the Nokia Sugar Bowl and the corresponding National Championship.

Our 17-hour odyssey, and I mean odyssey in every sense of the word, began at 8 PM on New Year’s night. Let me preface right now, nothing illegal happened to us, but when you drive straight for more than 15 hours with the same group, trust me, you’d call it an odyssey too. Onward we go!

For some of you, driving was not an option. Flying down was the only way to go. It was the quicker, albeit more expensive mode, of transportation. If I had to do it all again, I wouldn’t change a thing. Here we were, in our rented Chevy Astro Van, packed to the top with bags, pillows, food, a radar detector, more Nokia Cellular Phones than they had in the hospitality tent at the game, a lap top computer with DVD player, a boom box, and topping it off, crazy hats for the driver and passenger to wear while driving. If you passed us anywhere between I-81 and I-10 in Louisiana, you’d probably remember it. The only thing we lacked were the VT magnets that I had lost on the ride to Northern Virginia.

Our first real sign of Hokie spirit, and I mean it quite literally, was in Tennessee, at least I think. I was awakened in the early morning hours by the rumble strips on the side of the road. The video camera was on, the van was stopped, and out on our right was a giant billboard that said simply "GO HOKIES!" It mentioned the Sugar Bowl, and may have even said something more at the very bottom, but the upper one-third said it all, in big maroon letters, it screamed what all VT fans held so close to there maroon and orange hearts.

It started in Virginia, but now in Tennessee and continually for the remainder of the trip, we would see, whom I’ll call, "the green Saturn" guy. As far as Hokies go, this car had it all. The spray painted windows, the magnets, the flags; this car was without a doubt the lead car in the parade. You throw the Hokie Bird in as the Grand Marshal, and this car had a weekend gig. Our paths crossed numerous times, the final time being the most impressive.

Now, during my driving stint, through the hills of southern Tennessee and Northern and Central Alabama, we passed more and more Hokies on the road. Almost as many as you see on I-81 coming back from Thanksgiving break. It was dark and late, but there was no shortage of VT fans out in the middle of the Alabama pines, on their own separate trips to see Michael Vick and Company put a hurting on the ‘Noles. It was times like these, passing fans, their vehicles screaming GO HOKIES, that I really wish I hadn’t lost those damn magnets. Tinted windows, riding at night, the only thing we could’ve done to show our school spirit was hang out the windows. However every one was sleeping, and me hanging out the window probably would’ve gotten us a night in jail next to Randall "Tex" Cobb.

It was nearing 5 AM, we spotted a rest stop, and I proceeded to navigate our "sweet" ride toward the bathrooms. When it’s this early in the morning, you don’t expect to see anybody else at the rest stop. But we ran across a little bit of Hokie-Heaven in Central Alabama on this night. I pulled into a spot across from at least six or eight fully decked-out VT vehicles. And guess who was in the middle, "the green Saturn guy!" Not only did he have the most decorated car in the group, but also the most talented. As I stepped out of the van, video camera in hand, I noticed the green Saturn was playing a tune. Yep, you guessed it, the Hokies fight song! H-O-K-I-E-S, HOKIES!! I hummed along, smiling ear to ear, proud to have stumbled upon this little bit of Blacksburg, transplanted into the middle of the ‘Bama night. Sure the stewardess will throw peanuts at you on the plane, but you aren’t getting her to sing the fight song at 30,000 feet, I can guarantee that. As the small convoy of V’s and T’s pulled away, we did what we stopped to do, jumped back in the car, and continued without incident to the great state of Louisiana.

We arrived in New Orleans around 11:30 AM on Sunday and inching closer and closer to downtown, I was the first to spot our final destination. The world’s largest mound of concrete, the Louisiana Superdome, loomed before us. Don’t get me wrong, it is an impressive structure, just not that pretty to look at. Besides, it was the beauty we wanted to see on the inside that really mattered.

Into the French Quarter we went, with the camera rolling, the windows down, and the sunglasses on. Even before noon on a Sunday, Bourbon Street was bustling with Hokie fans of all ages. Old and young, short and tall, some wearing #7 jerseys and some just sporting a simple skin tattoo, the essence and excitement of the national championship was upon us. But it wasn’t until later in the evening that we would get a special treat in N’awlins.

There were four of us now, walking up and down Bourbon Street, the hours ticking by slowly, from Sunday to Monday. And as we stumbled upon a large mass of people, more so than normal, we made our way to the entrance to Fat Tuesday’s. We had spent the day drinking and eating, laughing and carrying on with fellow Hokies, insisting that this was our town, our street, and our turn to show the big boys how the new kid on the block is going to play. Almost no Seminole fans had been heard from, and definitely not here, not now. This crowd was even more rabid than the last we had seen. Hokie chants, yelling, screaming, girls on shoulders bearing all to receive beads from above. Was this heaven? In a way, yes. More importantly, it was a group of fans that we wanted to mingle with.

A buddy of mine moved toward the street, through fans standing about two or three deep to get a glimpse of the upper balcony directly above our heads.

"IT’S KIRK HERBSTREIT," he yelled, pointing upward into the night sky. Well, the other three of us had to get a look, of course. Kirk may not be a national hero to all, but when you bleed for college football, and your team is in the biggest of games, Mr. Herbstreit is about as close to God as you can get. We moved toward the street, out from underneath the balcony, and peered up. No, it wasn’t God…but it was the Three Wise Men, Kirk and his buddies Lee Corso and Chris Fowler! We had struck a gold mine! We had seen these three all year long on ESPN, week after week, win after win, continue to pump up our beloved program. During it all, becoming legends in the eyes of Hokie fans everywhere. They were our own little PR squad, daring any nay-sayers to bring their ammo, only to be turned back by our fearless silver-haired leader, his simple yellow pencil and his famous phrase, "not so fast, my non-believing in Blacksburg magic, friend!" or any other rendition you see fit. Unbelievable, the GameDay crew, only ten feet above us, throwing beads, smiling and laughing, enjoying the party just as much as the giant mass of Hokie faithful below.

On the gating above us, at "Club ESPN", someone had two homemade helmets, one Hokies and one Florida State. The next hour consisted of Chris, Lee and Kirk taking turns pointing at each helmet, a chorus of boo’s for one, uncontrollable and unstoppable cheering for the other. Sometimes slow, boooooooooo…yeeeeeaaaaahhhhhhh!!!!! Sometimes fast…boo, yeah, boo, yeah, boo, yeah!! No matter how many times they pointed, the crowd below them, the crowd we were a part of, obliged with volume you couldn’t find anywhere else. Thrown into the mix were chants and cheers for a VT victory. Even separate cheers for Chris, Lee and Kirk. Every single one, letting them know, this group of fans down on the street appreciated all the good hype and good news that this trio had brought our school all season long. We slept well Sunday night, readying for the onslaught of Seminole fans we would surely run across on Monday.

And did they come in droves! We had gone from a block party straight from B-Burg, to what seemed like downtown Tallahassee. Now walking down Bourbon Street, or any other street for that matter, wasn’t the walk in Hokie splendor that it had been yesterday. I heard chants of F-L-O-R-I-D-A, S-T-A-T-E, Florida State, Florida State, Florida State, wooo! It all reverberated in my ears. The Seminole chant and tomahawk chop was in full effect. This was what it was all about. Our town was now their town, and vice versa. The new comers had come early, but now it was time for the veterans to show up. Every restaurant, every bar, every shop…everywhere you turned, you saw red and gold. Now for every cheer to a Hokie fan, you had at least five boo’s coming at you from all sides, courtesy of the ‘Noles. I lost my voice during the course of Monday evening, defending the honor of my alma mater, proclaiming a battle the next day, a battle that would hopefully end in sweet victory for Hokie fans.

It was Tuesday. It was now time for the game. The days and weeks of anticipation were over; it was time to finally settle it on the field. We walked amongst fans from both teams up Poydras Street. The weather had turned chilly, but in the Superdome it was about to heat up. I’ll admit, I had the best seat in the house. And what went from good to bad to worse, back to good, to "oh my god, we’re going win it!", to oh no, and finally, to defeat, I couldn’t help but shake this awful feeling of loss. The emotional roller coaster that I had just endured ended in unacceptable fashion. Florida State fans celebrating and Hokie fans watching in disbelief, wide-eyed, almost as if to say, "So that’s what it’s like." We left the Superdome, beaten and saddened. Our ride was over.

But over the next two days, in which I spent driving in a car, all the way home to Buffalo, I had much time to reflect on the season. It continued during the week, reading newspaper articles, watching highlights and listening to the masses break down the game. Sure the game was played and won on the field, but just like this piece, it wasn’t only about the game. It was about being part of the hype, being part of the feeling that goes along with being the best. It was about being part of a team, not just rooting for one, but adding to it, the coaches, the players, the staff, the students, the alumni, and so on. It was ultimately about being part of something so special, that one of the reasons it hurt so much was because we don’t know if we’ll ever feel it again. I for one think we will.

Our six-man team…our odyssey began 17 hours away from our final destination. Some traveled longer distances and others didn’t. To everyone who made the trip though, it doesn’t even come close to comparing to the odyssey that our football team and our school is in the midst of embarking on right now. It may hurt for a little while, but it’ll pass. After all, this is just the beginning.

Greg Kehr is a Marketing Coordinator for Empire Sports in New York and will be writing on Hokie sports from the Northern perspective.


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