When people sit around the water cooler or the lunch table and speak of "one for the ages", they usually tend to discuss specific games. If you are a Hokie fan you talk about the Sugar Bowl on January 4, 2000, a game that surprised everyone but fans of the orange and maroon. If you are a Pittsburgh Penguins or Philadelphia Flyers fan, you talk about the five-overtime marathon game that was played a few weeks ago well into the morning hours. But in my own little world, warped as it may be, my "one" for the ages was the entire 1999-2000 Virginia Tech athletic season.
Ok, all of you out there reading this take a second and think back to last August. Now, remember the fuss about a certain young gun at quarterback named Michael Vick. Is everybody still with me? All right, now raise your hands if you thought this phenom would lead our football team to an undefeated regular season and a berth in the national championship game. No takers? I didn’t think so. I guess I’m not the only one who was pleasantly surprised.
Next in line is basketball. Without all the fuss, how many of you thought this team, with only a handful of seniors and a new coach, would have a winning record? I thought so…not too many of you.
Lastly, how many of you expected the women’s basketball team to get to the postseason, the baseball team to win another league Atlantic 10 championship and the Big East all-sports membership odyssey to reach it’s final "yea" vote? Sure, the women’s hoops team was solid and looking to get to the NCAA’s. Yes, the baseball team has performed well in the past five years and looked to continue the tradition this season. And okay, the Big East membership was going to end sometime, with most of us thinking in a manner favorable to the university.
My point is, wrap all this up together: the women’s hoops, the men’s hoops, the Big East all-sports membership, the baseball team and a run to the national championship…whew! Looking back as a whole, we had a very good year. Not only is that a mouthful, but ladies and gentlemen, that is serious Sears Cup credentials. By the way, for those that don’t know, the Sears Cup is given to the athletic program that accumulates the most pre-determined points in a given year, an honor that signifies being the best program in the country. Stanford wins it every year (that’s sarcasm), but this year has the Hokies in the midst of their best-ever showing.
When I think about what our football team accomplished last year, it still blows me away. I remember fondly (I was just talking about it the other day) my trip to New Orleans with my college buddies. I remember Bourbon Street and all the happy Virginia Tech fans. I remember driving from Northern Virginia to New Orleans and seeing car after car of maroon and orange fans. I remember above all else the pride that I felt when cheering my team off the field following arguably the best national championship game ever played.
It’s funny really, because only a few years ago, people asked me where I went to school. I of course would answer, "Virginia Tech."
People would smile and nod, but it was only sports fans, in particular football fans, that really knew of Virginia Tech. I would talk about how we had beaten Miami the past few years in a row, not realizing that I was actually defending my school in a way; trying to justify that my alma mater was indeed a fine academic institution, as well as one with an excellent athletic program.
Fast forward to today when I met a new intern at work and she politely asked me where I went to school. "Virginia Tech," I exclaimed, in the same fashion I have for the past three years. She then proceeded to tell me of a friend of hers who goes there now, and how nice it is and how much this friend likes it down there. This may not seem like much, but when you live in Buffalo, it’s nice to talk about Tech with someone…instead of listening to Syracuse fans complain about how last year was a fluke. Sorry kids, 62 to NOTHING is still 62 to nothing, see you in the Dome!
When I left work, I started to think about how the whole scenario was kind of nice. Because of what our football team has done over the years, in particular last season, people from all over now know of Virginia Tech. I see people around Upstate New York who know of Tech, and it continues to be noticeably more prevalent than when I moved here a few years ago. The football team has acted as a catalyst for what continues to be a journey into the upper echelon of college sports. I said it before and I’ll say it again, buckle up and enjoy the ride.
With the membership into the Big East for all sports wrapped up, it is time to look to the future and really see what we can look forward to. After all, with an affiliation to just one conference and all the benefits that come with that, finally Virginia Tech fans can say they have arrived, because now we truly have a home.
Football: Our bread and butter…I don’t see us dropping off anytime soon. As long as Frank Beamer and Company continue to do what they’ve done over the past decade, Hokie fans will continue to bask in the warm glow of a perennial power in college football. Add in the fact that this year, five Hokies were drafted and as many as seven more may sign as free agents, you can see right away this program continues to excel at an incredible pace.
Men’s Hoops: Ricky Stokes has a full plate, not to mention the off-court issue with Rolan Roberts. Even though we enter the Big East basketball conference on the bottom, it will only be a matter of time before this team is contending. With all the good that has come from our athletic program, and the windfall all other sports have reaped because of football’s success, I don’t see the Hokies being cellar dwellers for too long.
Women’s Hoops: Bonnie Henrickson has already put together a squad that can compete with national powers. When you play teams like Duke, UVA and George Washington to name a few, you are way ahead of the game. Sure UConn looms ahead on the schedule, but to be the best you have to play and beat the best, and Coach Henrickson's team is more than ready to contend for a title in our new conference.
Baseball: Three out of the last five A-10 championships…need I say more. Chuck Hartman has done a great job with this program, and a number four seed in the upcoming NCAA tournament isn’t all bad either. The team runs into a much better conference next season, with teams like Rutgers and Notre Dame leading the charge. The baseball team won’t get anything easy, but like women’s hoops, Coach Hartman has built a solid foundation, and I expect any growing pains to be short lived.
And these are just the most visible sports. Take nothing away from softball, track and field, golf, volleyball and wrestling. Every sport at Tech continues to get better year in and year out. Being in a bigger and better conference will only help the programs we have. Growing pains are inevitable, but you have to start somewhere.
The baseball team will conclude the athletic season soon, and as June approaches, so too does football. We will all look forward to August 27th, when the Hokies begin their season against the "Ramblin’ Wreck" from Georgia Tech in hopes of a repeat of last year. From everything I’ve heard, we have little reason to think any differently, except of course to be superstitious and take one game at a time.
The bigger picture, however, paints a much more beautiful portrait, one of bright colors and hopeful thoughts. You see, when football starts it will officially begin a new era and officially end the best year ever in Virginia Tech athletics. And thirty years down the road, when we sit around the lunch table or congregate at the water cooler, we will remember the year 2000 as being one for the ages.
Greg Kehr is a Marketing Coordinator for Empire Sports in New York and writes about Hokie sports from the Northern perspective.
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