A Night to Remember
By Will Stewart, HokieCentral.com, 8/28/00

It all seems like a dream now. Were we really all in Lane Stadium just last night? We couldn't have been, because I don't remember a game being played. I've got all the other memories -- the anticipation, the tailgating, seeing old friends, walking to the stadium, watching the team run out of the tunnel -- but I donít remember a game.

That's how strange it was to be in Lane Stadium last night. I think we're all used to rain delays in baseball and tennis, but football? Won't they play that sport in just about any kind of weather? Isn't that part of its charm? After all, I remember playing in a mud bowl game in ninth grade football. And I remember seeing film of the Hokies sloshing around in Rutgers back in 1995. Nothing stops football from being played, right?

That's what we all thought. So how weird is it to (a) get chased out of the stands by rain and lightning, (b) huddle there for over and hour, and (c) then be told to go home? Answer: it's bizarre. Just about anything can happen at a football game, but this doesnít happen very often. Not very often at all. And when it does, it takes a day or two for it to sink in.

And this isn't your garden-variety postponement like what they've had at Miami the last couple of years, in 1998 (UCLA) and 1999 (Temple). Those games were postponed in the days before they were supposed to happen, before the teams and fans were in the stadium. No, this postponement of the BCA game between VT and GT was an everyone-in-the-stands, TV-announcers-ready, both-teams-lined-up-for-the-kickoff cancellation. This was major footballus interruptus.

Being a former engineer, I'm into statistics and percentages. For example, given that the game was going to be postponed due to lightning (which is so unlikely that it's not even a blip on a chart of possible outcomes for a football game), what is the possibility that the postponement would occur with both teams lined up for the opening kickoff?

Well, let's assume that it takes all of two minutes for the teams to go out, line up, tee up the ball, and wait for the television network to be ready. And that's pushing it -- many times, that whole sequence of events takes just a minute.

But given that it takes 120 seconds for the teams to get ready for the kickoff, and given that there's a moment in time where a thunderstorm and its accompanying lightning are going to kick up at any point in that day, what's the chance that those two events would coincide like that?

Given all that, there's a 0.14% chance that a thunderstorm that hits at any given point in a 24-hour day will hit inside that two minute window. More precisely, there's a 0.0013889 probability that a thunderstorm with postponement potential will be cruel enough to pick the moments before the opening kickoff to manifest itself.

So the chance that we'll all be teased unmercifully like that, only to be sent home, is almost microscopic. You will never, I repeat never, see that again.

But marveling at statistical anomalies doesn't make anybody feel any better about the game's postponement, which is dangerously close to being a cancellation. Sources tell me that the BCA officials are working feverishly with VT and GT to schedule it for December 1st, but we'll just have to wait and see if that goes through.

When you think of the immense amount of work that goes into a football game, and then the game doesn't get played, it's a downer. And in this case, every single bit of work was done, and every single dollar was spent in preparation that was going to be spent. Broadcasters, players, coaches, media, and fans all spent massive amounts of money and time getting to the game, and to have it all be for naught is disheartening.

What made it even worse is that the rain and the subsequent cancellation of the game was only the beginning of the problems for most fans. As fans exited their seats and tried to squeeze in under Lane Stadium's massive concrete stands, most present did a very poor job of "squeezing." Many fans went down into the tunnels, got out of the rain -- and then stopped, leaving thousands behind them blocked, stranded out in the rain. Not only did those left behind get soaked, but they were in danger of getting struck by lightning.

The large amounts of police and security guards present made little to no effort to assist in crowd control or to keep the crowd moving and keep the tunnels clear so everyone could get out of the rain and out of danger. In fact, once the stands started to clear, there appeared to be no concerted effort made on the part of events staff and law enforcement officials to get together, organize themselves, and manage the situation.

In situations such as this, when an unusual set of circumstances presents itself, it's up to the proper officials to step up, establish control, and provide leadership, and that leadership was decidedly absent.

There simply appeared to be a total lack of communication and crowd management by stadium and law enforcement officials. Tech's massive new Jumbotron proved to be little help in keeping fans informed on what was going on, but then again, most of us were under the stands, where we couldn't see or hear it. Down there, the speakers that were installed last year and the year before to play the radio broadcasts stood silent sentinel to the crowds as well, offering no clue as to what fans were to do.

When word finally filtered down to the crowd that the game was canceled, it was passed from person to person, instead of someone stepping up, establishing themselves as someone in a position of authority, and bringing the fans up to speed on what was going on.

Do I have any idea if the powers that be had a plan of action and put that plan into place? No, I don't -- for all I know, they have contingency plans in a situation like this, and they acted exactly as they were supposed to. I know very little about event planning, crowd control, and law enforcement, so I can't critique their performance from an informed standpoint. But I can offer insight as a fan packed into the crowd underneath the stands, and from that standpoint, I was wholly unimpressed.

I'm not asking for much -- a guy in uniform, standing on top of a table or a truck and shouting out what was going on would have been nice. It would have made us all feel like someone was in charge. As it was, we stood around like cattle, wondering what was going to happen.

From there, it was a nightmare for many fans to get back to Interstate 81, or anywhere else, for that matter. I arrived back in Lot 6 at about 9:30 and watched cars that were trying to exit the lot sit still in traffic for about an hour and a half. They didn't crawl out slowly, as is common on game day -- they just didn't move at all. Many fans took three or four hours just to get back to Roanoke from Blacksburg.

This is a little bit more understandable. Number one, with the thunderstorms going on, I imagine that law enforcement and emergency officials were pretty busy, and traffic management, which is usually job one after a football game, probably slipped down the list of priorities. When combined with the bottleneck created by the construction at the new Spradlin Farms shopping center in Christiansburg, getting out of Blacksburg was a tough proposition. It was the worst post-game traffic I have ever seen in my years of going to Tech football.

So it was a night to remember, for all the wrong reasons. Going into the weekend, I anticipated that Monday morning, I would be reading everyone's breakdown of the game on the message board, as well as writing my own. I never guessed I would be reading complaints, lightning stories, and questions about whether or not we'll all get refunds if the game isn't played.

We were supposed to be poring over Michael Vick's stats and critiquing the performance of the defense, but instead, we're all left wondering if we just had a bad dream. And we're all left waiting one more week to see the debut of the 2000 Hokies.

Will Stewart is the founder and General Manager of HokieCentral.com.  He writes the News and Notes section, game previews, and game reports for HC, and generally runs the place with his prodigious and productive brain.

          

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