Being a young boy from Carroll County, I was always a Virginia Tech fan. Then VT hired Frank Beamer and suddenly I knew that I would be forever linked to the university (since he is my cousin). I struggled through the years of frustration in football as a fan just an hour and a couple hills away. Yet, I had full confidence (mark it up to teenage enthusiasm and spirit) that Frank would turn the program around and would benefit all other sports at Tech. I had been coming to Virginia Tech games since 1981 and looked forward to the day I could go to every game in a given season at beautiful Lane Stadium.
Finally, I graduated from high school and upon early admission, I ran for sunny Blacksburg, VA. I was a Hokie legally now (since they owned me via tuition). My first vivid memory to VT football upon coming here was the Thursday night ESPN game versus West Virginia. The team thoroughly stomped the Mountaineers in front of what could only be described as a drunken crowd. My friends and I counted approximately 80 ambulances leave the stadium during the game, some of which came from the wild "Cup War" in sections 1-5…luckily, I was sitting just above that area.
Another memory of that game is of a student sitting just a few rows behind me throwing a Domino’s Pizza box into the air and watching it slowly but surely drift down to the West Virginia sideline, whereupon it hit a WVU player square in the head. Of course, later that season, we all witnessed the collapse of the football team offensively, including the Orange Uniform Debacle against UVA. I thought that would be as sick as I could get after watching a VT game…regretfully, I would be proven wrong a few years later.
Finally, the season ended at the Gator Bowl, my first bowl game, against young Peyton Manning and the Vomit Orange Vols of Tennessee. Although a fun experience, it was sad that my good friend was calling nearly every offensive play that VT ran before it happened (it was uncanny). Yet, near the end of the game, a man named Druckenmiller stepped onto the field and led VT to a couple of scores…a sure sign of things to come.
Luckily, our Hokie spirits rose once we could all focus on the basketball season. The team was amazing, especially considering they barely dressed any players. Yet the players we had were completely exciting: Shawn Good, Damon "D-Wat" Watlington, Travis Jackson, Shawn "Smitty" Smith, David Jackson, and of course Ace Custis. I will never forget the fun those players had on the court and the excitement they brought us as fans.
After all the hard work, VT gained a precious bid to the NIT. I attended every game at VT, including the thrilling game against New Mexico State. After arriving 3 hours before the game just to get a seat, I was able to witness the miraculous shot by Travis Jackson to win the game at the buzzer. Upon attempting to rush the floor along with everyone else, I was immediately sprayed with a 2-liter bottle of Pepsi by a student that had smuggled it in earlier…but I did not care in the least.
After that, the men went to Madison Square Garden and played two exciting games. After winning the title, campus erupted into a complete party. Walking (or running, I can never remember) downtown after the game and celebrating in Main Street was an amazing experience (and the looks on the police officers’ faces was priceless since they could barely control the situation).
Then, my sophomore year offered nothing less than more excitement. After losing to Boston College and dropping a rainy game against Cincinnati (yes, I sat through the entire game), I was fortunate to experience the rebirth of VT football with its first win against Miami. It was the third time I had seen VT play Miami in person (previously against Jim Kelly and then Gino Torretta).
After winning the game, I was one of the crazy ones jumping out of the stands from the 5-yard line point on the retaining wall down to the field (FYI, that is a long fall and is rough on the knees among everything else). I finally was able to stand on the turf of Lane Stadium and then walk through the tunnel and touch The Rock. The season was exceptional, including the fantastic game at UVA, by far the most exciting I have seen. The call by Bill Roth still excites me to this day when I replay it on my computer (Druckenmiller to Holmes); younger students just do not understand how exciting that game was unless you were there.
I was fortunate enough to go to the Nokia Sugar Bowl, whereupon we trounced Texas after a sluggish start. I had never visited New Orleans and was not able to take part in all of the frivolity of the Crescent City on that visit…I just promised myself that Tech would return one day and I would make up for my lack of "activity" on Bourbon Street, etc. I hoped that that promise would come true sooner rather than later (insert irony here).
VT fans were not given much time to rest since the same basketball team from my freshman year was torching other teams. Attending the basketball game against UMass when they were the top-ranked team in the country was nothing short of an orgy in Cassell Coliseum. I took my seat at center court in the third row behind the ESPN announcers and watched a true struggle…but our men had no answer for Marcus Camby that day. Then, to see the team move onto the NCAAs and receive a horribly disappointing #9 seed, whereupon we had to play #1 Kentucky in the second round (who went on to win the championship).
My junior year (1996-1997) was yet another fun year for the football team. Our only loss came at the dreaded Carrier No Ventilation Dome in Syracuse. We then attended the Orange Bowl where we were pitted against a powerful Nebraska team. Although we held our own early in the game, the sheer number of quality players for Nebraska eventually wore us down. Yet, the memories of Hokies on South Beach will live on forever in my mind. It was also this year that men’s basketball began to struggle with the loss of everyone but Ace Custis and the women’s team began to show signs of amazing things to come.
My senior year proved to be a disappointing one in terms of the finality of the football season. I also experienced the worst feeling I have had (to that point) when we lost to Miami of Ohio at Homecoming. Again, I attended the Gator Bowl, only to watch our team lose to a more powerful UNC team (boy, how things change!). That season to me was eerily reminiscent of the 1994 season when we had a struggling offense that collapsed at the end of the season. Yet, that spring, VT recruited a quarterback with a rifle arm named Michael Vick, who was "not as good as" his cross-town rival, Ronald "UVAhoo?" Curry. If we had foreseen what this man among children was going to do in a couple of years. Again, the women’s basketball team improved and seeing ‘Spoon, Katie O, Houseright, and the rest of the team beat opponents soundly signaled things to come in the following year.
Upon graduation in May 1998, I moved into graduate school at Virginia Tech and the sports memories continued to build. The football season had its rough moments, including my current (and hopefully last) worst experience in football when we lost to you know whom. I was sitting in the front row behind the opposing team, so it was a horrible experience all the way around. Yet, Al Clark pulled through and led the team to a resounding victory against vaunted Alabama at the Music City Bowl (yep, I was there) in a driving sleet/rain storm. From my perch at Vanderbilt Stadium, I saw the defense that was about to take the country by storm the following year through the eyes of Corey Moore and the silent power of John Engelberger.
Happiness struck again as I attended every home women’s basketball game. The team was dominant and the fans slowly filled to something I thought I would never see again at Cassell…a sold-out coliseum. The team ran through the A-10, including the 61-60 thriller at home against Xavier. I attended both NCAA tourney games at VT: the drubbing of mismatched St. Peters and the exciting game against SEC power Auburn. Auburn’s team, fans, and cheerleaders were not prepared for what hit them inside the boisterous Cassell.
I recall seeing some of the cheerleaders with complete shock on their faces at the noise we were making...if only VT fans could maintain that enthusiasm at every game. However, with our final acceptance into the Big East, I think this will become more of a reality. It was sad to see ‘Spoon, Katie O, Maria, Drinka, and Houseright play their final game at home, but to see them cut the nets down was the perfect send off to a date with destiny against Pat Summit’s Tennessee Vols.
Now, my final season…errrrr, year, at Virginia Tech. I shall not reflect too much on this year since the undefeated season and national championship are still fresh on our minds. I attended every game including the Sugar Bowl, making good on my promise to party it up in New Orleans (whew, I am still recovering). That "second-rate" quarterback from Newport News proved everyone wrong (except us diehard Hokie fans who saw the potential, including when he got into a skirmish with his roommate Ronyell Whitaker at last year’s Spring Game)….we shall just refer to him as Mr. Vick from now on.
My days as a Virginia Tech student are numbered, but I will never leave my days as a Hokie fan. I am just waiting for my season ticket application…I will see each and every one of you at Lane, Cassell, English, or wherever else Hokies step onto the plane of competition…Go Hokies!
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