Pepsi Guy: Temple
by The Pepsi Guy, 10/12/00
Homecoming. To most schools an annual event in which alumni spend more time catching up with old college chums and reminiscing than worrying about the outcome of a football game. But, not at Virginia Tech, no not at Tech. This is the one game I worry the most about every year. I call it Homecoming anxiety. Not that our opponents are ever world-beaters, but after suffering through the Miami of Ohio and Temple debacles two years in a row, you learn not to take teams, any team, for granted.
Some would argue that after our absolute inhalation of Syracuse a year ago, we no longer have to worry, that our team and coaching staff have learned from those defeats. But, then again, I never thought there was a possibility we would lose to Temple after losing to Miami of Ohio the previous season.
Every year at this time, I pull out my old game programs from 1997 and 1998 just to remind myself how shocked and stunned I felt on those days. My heart sinks and a lump develops in my throat as I remember those games. Want to hear a pin drop in a stadium of over 40,000 people? Try watching a 30-point favorite lose at home not once, but twice. At the end of those games I'm certain someone on the west stands could have sneezed and most assuredly someone on the east side would have responded "Guzzuntite."
So I headed to the game with cautious optimism. Forty-four points, thirty-five points, or a one point victory, it didn't matter to me as long as my beloved Hokies took home the "W". Maybe after 40 Homecoming wins in a row, I'll be able to forget the trauma that has become so ingrained in my mind, but I doubt it.
And to make matter worse, I had sprained my ankle two days earlier, playing of all things football, and I wasn't sure I would be able to make it up and down the thousands of concrete stairs. I was afraid my streak of 45 consecutive starts as the Pepsi Guy was in jeopardy. But, as soon as my first drinks were poured and my strap wrapped snug around my neck from the weight of the tray, I knew there would be no denying me on this day.
There was a brisk wind swirling in the air and the thermometers struggled to reach 50 degrees. It was far from your ideal conditions to be selling Pepsi, but as the game began, I forgot about our Homecoming demons, forgot about my ankle, forgot about the less-than-ideal conditions because it was time for some Hokie football, the greatest thing on a fall Saturday afternoon.
The cannon fired and the game was underway. I found myself selling Pepsi outside the stadium to all the stragglers. Stragglers are always good for quick sales and a minimum of two to three drinks because they know the game has already started and they won't have time to buy a drink without missing any more priceless action.
Just as the smoke had cleared from the first blast, a second blast from Skipper almost immediately followed. A smile came on my face, as I knew the Hokies had the early seven-point lead.
I slowly made my way into the stands and saw my first action of the Temple game. Vick dropped back and threw a rope to Andre Davis. The only problem was the rope landed in between Dre's cleats. His next pass sailed widely into the chest of an Owl defender who was unable to hold on.
Some "Michael?" and "What's wrong with Vick?" sentiments were heard from a few of the orange and maroon spectators. For a normal quarterback throwing his first two passes off the mark on a windy day would be completely acceptable, but at Virginia Tech we have grown accustomed to SportsCenter highlights and plays of the week. Anything less, an ordinary run or pass that is incomplete, is intolerable. What else should we expect from Superman who also just happens to be a redshirt sophomore playing in his 17th career game?
Soon after the Vick miscues, I returned to the stands and watched as Mike Frost, Temple's California quarterback, was driving his team down the field. Frost dropped back in the shotgun position and threw the ball towards his receiver. But Ronyell Whitaker jumped in front of the intended target and darted off downfield doing his best Michael Vick impression. Ronyell made one guy miss, switched his field of direction, juked past another, broke out of a tackle, cut back, broke an offensive lineman's ankles and headed out-of-bounds after his Vick-esque return giving the ball right back to our scoring machine.
I continued limping around the stadium selling Pepsi's, but midway through the second quarter I noticed something very peculiar. I glanced up at the JumboTron and read Temple's total rushing yards thus far in the game. The number was three. The single digit three, no zero, no nothing, just three. To hold the team with the leading rusher in the Big East and ranked fourth nationally to just three yards through 25 minutes of football is not just good, it's downright amazing. Bud Foster had definitely lit a fire underneath the lunch pail gang.
The game rolled on and I continued to sell drinks. I couldn't help, but notice how many times our offense had the ball on Temple's side of the field and how the score remained the same. With all those opportunities, I wondered why we hadn't delivered the knockout punch.
Finally the two-minute drill arrived and I knew Michael Vick excelled in this category. I assumed it would only be a matter of time before I heard the echoes of another Skipper blast.
Then deja vu.
"Can you believe that? Can you believe it's happened again, Bill?" I heard Mike Burnop's voice over the speakers underneath the stadium. Michael Vick had just thrown an interception and the Owls took it the distance right before half time. Another lump built in my throat as I remembered back to Homecoming 1998.
As I stood underneath the bleachers at intermission selling drinks to Domino's patrons, I asked a proud Tech fan (had to be, since not only was he dressed from head-to-toe orange and maroon garb, but the air he exhaled had a maroon tint as well) what was happening to our team.
"The offense is just not clicking and Vick (shook his head) just isn't playing well." Another Pepsi purchaser chimed in and said, "The receivers are dropping way too many balls and the line is committing an absurd amount of penalties."
My worse nightmare. The same formula for disaster that killed us in the Miami of Ohio and Temple '98 games. The offense playing lackluster and without focus. I was now worried, but I knew there was nothing I could do but sell Pepsi.
I returned to the stands, shortly after half time and I could not believe my eyes. Temple ball inside the Tech 20. Could it be another Black Saturday?
I watched the defense drive back the Owls on two straight plays, but then as I was underneath the stands again, I heard an agonizing groan from the crowd and heard Bill Roth say, "They missed the extra point, Mike, but it's still an eight-point ball game."
An eight-point ball game? How could this be happening again? I thought maybe it was our destiny to lose all Homecoming games and last year was just an aberration.
Then Michael and company showed why they're ranked number three in the country. I caught a few glimpses of plays as the offense drove down the field trying to answer the Owls 13 straight points. As I walked down Section 17, "Superman" took the snap and went airborne once again, without the flip, across the goal line giving the Hokies the 28-13 lead.
Just then I overheard a man in his thirties lean over to his buddy and say, "That's the Michael Vick we know. That one should make SportsCenter." His buddy agreed and slapped him a high-five.
I started walking back up the stairs and quickly glimpsed over at HokieVision. Again, my eyes were immediately drawn to Temple's rushing stats. Not only had Temple not gained anymore yards, but they had actually lost the three they had previously gained as the column now read zero. This is when I knew the game was all but finished because with stats like that, you're not going to score 14 points unless the other team hands you the ball letting you waltz into the endzone. And since we're no Boston College, I knew the game was well in hand.
The offense added another score in the fourth quarter putting us ahead by 22 and the defense continued its dominance of the Owl offensive unit ending all hopes for a Temple come back.
The only drama left in the game was that of Bobby Peaslee's left foot. He had had a rough game so far, and when he punted for the last time in the fourth quarter, he sent a wobbler low into the air and for only a 22-yard kick. Some boos could be heard, but more predominate were the, "C'mon, Bobby" and "You can do it" utterances.
It was like Bobby had 50,000 parents inside Lane Stadium with all of them knowing what he was capable of and just hoping he would show the world the real Bobby Peaslee, punter for Virginia Tech.
Before the game ended and, after I for the third straight game took home the top seller award, I had the chance to talk with two Temple fans. I told them I thought their team was much improved and hoped they could somehow find their way to a bowl game.
They then laughed when I asked them who I thought would win the Thursday night border war between West Virginia and Virginia Tech.
"Unless the Hokies give the ball away more times than they did this afternoon there's no question Tech wins the game."
We talked about how Bobby Wallace has done a yeoman's job resurrecting the Owl football team and they hoped we could beat Miami in the Orange Bowl and return to the national championship game.
After we departed, I thought to myself how far Tech had come and how happy I was to survive another Homecoming game. We were once the Temple of college football and now week after week we're looked at as the elite. No longer do we hope to get to the ranks of a Florida State or Nebraska, that's where we reside. The championships may not be there, but with a coach like Frank Beamer and players like Michael Vick they can't be far behind. It's definitely a far cry from the days of 2-8-1.
And then when the day couldn't get any sweeter, it did. I was walking through the parking lots and noticed an unusual number of people crowding around at each and every tailgate. It seemed as if there were herds huddled up throughout the parking lots. Just then a roar went out amongst each and every pack. I ran into a middle-aged lady who was jumping around and asked her, "What's going on?"
"Miami, Miami just won. They beat Florida State. Wide right again!" We exchanged a handshake and I joined her in her excitement, jumping up and down myself on my bad wheel.
She then asked, "Does it get any better than this?" And we both knew no answer was necessary.
With that take care and be ready to rock Lane Thursday night,
-- The Pepsi Guy