For Charlottesville Hokies, a Decade of Change
by Art Stevens
TSL Extra, Issue #1

The first sign that things had changed was in the mall, of all places. The sports apparel shop had a wall full of Virginia stuff, like it always did, but it was the side wall.

And if you were coming from the middle of Fashion Square Mall, one of Charlottesvilleís finest shopping centers (by default), you saw the front window which was full of something else entirely.

Mostly Michael Vick jerseys; a few other orange-and-maroon shirts thrown in for good measure.

Welcome to the strange world of the Charlottesville Hokie. There seems to be a more pronounced VPI factor in Charlottesville than Wahoo influence in Blacksburg---at least these days.

"A lot more Hokies have emerged from the closet," said Leon Tilley, Class of í55 (Business).

Think about it---thereís not much else going on in Charlottesville than the University of Virginia, or in Blacksburg other than Tech, for that matter. That rivalry, to a lot of people, drives the I-81 corridor, at least on Saturdays in the fall. And to be in the heart of it, well, itís gotta get tough sometimes, right?

"You get the heckling," said Tilley, who retired two years ago after four decades with Columbia Energy Systems. "We went to a sports bar to watch the Tech/Miami game. Some obnoxious young kid next to us was cheering loudly every time Miami did something good. A bunch of people were supporting him, clapping with him.

"One of my salesmen had season tickets (at Scott Stadium), and his tickets were right next to the student section. Every year, he would come back and tell me horror tales about them yelling, throwing their drinks on him.

"I worked in Emporia a while ago, and itís a lot different there."

Tilley keeps things like that fan and that Miami loss in perspective, thankful for the joy of watching Vick and the rest of the team over the past few years. Heís not one to rub that success in Virginia fans' faces, and doesnít appreciate it when fellow Tech fans do.

Around this time a decade ago, the sides were reversed, with Virginia ranked No. 1 for a spell and the Hokies going through a rough patch. But Tilley didnít notice much of a difference, or worry that Tech was being passed for good, like some Virginia fans do now with Tech.

"No, I didnít worry," he said. "My first year, we beat Maryland and the University of Richmond, and thatís it. The year before that, I donít think we beat anybody. So anything was better than that.

"I never thought Iíd see the day when weíd contend for a national championship."

Carl Mathews, a born-and-bred Charlottesville resident who happened to go to high school and room in Blacksburg with a certain TSL web host, remembers that 1990 year vividly.

"I was really skeptical they were that good, just as I think Virginia fans were until the game here last year," said Mathews, Class of í87 (Finance), now director of merchandise for Crutchfield. "I think we were lucky in the same way they were. Every week two or three teams right in front of them got beat, and they hadnít really beaten anybody.

"I donít think itís any comparison (to Tech last year). The vindication (in 1990) was when Georgia Tech beat them. I remember thinking how great that T-shirt was---the one that said 'No. 1 in the Nation,' crossed out with the Georgia Tech score, then 'No. 1 in the ACC,' crossed out with the Maryland score, then 'No. 1 in Virginia,' crossed out with the Virginia Tech score, and then finally 'No. 1 in Charlottesville,' with a question mark.

"I remember being envious of the national media attention that Virginia was getting back then. I remembering worrying that this would damage Techís ability to recruit top players. But I donít remember any Virginia fans going out of their way, rubbing it in."

Mathews, too, wasnít worried that Virginia Tech was being surpassed. "I never had much fear of that. The Big East was coming together, I knew that would help, with the television contract with CBS."

And now, with Vick? "Itís incredible, seeing how much attention he brings to the program. No other player has gotten more press the last two years. They canít say anymore that if you go to Blacksburg, you wonít contend for the Heisman, you wonít be a star.

"Tech fans are a little more even-keeled. Without Michael Vick, Virginia Tech fans still love Virginia Tech. When he had to leave the Pittsburgh game, you could hear the fans kick it up a notch. After that, I donít think the fans sat down for the rest of the game, except for timeouts."

Mathews heads down to Lane Stadium with some frequency, and hasnít missed a Tech game at Scott Stadium in years. But Tilley, for one, wonít make the trip down Route 250 to Scott Stadium from his home in the western part of Albemarle County, but his Lane season tickets are among his most prized possessions.

"It (Scott Stadium) is the worst location on earth," said Tilley, whose Tech parking pass allows him to whiz into Lane late, and he said the time from his home to Lane is only an hour and 15 minutes more than it takes to get to Scott Stadium right down the road. "Too much trouble to get to it."

 

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