A Hokie Looks at Fifty
by Jim Alderson
TSL Extra, Issue #16
I recently celebrated another of those milestone birthdays, the one signifying half a century among the quick. ‘Celebrating’ might not be the correct term, as none of the previous forty-nine have resulted in my being treated to a birthday party (one was attempted when I turned six, but when one’s birthday lands in February there is always the possibility of inclement weather, and a foot and a half of snow that day resulted in the scrapping of plans due to poor attendance. No one has risked that kind of blizzard since), and as far as I can tell nothing is planned this time around, either. Birthdays are not a big deal among my relatives, but no matter.
Turning fifty does give one pause. There is a certain amount of official standing to it; solid evidence that one is no longer young, no matter how much one, in the words of most every woman I have ever been associated with, "refuses to grow up." I have officially entered the period of life that is commonly referred to as ‘Middle Age,’ although, quite frankly, I’m not sure why it is denoted as such. Given my family history and personal habits, it is safe to say that over half my life has been consumed, much of it with gusto.
This is the time of life that many males become afflicted with what psychologists refer to as ‘mid life crisis.’ I am not exactly sure what that is. Certainly I find myself thinking often about sports cars and women much younger than I, but I have been doing that for decades. No, the subject I find myself reflecting on often -- right after time spent wondering how I might pay for that snazzy Lexus SC 430 I have my eye on, or darkly contemplating the undeniable fact that women in their early twenties no longer seem very interested in me, and, of course my other chief interests, my income and my health -- is not surprisingly Tech football (this is, after all, a TSL Extra column). I have seen a bunch.
I made my first appearance in this life February 13, 1952, shortly after 5 p.m., beginning what was to be a lifelong disinclination for any type of labor past five o’clock. Nine months later I was attending my first Tech football game. I do not remember either the opponent or the result, and no one else who accompanied me seems to either. Given the clues provided by what they do remember, that it was a Thanksgiving Day game played in Roanoke’s Victory Stadium, I have been able to deduce that the Hokies under Coach Frank Moseley knocked off VMI 26-7 on 11/27/52. I was off to a good start. I am told I became quite disagreeable during the Fourth Quarter (I imagine I must have been hollering for RUTS) and a bottle was necessary to shut me up, thus beginning another game tradition that has endured, although the shape and the contents of the bottle have changed.
The Thanksgiving Day Tech-VMI game, known as the ‘Military Classic of the South,’ also became a tradition in my family. I was married to the young lady who was to become my son’s mother and my first ex-wife before I discovered that there were families where Thanksgiving was not spent packing the car at the crack of dawn and heading for Roanoke to watch Tech football, instead spending the day stuffing themselves with turkey. It is an interesting concept, but I would just as soon Tech go back to playing a game that day. In fact, I was in Lane Stadium the last time Tech played on Thanksgiving, a 1982 21-14 defeat of the Hoos, played before a sparse crowd on a night I recall as bitterly cold, although I am sure there are those who will swear the 8 p.m. kickoff was accompanied by sunny skies and a temperature in the high seventies. This is certainly not the year to add yet another weeknight game, but I would be up for a return to Thanksgiving games.
I also attended the last Tech-VMI game played in Roanoke, the 1971 34-0 Tech thrashing of the Keydets, a game remembered as the ‘Snow Bowl,’ when the Corps of Keydets, displaying tactics unchanged since they were taught by Stonewall, charged across the Victory Stadium field into a barrage of snowballs launched from the Tech stands. It was a day of ignominious defeat all around for VMI.
Other games that for whatever reason stand out in my memory that were played in very cold conditions were 1973’s 36-13 pounding of Florida State, a 21-22 loss to VMI that same year (the game that ended Charley Coffey’s three year run at Tech), the 1980 10-20 Peach Bowl loss to Miami and a 35-14 win over East Carolina in 1996.
I observed Tech lose 21-23 in pouring rain in 1977 to Florida State, 13-31 to Clemson that same year and a 55-28 blasting of Maryland in 1993. I recall the 1967 Tech-Miami game, won by the Canes 14-7, played in a raging snowstorm.
There are other games that stand out as I look over a game-by-game record of my fifty years of Tech football. In 1969 Tech under Jerry Claiborne was poised to move into college football’s elite as they opened the season at home versus Alabama. It was not to be, as a late blunder by the Tech special teams enabled Bear Bryant’s Crimson Tide to escape with a 17-13 win. Claiborne’s teams were never the same after that, losing the next four games and stumbling to a 4-5-1 record, and at the end of the following season (a 5-6 finish), he was fired. I often wonder what might have happened had Tech held on that day against Alabama.
Some big wins I remember:
There have been many, many others but these particularly stand out.
Other memories I have that pertain to my watching Tech football, although I no longer recall the specific game or games, include a delightful elderly couple who had season tickets in Section 16 during the Seventies, the gentleman a Tech alumnus who as a youth had watched Hunter Carpenter play. These terrific people always brought to games a thermos filled with gin and tonic, which, although they never once offered to share it with me, was always empty by the end of the game.
I remember the mad dash during halftime from the Theta Chi section of Lane, and that of every other fraternity with which I was familiar, to the Gables liquor store, and walking back into the stadium carrying large shopping bags filled with booze … and nobody caring.
I recall once getting a speeding ticket on Route 460 near the Corning plant following a game, back when the area’s rural nature and lower attendance made that possible. Attitudes were a little more casual towards drunk driving back then, and I was relieved to only be getting nabbed for speeding. I also remember the officer being quite helpful when my companion, the young lady mentioned above, became violently ill while we were stopped, the result of consuming about a pint of her drink of choice, sloe gin, during the game.
There was also the episode following a game that involved the same young lady, one of Radford’s infamous proctors, a hasty escape from a first-floor Madison Hall room and a dash across that campus with the finest of what was then known as Radford College in hot pursuit. It’s the memories that matter.
I have read that a lot of men when they approach my age reflect back on their life’s accomplishments, or lack thereof, and I am no exception. I have examined my life against my hopes and dreams and concluded that I will never play football for Tech, despite still retaining all of my eligibility. If Frank didn’t put me in at the end of last year’s UConn game he never will, and that is going to be an unfulfilled dream.
My window on coaching Tech is also closing. When I first learned Rickey Bustle was leaving, I felt certain Frank would recognize my qualifications derived from years of suggesting plays from the stands in full throat and offer me the job of Offensive Coordinator, and I waited by the phone for days. The call never came, and I can only feel that the hiring of that young pup Stinespring constitutes age discrimination. After a couple of years of my play-calling Frank would certainly have been coaching someplace else, paving the way for me to cap my career by becoming Tech Head Coach. I am in consultation with my lawyer, a Hoo on the far side of sixty who considered himself and most anyone else a better choice of coach than what they got in Al Groh. This may take a while.
I have turned fifty and have to deal with it, despite having no experience in turning fifty and no notion of what being fifty is supposed to feel like. I suspect that not much will change and my fifty-first autumn is going to be spent as my previous half a hundred, watching Tech football.
I consider this country’s finest writer to have been the late Joseph Heller (sorry Papa). In his novel Closing Time, he wrote of its aging protagonist: ‘Yossarian planned to live forever or die trying.’
It is how I feel about Tech football.