Friday, August 28, 2015

Virginia Tech And Its Laundry List of Traditions Impresses

Lane Stadium has quietly become a destination site for any college football enthusiast whose fandom goes beyond their own team.  Home to the Hokies of Virginia Tech, it has been voted by several notable sports media sources (including ESPN) as the number one home field advantage in the nation.  The 66,000 seat venue holds some of the countries most devout fans, who help make it very, very loud - sitting in the confined quarters of your car with the radio turned all the way up loud.  Since head coach, alumnus, and former VT player, Frank Beamer, got the team headed in the right direction roughly twenty years ago, the Hokies have become one of the top programs in the country (even though they've taken a few steps back in recent seasons), driving the decibel levels for home games to near ear-piercing limits.  In two words, I would describe the experience of Virginia Tech football as "must-see."

I had a friend who had offered to take me to a game in Blacksburg for several years.  In 2011, I finally decided to take him up on it.  I got a look at the available games and got my eyes locked early in the season on the Clemson game.  The Tigers figured to, at the very least, put a respectable team on the field and I always desire to see a game that will be relevant to the bigger picture of a season, if possible.  VT-Clemson had the makings of a competitive match-up prior to the season, but when the game drew nearer, both teams kept on winning.  The Tigers, led by future sure-fire ring of honor inductee Tajh Boyd in the first of his three years as Clemson's starting QB, knocked off Florida State in late September, clearing their path to an undefeated record by the time they went to play the Hokies on October 1.  All of the sudden, it became a game between teams that would control their own destinies to their respective division titles.  It would potentially be (and did end up being) the first of two games between the teams, as winning their divisions would put them on a collision course for the ACC Championship game in December (that's exactly what would ultimately happen).

It was a rainy, cold night in Virginia when I arrived on campus.  The smell of warm turkey legs permeated through the chilly air as we got off the bus that had taken us from our chosen parking lot to the stadium.  A "Hokie" is a turkey, replacing the old Va. Tech mascot of the "Gobbler" (good call if you ask me).  I find it somewhat ironic that perhaps the most intimidating home crowd in the land has quite possibly the least intimidating mascot in the history of sports.  My middle school soccer team was nicknamed the Camels; that's worse, but not much worse.  Maybe it's better that people keep wondering what a Hokie is.  Anyhow, a hot turkey leg will warm you right up, trust me.  That was divine feasting.  At VT, they celebrate the turkey; they eat the turkey.  Amen.  Washed it down with some hot chocolate and I was good to go.  I got some hokie leg remnants on my Fighting Irish coat, draped over a Fighting Irish hooded sweatshirt with a Virginia Tech t-shirt pulled over it.
That's actually a tight shirt pulled over all that garb

We had excellent, perfect to my tastes seating.  It gave me a great view of the foliage behind one side of the stadium.  I think the trees add a nice aesthetic dynamic to the place.  It makes it unique.

Once we were seated, I got my crash course in Va. Tech football traditions, of which there are many.  Although I did not see it, the first of the lot is the corp of cadets known as the "Highty Tighties" walking the team, coaches, cheerleaders, etc. to the stadium.  Va. Tech, as I came to learn, strongly embraces its military ROTC programs.  They are actually considered on par with some of the service academies, designated as a senior military college.  I thought that was cool.  With the military tradition, VT once had a rivalry game with the Virginia Military Institute (VMI).  During that time, VMI would fire off a cannon and taunt VT for not even having one.  So, two Hokie cadets decided to make one.  Naming it "Skipper" as a tribute to JFK (who was the captain/skipper of a PT boat in World War II) after his assassination in the early 60s, the Va. Tech cannon remains one of the football traditions to this day; it's fired after every score (sadly, I only got to hear it once). 

Most teams have some sort of pregame walk and many other schools fire a cannon, but I'm not sure that it carries the same meaning everywhere else that it does at Virginia Tech. 

As the game was about to start, I had a question answered that I'd been wondering about for years and never got the chance to ask.  My buddy Brian, with whom I went to the game, has always been known to me as "The Sandman."  I never really understood why.  I just went along with it.  So, as the players were running out onto the field, "Enter Sandman" by Metallica starts blasting over the loud speakers.  That had been one of my many running songs on my iPod over the years.  I love that song.  There might not be a more adrenaline pumping song in the history of music; and that's where he got the nickname.  Lane Stadium feels like there's a rare Virginia earthquake when "Enter Sandman" is playing.  Definitely one of the most intense moments of the Va. Tech experience.

Well, let me get out of the way that Clemson basically shut down the Va. Tech offense, managed the game well, and won handily 23-3.  The crowd was pretty quiet in the fourth quarter.  I was quite surprised with the outcome.  It was the only ACC loss for VT in the regular season and they got another shot at the Tigers with the ACC title on the line, but they got blasted 38-10 in the rematch, too.  Oh well...

The first half was a good display by both teams of solid defensive strategy, so neither team had many long drives down the field that would accumulate numerous 1st downs.  Thus, there were not a ton of opportunities for another of the Hokie fan staples, but enough to know that you were witnessing something pretty cool.  On every third down, Hokie fans take out their keys and start shaking them.  Imagine 61,000 (we'll give the visiting team 5,000 seats) sets of keys jingling.  You've got a helmet on and you're trying to tell other guys with helmets on what to do.  Think that might be tough?

My personal favorite memory from Va Tech might be something that I misinterpreted.  Throughout the game when Clemson was on offense, the Hokie faithful would yell, "HOOOOhhhh."  You'll often hear "OOOOhhh" in many a sports venue; not just for football.  I thought it sounded like the Hokie nation was adding the "H" because of HO-kie; I could be wrong.  Well, Brian and I became friends in college through a mutual childhood appreciation for professional wrestling and, during our formative years as WWE fans in the late 1980s and early 1990s, there was a 2X4-wielding wrestler named "Hacksaw" Jim Duggan.  His signature catchphrase was to yell, "HOOOOhhhh!!"  So, after quietly finding this amusing for awhile, I decided to add the Hacksaw touch to the Hokie third down tradition, giving an emphatic thumbs up and doing my best Duggan impersonation.  That got a rise out of the Sandman and, thus, we had the joke of the trip.  I tweeted about it when I got home and, sure enough, old Hacksaw retweeted the comment (I later found it that it wasn't really Hacksaw, but a parody account, which made it only slightly less awesome...HOOOOOOOhhhh!)

"Hacksaw" Jim Duggan - HOOOOhhhh!!

Though I'm sure I've had a tendency to hyperbolize each tour stop, I don't think it's exaggerating to say that there's a lot to like about the Virginia Tech football experience.  The atmosphere is as raucous as anywhere in the country.  Passion emotes from the Hokie fanbase as much as any with greater football history.  The best concession item on the tour, by far, is the turkey leg.  If any of the other college stadiums that I've visited have a signature food, I was never made aware of it.  Besides, I can't imagine eating a bulldog, a gator, a fighting rooster, a wagon (sooner), etc.  Buckeyes are poisonous.  I'm surely not eating a little Irish guy.  Perhaps they serve a steak sandwich at Texas. 

All joking aside, if you're a fan of college football, do yourself a favor someday and check out Lane Stadium in Blacksburg.  HOOOOOhhhhhhh!

No comments:

Post a Comment