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While things are not a lot of fun these days in Blacksburg, there is one good thing about all the unrest around Virginia Tech athletics: You get to hear from all your old Hokie friends.
They all want to know the same thing. What the heck is going on?
Then there are the two friends I’ve known since my freshman year: Bob and Doug. The three of us have seen every twist and turn there has been involving Virginia Tech. Bob and I drove 12 hours to New Orleans to see Michael Vick and the Hokies in the national championship game. Doug and I flew to Chicago, rented a car and drove to South Bend to see Virginia Tech play Notre Dame for the very first time.
We’ve followed the Hokies for so long, we’ve gone from being able to fit in those narrow seats in Cassell Coliseum (it was actually just the Virginia Tech Coliseum for a couple of years before being renamed for Stuart Cassell) to growing to the point of being uncomfortable in those seats, to now seeing Hokie leadership show some compassion and just make the seats bigger.
We’ve seen coaches fired, coaches hired, buildings built, crushing defeats, and wins that made us disturb the neighbors with our celebrations. We’ve followed the Hokies through divorces, deaths of friends and family, and a variety of moves by the three of us to different parts of the country.
Together, we’ve seen fire and rain.
So it was no surprise I heard from Bob yesterday. It was his question I found unusual.
“Just wanted to check in on you and make sure you’re OK,” Bob said.
Why would you be concerned about that? I replied.
“Well, I’ve been reading some of these stories you’ve been writing about Virginia Tech,” he said before pausing. “When did YOU become the voice of moderation? Did you start taking some different meds or something?”
As I often say, I need to make better friends.
My answer: I guess I’m just getting old Bob, as we relived a few times I might have been a bit more aggressive in my opinions on VT athletics. Then I pointed out he’s a few months older.
We then discussed the irony of if you try to be the voice of reason these days, you’re now a radical. Try it on Twitter and you’ll be shouted down, or worse, cancelled. I’ve read the commentary of many of my younger friends and moderations seems absent from the discussion. Fuente has to go, they say. The fanbase has checked out. Something need to be done STAT.
The barbarians are at the gate. Light up the torches and head for Home Depot to buy up all the pitch forks. We attack at dawn.
We acknowledged they may have basis for many of their complaints, as there are things we both have been seeing the last few games we never thought we’d see in college football. For example, you can in no way compare the experience of mediocre junior high football players like us to a high-level college football one. But since we both played, I asked him if he could ever remember a time when any team he was associated with could tackle so poorly.
I recalled how if we did, we’d be doing tackling drills all afternoon, then scrimmage. If you kept messing up, we ran the drills again or you were politely asked to run laps around the field. Usually with a coach grabbing your facemask for emphasis.
“No,” Bob said, “I don’t remember it ever looking like this. And you left out the part about you having to run laps because you talked back to the coaches. I was smarter than that.”
Indeed, I was once told to run a lap after the whistle blew in practice. When I asked “what did I do?” I was told “Now it’s 2 laps.” After further attempting to get an explanation, it got to 7. I was then told “just start running. I’ll tell you when you’re done.”
I think the coach then left for a couple of days.
The biggest thing we both remain concerned about is just how unemotional this team has become. It’s a lot like when the Hokies got blasted by Duke last year. They don’t seem to be emotionally involved or connected. They don’t seem pumped up to go run through a wall and show the opponent you are in their house and they’re going to control the afternoon.
It’s a stark contrast to the opener against N.C. State, when with twenty or more players out, they came out ready to play. It’s as if they chose to rally around each other, knowing so many of their teammates weren’t getting a chance to play. They were focused. They made tackles. They had each other’s backs.
Once everybody came back, they’ve reverted to a ho-hum personality again.
“Whatever Fuente is telling them before they head out of the tunnel,” Bob said, “he needs to stop.”
All this got us back into the old man nostalgia of how we’d do things back in the day, but the point was made: Players come and go. Coaches do too. But one day we all get old, look back, and realize you only had a finite number of times you got to play. If there was such a thing as a magic genie and we got 3 wishes, most of us would probably have one that would allow you to go back in time and put on a helmet one more time.
To be in the moment and not appear happy to play seems like such a red flag. And it’s probably what has caused me to go from positive to neutral on Fuente. I can live with mistakes, turnovers and losses.
But it's difficult for me to live with that.