Twenty-one years ago today, I woke up in a rather modest hotel in Slidell, LA, packed up my things, and my friend Bob and I began the long drive back home to High Point, NC.
It was the morning after Virginia Tech had played Florida State for the National Championship, and the previous 24 hours had produced memories that at the time we knew would – and have – lasted a lifetime. But we were both silent and a bit sad.
We had come so close to watching Virginia Tech realize the pinnacle of college football. We both gone to VT from 1974 to 1978, so we had a clear appreciation of where the program had been and where it was that morning. We also knew that this specific moment in VT football history – at least what it meant to the two of us – was never going to happen again.
“You think,” Bob said as we crossed the Mississippi state line, “that there will come a time where all our fans are spoiled and anything less than this will be a disappointment?”
It was a fair question that we talked about for many miles. When the Hokies beat Texas in the Sugar Bowl four years earlier, I sat out on my deck a few minutes past midnight, light rain falling, smoking a Cuban cigar I had saved for a special occasion. I was a newly minted Dad, as my 8-month old daughter was sleeping inside, my alma mater made it all the way to a big name contest like the Sugar Bowl, and they didn’t just show up and act happy they were in the game. They fell behind, then stormed back and had actually WON.
Life was good. And I knew how lucky I - and every other Hokie who was as passionate about the team as I was – was to experience it. The days of 3-win seasons and never being mentioned on the national sports scene seemed over.
“Everything runs in cycles,” I answered Bob. “I guess it will depend on how long they’ve gotten used to experiencing this kind of winning.” I then pointed out we’d see pretty soon because anyone who was a freshman in 1995 was now either graduating or was about to. They’d seen two Sugar Bowls, an Orange Bowl, a Gator Bowl and a win over Alabama in a Music City Bowl. An 8-win season – the high-water mark for us when we were students at VT - to them might be considered a disaster.
We both agreed that the way things were going, there were going to be a lot more years before that ever was going to be a problem. Heck, we came within a quarter of winning it all. Mike Vick was going to be back the next year along with a lot of other players. All the publicity was going to allow us to bring in even better recruits. If we could just have 2 or 3 more really good years, we might even get a chance to get our ultimate goal, which was to one day be in the Atlantic Coast Conference.
“We’ll be back next year,” Bob said, and I agreed. We should.