Special Post-Game Report
BLACKSBURG (CFP) -- On Saturday, September 1st, college football fans tightly packed the roads of a campus nestled in the rolling corn fields and cow pastures of Blacksburg, Virginia. The parking lots were filled with families, friends, alumni, students and future students. Thousands of people walked along the sidewalks, past Burruss Hall, across the Drill Field, and through the dorm buildings. Quietly sitting along those same sidewalks were West Ambler Johnson and Norris Hall, the buildings that were at America's center of attention this past April when a student took the lives of thirty-two others. Along those same sidewalks also stands a memorial to honor those who were taken from the world far too early. The line of people waiting to walk through the memorial stretched all the way across the Drill Field. A stone that is placed in the center of the memorial says simply what all of the nation already knows: "We will prevail – We are Virginia Tech".
It was game day in Blacksburg for the first time since the tragedy, and a sea of maroon and orange enveloped the entire city. It was time for healing, for togetherness, for tears, but above all else it was time for Hokie football.
ESPN's College GameDay was on hand to yet again bring the university into millions of living rooms around the country. Some had expressed concerns before Saturday that ESPN would try to bank off of the tragedy, and may even do something a bit tasteless. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Chris Fowler took a few minutes to address the crowd, speaking of his admiration for the Hokie Nation and their courage. College GameDay, though certainly there only because of the past events, was a good thing. The television coverage gave fans the chance to show the courage that Fowler spoke about, and even a chance to thank everyone who supported the university in its' time of need. Noticeably absent from the crowd were signs ragging on opponents or commentators, having been replaced by signs that sent out appreciation to numerous other colleges. That's not to say that the Hokies weren't ready for an old-fashioned show down on field, though.
Next door neighbor East Carolina University was in town, bringing a heavy presence across the state border that filled more seats with purple and gold than anyone expected. In a special pre-game ceremony, East Carolina's Athletic Director, Terry Holland, presented Dr. Charles Steger, Virginia Tech's President, with a $100,000 donation in honor of April's victims. Virginia Tech fans showed their appreciation with a big "Thank you, Pirates" that was yelled in unison by the 66,000 plus fans that were in attendance.
After a moment of silence and the symbolic release of thirty-two balloons, Lane Stadium reverted back to its normal self; intimidating, energetic, and overwhelmingly loud. The Marching Virginians band played from one end zone while the Highty Tighties, the marching band for the Corps of Cadets, played from the other side. The fans screamed until their voices went hoarse, clapping and singing along to fight songs. The bands then took to the field, lining up just outside of the tunnel. The air was filled with an anxiety as everyone prepared for the start of a new season.
When Metallica's "Enter Sandman" began to play through the speakers the stadium turned into a place of frenzy. The entire student section was on their feet, jumping up and down; to be honest, so was I. It's hard not to get caught up when you're surrounded by that kind of energy. Even though I was there on behalf of CollegeFootballPoll.com, I couldn't help but want the Hokies to pull off a huge win. I couldn't help but jump and clap. The song got louder and louder, and when the drums crept in and the cymbals crashed the Tech players took to the field. The Pirates made their entrance as well, and for the first time in all of my years I witnessed a crowd actually cheer for the opponent. I couldn't help but stand in awe at the amazing respect this stadium full of people showed.
Once the ball was kicked into play and the game clock ticked past the first second it was business as usual for the Hokies. No more tears were shed, no more moments of silence, no more on-field ceremonies, and no more video tributes; all of that was done, and now it was time to move on.
The rest of the day went just as any other game day does at campuses across the country. Cheering for the diving catch, booing for the terrible throw, and thousands of people scoffing in synchronization when an official calls a personal foul when it was obviously the other teams' player who started it.
A day that started with a somber mood and quiet prayers transformed into one of camaraderie and celebration. Virginia Tech went on to defeat East Carolina, but the real victory was for each and every person packed into Lane Stadium who found solace somewhere between the first and fourth quarters of a football game. After all, this is Virginia Tech. They will prevail.