Earlier today, I saw a clip our video people produced that was posted on either Facebook or Twitter - I’m not sure which? - promoting West Virginia’s 2017 season opener against Virginia Tech in Landover, Maryland.
Seeing that video got me thinking about some of the more memorable West Virginia-Virginia Tech clashes through the years, going all the way back to the first one that took place on Saturday, Nov. 16, 1912 in Blacksburg, Virginia, when was the Hokies were still the Gobblers and Tech was known as Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College.
Realizing that Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College was somewhat sesquipedalian - especially with milk and mashed potatoes in your mouth - one of the Techies decided to drop the “Agricultural and Mechanical College” bit in 1944 and become known as Virginia Polytechnic Institute, or simply VPI.
VPI was the common way to refer to Virginia Tech when I first became aware of the school, sometime in the mid-1970s, when West Virginia’s football team was frequently taking the Hokies out to the woodshed.
I was only six years old in 1974 the year Bobby Bowden was saved from the ranks of the unemployed, so I don’t have any first-hand memories of it, but I’m fairly certain Bowden has a scattershot Virginia Tech kicker to thank for avoiding the dreaded coaching pink slip - not Divine intervention.
Bowden’s WVU record had slipped to 3-7 as he went through quarterback after quarterback, finally getting down to true freshman Dan Kendra. It was Kendra who somehow led the Mountaineers to a late touchdown and a tenuous, 22-21 lead at Virginia Tech with about a minute left to play.
Perhaps feeling the pressure that comes from presiding over an underachieving football team, Bowden was assessed two sportsmanlike penalties on Tech’s final drive that helped move the ball down to the West Virginia 15.
VPI's Wayne Lattimer, who once booted a 61-yard field goal against Florida State, ended up getting two cracks at beating Bowden’s Mountaineers. The first one was blocked, but, possibly to even things up a little bit, the refs called a penalty on the homestanding Hokies and the play was waved off.
Only seven seconds were showing on the clock.
Then, Lattimer’s second try veered off to the left and West Virginia held on for a one-point victory, giving West Virginia athletic director Leland Byrd the win he needed to stand firmly behind his embattled football coach.
Again, while too young to remember these things first-hand, there was something else interesting about a game that is otherwise lost to the history books.
If you look closely at Artie Owens’ 85-yard touchdown run to put West Virginia ahead 14-6 in the third quarter (you can watch it here on YouTube
), you will notice that Owens is nearly hit by a flying projectile from the stands as he is about to reach the five-yard line.
Many years later, in 2003, when Hokie coach Frank Beamer bitterly complained about the way his third-ranked football team was treated by some unruly Mountaineer fans after its 28-7 defeat in Morgantown, the thought of that flying projectile (probably a soft drink or a snow cone) nearly striking Owens down in Blacksburg had somehow entered my mind.
Perhaps the market on unfriendly fan behavior wasn’t cornered after all?
I also thought about the West Virginia-Virginia Tech game in 1989 when Beamer’s Hokies ambushed West Virginia one week after its stunning 31-31 loss to Pitt. My good buddy Dale Wolfley insists it was a tie, but anyone in the stadium that night who saw a football team give away 22 points in the fourth quarter the way the Mountaineers did will always consider it a loss!
At any rate, seven days later one loss had become two when the upstart Hokies completely throttled West Virginia’s offense and got all 12 of their points from a kicker with two first names - Mickey Thomas.
Not only did West Virginia lose the game without having its goal line breached, but Mountaineer fans who stuck around until the bitter end suffered the ultimate indignity of being treated to a little impromptu dance recital by some of the Hokie players - which happened to take place on the state of West Virginia at the 50-yard line!
What a way to see your 15-game home unbeaten streak come to an end!
Famous Oklahoma coach Barry Switzer once told me that he struggles to remember many of his wins, but he has never forgotten a single loss. And that pretty much sums up my memories of some of the most recent West Virginia-Virginia Tech games, like the one in Morgantown in 1991 when a 50-minute lightning delay sent both teams scurrying to their locker rooms and fans racing for cover.
After Tech stormed out to a 20-7 lead, West Virginia rallied to close the gap on a 19-yard Adrian Murrell touchdown run late in the third quarter.
Then, with Uncle Mo clearly on West Virginia’s side, the skies opened up. When play resumed West Virginia marched down to the Tech goal line and was poised to score the go-ahead score. But Hokie defensive end James Hargrove swatted the football out of the arms of West Virginia quarterback Chris Gray as he was about to hand it off. Virginia Tech recovered the fumbled football deep in its own territory, and the Old Dominion walked off the field with its second straight triumph on New Dominion soil.
Gray, who tragically died in the 9-11 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, used to humorously re-enact that play in front of his buddies at the original Tailgaters Pub across the street from the stadium. Only someone with Gray’s self-deprecating sense of humor could pull off something that depressing in front of a bar full of overserved Mountaineer football fans - and have everyone laughing in unison.
By the way, I’m pretty sure the Virginia Tech players danced on the state once again in 1991, but I can’t confirm that because by then my job was to go into the locker room to try and convince a bunch of upset Mountaineer players to come out and talk to the media. Some did; others didn’t.
Incidentally, what is it about these dancing Virginia Tech Hokies?
Didn’t Virginia Tech’s fairly new basketball coach Buzz Williams once dance a jig while Country Roads was playing over the public-address system at the WVU Coliseum when he was employed at Marquette?
Or, am I imagining things?
Nevertheless, sticking with my Barry Switzer never-forget-the-losses theme, there is one other Virginia Tech defeat that sticks in my craw - no, not the one when Marcus Vick gave the “We’re No. 1 sign” to the entire Mountaineer bench using his other finger, but instead that heartbreaking game in 1999 when his big brother, Michael, came of age.
Admittedly, West Virginia’s defense in 1999 was worse than France’s D was in 1940, but somehow the Mountaineers rallied to hold down the high-powered Hokie attack
for roughly 59 of the game’s 60 minutes. Backup quarterback Brad Lewis, in for injured starter Marc Bulger, orchestrated a pair of late scoring drives to give West Virginia a stunning 20-19 lead over the 19-point favorite Hokies.
One of the most disappointing sights in Mountaineer Field history - Shayne Graham kicking the game-winning field goal to defeat the Mountaineers in 1999. Dave Knachel/Virginia Tech photo
But Vick waved his magic wand by making a couple of serpentine-like runs up the far sideline to get kicker Shayne Graham in range to boot a game-winning field goal. Graham’s 44-yard kick comfortably hooked between the uprights as time expired, giving Virginia Tech a 22-20 victory and preserving its national title hopes.
On this occasion, Virginia Tech players and coaches danced all over Mountaineer Field - much to the agony of silent West Virginia fans watching from above.
Sure, there are plenty of victories to consider - West Virginia still holds a six-win lead in the 51-game series - but for some reason, I just can’t seem to shake off the memory of those Solid Gold dancers from Blacksburg in 1989, 1991 and 1999 getting their groove on.
They will likely come to mind once again when the Black Diamond Trophy is dusted off and taken over to Landover, Maryland, on Sunday, September 3.
I suppose conjuring up these painful memories is good in a way. At least it will open the veins and help get this old guy’s blood flowing once more.
Maybe your blood is now flowing, too.