THE Commonwealth of Virginia is not famous for its college football exploits. We don’t have an Alabama–Auburn kind of pigskin tradition in the Old Dominion, and maybe that’s for the best.
Who can forget the Crimson Tide fan who was so enraged by his beloved Bamas’ loss to the Tigers that he poisoned several oaks on the Auburn campus? Thus far, no overzealous Virginia Tech or University of Virginia true believer has murdered an opponent’s tree.
(The towering McGuffey ash, long a landmark on U.Va.’s campus, did meet its fate in 1990 but, according to all reports, no foul play was suspected.)
The closest we’ve come to a big-time national football championship was Jan. 4, 2000, when Tech played Florida State for the NCAA title. Hokie quarterback Michael Vick wowed the nation, but FSU won the game, 46–29.
Ten years before that, U.Va., under George Welsh’s guidance, spent three giddy fall weeks ranked No. 1 before returning to the planet’s surface.
So, close but no victory cigar.
What we do have is a fine college football rivalry, which resumes Friday at noon when Tech and U.Va. meet in Charlottesville’s Scott Stadium. The two schools have been playing each other since 1895. It was a relatively close rivalry for much of that time, until the Hokies turned it lopsided by winning the last 15 games.
There is more than pride at stake this time. The winner will be the champion of the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Coastal Division and earn the dubious reward of facing Clemson, ranked third in the country, for the ACC title. (A wag might suggest that the losing team should be forced to play Clemson twice.)
Both teams are 8–3, 5–2 in the ACC. Tech is ranked 23rd in the nation, U.Va. just missed the top 25 in the latest poll. The bookies have Tech as a slight favorite.
The rivalry even has a trophy attached to it: the Commonwealth Cup. That’s not quite as colorful as the Little Brown Jug (Michigan–Minnesota), the Red River Shootout (Texas–Oklahoma) or Iowa–Minnesota’s Floyd of Rosedale trophy (spoiler alert: Floyd was a pig), but perhaps it reflects the state’s more reserved, buttoned-down image.
Families no doubt will be split, although in most cases not irreparably. Thanksgiving dinner banter likely did not require police intervention. The crowd at U.Va. will no doubt include a large and vociferous Tech minority. There will be the usual jokes at the tailgate parties about the allegedly less desirable aspects of the rival school’s students, alums and campus.
When the game ends, though, most Tech and U.Va. fans will congratulate or commiserate with each other and go home peacefully.
And when the credits roll, it will be reported that no trees were harmed.