Editor's Note: I'm happy to announce that Pierson Booher is joining the writing team. Pierson has been a longtime reader/commenter (PhillyHokie007), and understands the culture of the community here. He also enjoys Virginia Tech athletics and writes well. --Joe
Growing up in western New Jersey, college football wasn't exactly an oft-discussed sport. I was a casual fan growing up, watching guys like Desmond Howard, Ron Dayne and Kerry Collins on ABC's Wide World of Sports every Saturday. But the truth was, I struggled to truly engage in the sport because I felt no connection with a team or a player. My parents both went to small colleges, one in Upstate New York the other in Vermont, places known more for their hockey teams and record snowfalls than anything resembling football. Suffice it to say, my household was generally ambivalent when it came to Saturday pigskin. On the other hand, my grandfather had Giants season tickets through his business, and being the oldest, I reaped the benefits of that connection.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to see a lot of amazing, memorable games during my childhood. My fondest memories, ranked from greatest to meh:
- 49ers-Giants, Monday Night Football, Montana vs. Simms, 1991. Only time I remember NOT sitting in the upper deck. I was so short at the time, I remember standing on a seat just to see over everyone's heads, and all I wanted to watch was Montana and Simms toss the ball around the field.
- December 23, 1995; the famous "Snowball Game". About halfway through the Second Quarter, a father three rows in front of us — with a son about my age — turned around and asked all of the men to stop throwing snowballs because it set a bad example for his child. My dad [completely out of character] stood up, deliberately packed a huge snowball, handed it to me, and without ever breaking eye contact with the whiner, said, "Throw it, Pierson." I can't even remember who won the game.
- Watching Barry Sanders make one of his famous cutbacks across the full width of the field and scamper 70+ yards for a touchdown. Only person I've ever seen come close to that was Kevin Jones.
- My father and I would ritually get to our seats with a game program in hand during player warmups and go through the individual team photos to count the number of players who literally had no visible neck.
- Remember when teams would actually give away real swag during games, instead of the crappy t-shirts that double as advertising space in-game? During a Giants-Raiders game, the team gave away a signed football to someone in the crowd. About 20 minutes later, some guy in the lower deck below our nosebleed seats came walking down toward his seat with a football in a glass case wearing a Marcus Allen Raiders jersey. Did Giants fans boo? No. People from all sides starting throwing food at the guy — we're talking burgers, chili, knishes. Naturally, the guy ran for his life.
- Giants-Jets, 1996. 13-6 final score. I will remember it because it was the opposite of a defensive struggle. Think UVA vs. UVA for 60 minutes. Snoozefest.
However, everything changed in 1999 when I watched Michael Vick for the first time against Temple. The game happened to be on local TV, and it would be an understatement to say that the 62-7 drubbing caught my attention. I had never seen someone play the quarterback position like Vick did, and the athleticism and panache he brought to the game contradicted my perception of college football. Up until that point, it had been molded [or maybe you could argue tainted] by watching too many Big Ten games where it was hat-on-hat, smashmouth football. I appreciate that kind of game, but the dichotomy that Vick created and the unique style and excitement he provided made me feel invested in college football for the first time.
I would be lying if I said Vick and the 1999 team didn't affect my college visits. The majority of the schools I visited were in New England, but I swung south to visit Tech, UVA, and Richmond during the fall of my senior year. My family didn't quite understand why I wanted to consider a place like Tech; it was by far the largest school I was considering [by that time my family had moved to Vermont, so small-town syndrome had kicked into high gear], and gosh, it was 12 hours away! I was intrigued by the opportunity to be a part of such a large, proud institution and spend my Saturdays watching big time college football. My parents were understandably skeptical. But upon visiting the school during an open house that fall, we were all sold. Between the campus and the architecture facilities, it shot up my college list. I suppose the rest is history.
I don't have the deep family tradition that many Hokies do. I will freely admit that I am, in many ways, a product of that 1999 season. Much like what Doug Flutie did for Boston College after his Hail Mary against Miami, Mike Vick changed the University from a rural [state] school to a national player on both academic and athletic fronts. Regardless, it doesn't change the way that I feel or the connection I have with our school.
We all have a different story as to how we ended up in Blacksburg. Some of us were raised in a household filled with generations of Hokies, while others came from faraway places that had little connection other than a rudimentary knowledge of the Hokie Pokie. Rebels among us were raised in the wild by Hoos, and for that a tip of the cap for surviving long enough to see the proverbial light.
Regardless of the origin, we are all bonded by our mutual love for our university, the spirit it embodies, and the impact it has had on our lives. It didn't take a monumental, world altering event to galvanize us. April 16th or the 2000 Sugar Bowl are moments that illustrate to the world what we already knew; that what we share is more than school spirit. It is a love for place, a love for school, and a love for one another. It has nothing to do with entitlement, program rankings or future salary, and has everything to do with selflessness and community. It is a feeling that was subconsciously instilled upon us the moment we set foot on campus, something that will stay with us forever, as it has molded who we are today and who we will become in the future. When I see a total stranger on the street wearing Virginia Tech paraphernalia, I have an overwhelming urge to scream, "Let's Go!" not because we do so in Lane Stadium, but because I want to let that person know we share a common bond and that we are here, together, wherever that may be.
When we hear the coaches discuss high school recruiting and they mention that they want players who, "Want to be here, people who want to be Hokies," it seems pretty simple on the surface. But it transcends our uniforms, our record, or the depth chart. It is about 17- and 18-year-olds that have that calling; that understand the meaning of Ut Prosim; that respect those who have come before us and those yet to come.
I'm interesting in knowing everyone here better. When did you have that moment where you realized Blacksburg was the place you wanted to be? What made you become a Hokie?