The Stakes Have Never Been Higher

For the first time in recent memory, the Commonwealth Cup is about more than pride for both sides.

[Mark Umansky]

There was a moment over 20 years ago when we had reached the pinnacle of the Virginia Tech/Virginia rivalry. For about a decade from the mid-90s to the mid-00s, both teams were on an even footing. The Hokies had finally found their stride under Frank Beamer, picking up talent on their way to heights the Tech football program had never seen. The Cavaliers were also in their heyday under George Welsh, as the longtime head coach rostered players like Aaron Brooks, Thomas Jones, and the Barber twins.

In the 10 matchups from 1994 to 2003 Tech won six to UVA's four, a back-and-forth rivalry that consistently showcased the best players in the Commonwealth. When the Wahoos took a slight step back at the end of Welsh's term ('99-'02), Tech took advantage. But when Al Groh rolled out a strong squad in 2003, it looked like there was another decade of tight-knit, pressure packed rivalry games in the making.

Instead, 2003 was the last time the Commonwealth Cup ended up in Charlottesville. And despite Groh's early ability to recruit (he brought in borderline elite talent for four years), the gap in the rivalry grew wider with each passing season. Beamer continued to lead the Hokies to conference titles and BCS bowls, and the Hoos continued their gradual decline into obscurity.

For Tech fans, this was great. Win 10 games while the dumpster down I-64 burns hotter and hotter, it was like Christmas coming the weekend after Thanksgiving every year. But there was one drawback to dominance. Stagnation. Around the turn of the century, things just got boring. There were no stakes, little intensity, and a general lack of anticipation.

That's not to say the players or coaches lacked passion. And most Tech fans would be lying if they said they never got butterflies the morning of UVA. But the best rivalries — while built on a foundation of hate — occur when the games mean more. Alabama and Auburn is fueled by animosity, but what makes the Iron Bowl such a classic is the national implications usually involved.

Bama/LSU, Ohio State/Michigan, Texas/Oklahoma, hell even Florida/Florida State. They're all picture-perfect rivalries because not only does the winner receive bragging rights, but often a 'W' is a catalyst for grander aspirations, while the role of spoiler is more relished.

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