First and foremost, I am a fan. I am far from a student of the game itself. Though some people seem to have a RainMan-esque ability to record stats and details into their brain, I am not one of those people. I do not have a mind for sports in that way. If sports is music, I am tone deaf. I sit and enjoy the sounds, and appreciate the talent with little comprehension of the laws and theories that guide it. I also lack the ability to accurately convey what has just gone in my ear hole with my mouth hole.
Football games tend to wash over me as an experience, not a linear set of occurrences or a string of single events. I am saying this so you understand that in relaying my ACC Championship experience, there will be information lacking, and I dare say remembered completely wrong. My memories are based in emotion, not in details. And without the reinforcement I am used to, the details have mixed together in a random swirl of images and feeling. At home I complain about the inane ramblings of the sportcasters, and roll my eyes at their silly puns; but for someone who does not get to go to actual LIVE games very often, I am amazed to find how dependent on commentary and instant replay I have become. And not just because I forgot my glasses (which I did).
That said...here it is! First for the happy fun time before the sad despondent time.
The day started great. I arrived at the Jacksonville airport on a plane of 140 people, and walked into the Florida sun with a gaggle of Gobblers. My sister picked me up and we went straight to the stadium. After walking through the parking lot, past the tailgaters with their BBQ and beer, we made our way toward the FanFest.
The FanFest provided a lot of distractions of the sporty type – throw a football through a ring, try to kick a field goal, push one of those big metal push things linebackers always push in the movies. My sister made some cash off a slightly drunk, but enthusiastic Hokie, who offered her $5 to kick a football through two bright yellow inflatable uprights.
Spontaneous chants of Go Hokies mixed with the brass and drums of The Marching Virginians. It was a sea of maroon and orange. We probably out numbered the ‘Noles 2 to 1. After taking in as much as we could, we headed inside.
Then the game began.
I must say, the first half was one of the most unremarkable periods of football I can recall. Neither team did much of anything worth noting. There were penalties, LOTS of penalties, and TV timeouts. All combined to bring what should have been an exciting game, to a crawl. I don’t know how long that first half lasted, but it was longer than my bladder could endure.
And it was frustrating, not only because we didn’t seem to be playing up to snuff, but because FSU people surrounded us. Don't get me wrong, our seats were awesome.
It's just that when the mob mentality and contagious excitement is going the other way, it's kind of a downer. Most of the FSU people were perfectly nice, but it only takes a few seconds of that indian tomahawk chop chant to make you want to run away screaming. And they have a song they play repeatedly that ends in spelling, then "Florida State!Florida State!Florida State!" then WHEW! with Jazz Hands. The Inevitable "What the hell’s a Hokie?" question came up. I have always been appalled at the number of my Hokie brethren are who are ill equipped to answer this question. And NO! it is not a castrated turkey! I don’t know where this little fable started, but it was annoying the first time I heard it, not to mention from some drunk FSU frat boy next you acting like he’s the expert.
Anyway, (I’m going to try to keep the 'nole fan bashing to a minimum...but I must add that the arm chop song is WAY more annoying than the USC thing, and used more persistantly, which I didn’t think was possible) the half ended and I sprinted to the bathroom, all the while thinking about the can of Whoop-Ass Beamer must be opening on the boys. I had high hopes for the second half.
Well, the second half started, and at some point the 'noles scored. And then scored again. And then again. See, this is where my memory fails me. I remember the dread, the disappointment. As I said before, the game sits inside me as an experience, not a well ordered sequence of events. I don’t recall downs and yardage, not even the correct timing of the images I have stored in my brain. I remember them returning that kick, ugh. Our complete inability to catch a beautifully thrown pass..um, excuse me, passes. More penalties, though some of them were a saving grace and turned our 4th downs into 1st downs. Wondering why we weren’t running the ball and throwing to the outside so much. And I had lots of questions. I questioned the need for Replay Reviews, since it was obvious the refs are infallible and always make the correct calls. Who is that snapping the ball into Marcus’s ankles? What did that half time pep talk do to Schmidt? And don’t we ever practice 2 point conversions?
Most of all, I remember the hope. The need and want to believe my Hokies wouldn’t disappoint me – that we could pull this out. The optimism and faith began to grow as the clock slowy ticked down. But all hopes where dashed when it was declared our onside kick was recovered one yard too short...it was over.
The points we put on the board did help elevate my spirits from the verge of tears, to glum acceptance. A few of the FSU crowd around us began their gloating. Thinking themselves witty, the "Chokies" comments began. They didn’t understand that the term is well known amongst the VT faithful, and I daresay invoked more by us than any rival.
I will not, however, say the best team won. I believe FSU deserved to win. We did not look like a top 5 team, and I shook my head as the athletes I admire began to lose composure in frustration. The best of the teams that showed up won. The Hokies I know did not show up.
Though the experience was disheartening and sad, it is important to remember, that even amidst our most terrible nightmares, lie glimpses and moments of what we consider dreams.
The greatest test of courage on earth is to bear defeat without losing heart."
-Robert Green Ingersoll
January 2nd we'll have a chance to show Jacksonville who we really are.