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One Last Time

It was a game that was first played in 1912. The two teams have played both as Independents and as rivals in two conferences. It was a true border war fought between adjoining states. For one side, it was the second-biggest rival, for the other the biggest, no matter what they said. The intensity displayed was fierce. The coaches for a good chunk of the recent games, Frank Beamer and Don Nehlen, might have been friends off the field, but losing to the other was considered intolerable. The series was replete with hard-hitting, exciting games, dramatic finishes and thousands of burnt couches. And now it is coming to an end. Good.

Virginia Tech will make one last trip up I-79 to tangle with West Virginia. The school that walks away with the Black Diamond Trophy will display it in its trophy case for a very long time. The large cache of West Virginia jokes will have to be emptied by one set of fans and the venomous, all-consuming hatred by the other side will have to be directed in a different direction. That is a good thing.

The Tech-WVU series is one that has definitely gotten out of hand. While there has been a lot written and said recently, much of it by me, about activities in a Tech parking lot last Saturday, it paled in comparison to the riot that began on the field after the Tech-WVU game of 03, spilling into the parking lots and on to the streets of Morgantown. That is carrying a rivalry just a little too far.

What had been one of the best rivalries in college football took a turn for the nasty following ACC expansion. There had been two schools that had attempted to join the conference back in 1952 that had been rebuffed. One finally made it into the ACC while the other one will continue to pine for membership for a very long time. They didn’t seem too happy about the turn of events.

Many fans of both schools had considered the other to be their brothers, joined by the Appalachian Mountains. The two institutions had followed nearly parallel athletic courses, first in the Southern Conference, then as Independents and later as founding members of the Big East Football Conference. Some considered them joined at the hip athletically.

Surgery had been performed in 1994 when the WVU administration, sensibly looking after its own best interests, reneged on a promise not to join the Big East as a full member without Tech. The numbers of Mountaineers worrying about what they were doing to the Hokies were few.

Their attitudes were a bit different almost a decade later when the tables were turned and Tech did the exact same thing and secured its athletics future, one that did not include WVU. Payback is indeed a female dog.

The reaction of many in West Virginia was not altogether positive when Tech left for the ACC. The Neers did not join Big East boss Mikey in expressing understanding of why Tech acted as it did and wishing the Hokies well. Instead of “Good wishes and luck,” the reaction from the hills was more along the lines of “Traitorous scum.” That’s traitorous scum with an athletic future much brighter than that faced by those left behind in the Li’l E. That group happened to include WVU.

Both the shock of being stuck in the woeful Li’l E and watching a long-time rival leave them behind manifested itself in the riot in 03. Those Hokies who found themselves the targets of the rampaging mobs in and outside Mountaineer Field or were watching the carnage on television quickly realized that things were out of hand. When the only people benefiting from the rivalry are emergency room personnel who charge by the stitch and Morgantown furniture dealers it is time for what is now a non-conference series to end. And it will.

Of course, not all Mountaineers can be grouped into the same category as those whose self-expression was limited to violence and property damage. I will be watching Saturday’s game on television with a group that will likely include a WVU alumnus. He is a great guy who, while not happy about what has happened, will not be picking any fights or burning any couches about it, either.

The same can be said for the other WVU alums I have known over the years and there have been quite a few. They are terrific people, exactly like the alumni of every other school. They have absolutely nothing in common with the low-class punks that cause WVU football games to acquire the same ambience as downtown Beirut. Of course, none of them actually live in West Virginia. They all grabbed their diplomas at a dead run and didn’t stop running until they were in another state that offered a bit more opportunity than could be found in their native land. They never get anywhere near Mountaineer Field and the only time they ever see WVU play is at Lane Stadium when invited by Tech friends. Therein lies a good part of the rub.

At most places, alumni of the school hold most of the season tickets. These are not the people likely to pick fights and start fires. At WVU, the best and the brightest are gone, leaving entirely too many seats in the hands of locals, hillbillies to whom drinking gallons of moonshine on Gameday and breaking things and people is as natural as kissing their sister. These are the ones causing the problems, along with the students that seem to cause trouble everywhere these days. At WVU, their course of rioting study is a little more advanced.

They will be out in force on Saturday. Any Tech fans brave or stupid enough to attend can count on thousands of drunks populating the Pit, all proclaiming, “My name is Earl.” They won’t be worrying about their Karma and the only item on their list will be to teach those traitorous Tech fans a lesson. Who needs this?

And so Tech makes its last trip to WVU. With emotions running as high as they are, it is time to end the series. It is unfortunate that things have come to this, but they have. Go up there, play the game and then let both schools move on in their separate directions. Hopefully there will not be a repeat of 03’s riot. Hopefully, too, Tech, unlike 03, will come away with its undefeated record and national ranking intact.

The recent ‘Winners, Losers and Losers’ column created quite a reaction, to say the least. It quickly became the most read one in the short history of this version of the A-Line. Hopefully some of those who found me for the first time will become regular readers.

I got a ton of e-mail, all appreciated. It was overwhelmingly positive, which was gratifying. There were a few from people who tailgate in that lot and confirmed what I had seen. They were disgusted by the spectacle. One related that he had been parking there for years and this year was the first in which he had observed any problems. This is a something that needs to be nipped in the bud.

I am told that the piece was sent to some holding very high positions at Virginia Tech. There are a lot of Hokie fans that hope very much that somebody has read it who can and will do something about it. The situation at Tech is not nearly as bad as what will be encountered this weekend at WVU. Stop it before it gets that way.

BTW, to all of those Carolina and State fans: I haven’t forgotten about you or that interesting little affair last Saturday. Things have been a little hectic in my corner of the world these days. I will get back to looking at the rest of the conference soon.

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