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As Big As It Gets

Once again, it’s Virginia Tech and Miami. The Hokies and Canes will lock up Saturday night in yet another of their death matches. Once again, much is riding on the outcome, especially for Tech and whatever chances they have of advancing to the MNC game at the Rose Bowl. Tech might not have much chance, anyway, but lose this one and they have none.

This is not the first time Tech and Miami have locked horns on the gridiron with mega-stakes on the table. Back during the old Big East days, it was commonplace. This is not even the first time the two have gotten it on with so much riding on the outcome; the circumstances surrounding this contest are eerily similar to those that existed in 1999, right down to the ESPN prime time audience, Gameday on the Tech campus and a Vick leading the Hokies. Tech smashed the Canes in that game and rode it all the way to a Sugar Bowl MNC berth. There are those of us hoping for a little déjà vu all over again.

This is also the second straight year Tech and Miami have staged one of their donnybrooks in the ACC. That is only because both have only been in the ACC for two years. It is old hat to the Hokies and Canes. It is not, however, to the ACC.

Prior to expansion, the ACC staging late-season games of this magnitude happened about as often as Coach K instructs somebody to watch their language. It’s bound to have happened once and in the ACC it did back in 1997. That was when a Carolina program on the verge of national prominence hosted Florida State in what was supposed to be Mack and the Heels’ big football coming-out party. That was a huge game with much of the trappings and hoopla that typically surround a Tech-Miami game, including the national television audience. As hard as it to believe these days, Kenan was sold out and extra seating had to be brought in. Imagine that.

Bobby’s boys swatted down Carolina that night, reasserting their dominance of the ACC. Mack left Blue Heaven at the end of the year for a place where football is taken a bit more seriously than it is at the home of Dean’s Dome and the Heels ain’t been much good since. That’s one.

Then there was 1990 in an ACC that looks very different from today’s model. The Hoos had climbed to Number One in the polls before losing at home to Georgia Tech. The Jackets rode that win all the way to the MNC under circumstances that could not exist today; let’s see somebody else win the MNC by beating an 8-3 team in the Citrus Bowl.

The reign of Georgia Tech at the top of the football world was a short one as Bobby Ross was soon heading to the NFL. 1990 was also the high water mark for George’s Hoos, too. Almost a decade later, Frank Beamer’s Virginia Tech team was playing for the MNC, Terry Holland was deciding to ‘retire’ George and Little Johnny Swofford was thinking in terms of another ACC football expansion.

Clemson won an MNC in the early Eighties when the Tigers were between probations, but managed to do so without much meaningful ACC opposition; Maryland and Clem usually settled ACC titles between themselves at the time, but both never managed rankings at the same time such as Tech and Miami will sport Saturday night.

Let’s see: counting the 1990 GT-Hoo game, the 1997 Noles-Heels game, last year’s Tech-Miami game that decided the ACC championship and this year’s Tech-Miami game, that’s a grand total of four meaningful late-season games with huge national implications. The SEC does a little better than that and so did the old Big East, for that matter. Yep, the ACC needed a football expansion.

It wasn’t exactly the expansion envisioned by the Dwarf Dyke of Miami, however. She thought she had finally shaken Tech and all of the losses when she informed Little Johnny that a condition of Miami’s ‘rescuing’ ACC football was her being allowed to decide who would accompany the Canes. Tech was not among the Chosen Few.

Look at the record of Syracuse this year and you can certainly understand why. Larry Coker would certainly find game preparations a little less stressful were he preparing for the Orangepersons rather than the Hokies. Donna tried, Larry.

Certainly ESPN would rather be moving lock stock and barrel this weekend to upstate New York instead of Southwest Virginia in order to feed the hype for what would be a titanic clash between Miami and the 1-8 Cuse. This would pick right back up from where the buzz surrounding the Syracuse-Duke game would have left off. That New York market would be on the edge of their seats. Syracuse only getting on ESPN when they were playing Virginia Tech in the old BE was merely coincidence. Oh, what might have been.

Despite the machinations by the Dwarf Dyke of Miami and her stooge Fredo, things did not succeed as she planned. Instead, the ACC, ESPN and the rest of the country is stuck with the teams ranked numbers three and five. All in all, I imagine Little Johnny considers it not a bad consolation prize.

Miami and Donna are still joined at the hip to Virginia Tech. Once again, a lot of marbles are in play for this game. It has happened often. The first time substantive stakes were involved was 1994, the second year of BE round-robin play. A Tech team that would finish second in the conference lost to eventual champion Miami in the Orange Bowl. A pattern was set.

The next year, 1995, in Lane Stadium, Tech notched its first-ever victory over the Canes. The Hokies rode it all the way to the BE championship and the Sugar Bowl. The next year Tech won for the first time in the Orange Bowl, beating Miami, forging a tie for the league title and claiming an Orange Bowl bid. After winning in the Orange Bowl, Tech went on to play in the Orange Bowl that was not held in the Orange Bowl. Go figure. Miami might not have considered it a rivalry and many of their loon fans still don’t, but one was born.

The next two years, 1997-98 Tech won games against Miami but no championships. These are otherwise known as the McNabb Years. By 1999, the great Syracuse QB was gone and Tech and Miami were right back to playing for the BE championship. Tech won in a frenzied Lane atmosphere that will likely be even more so Saturday night since the stadium is bigger. That year is now known among the Hokie Nation as The Year. More recently, it has also been designated the Middle Sugar Bowl Year.

In 2000 an undefeated and highly-ranked Tech team headed to the Orange Bowl thinking of a second straight appearance in the MNC game. They had been, anyway, until Michael Vick suffered a high ankle sprain during the previous week’s win over Pitt. Miami knocked off the Vick-less Hokies and claimed the BE championship. Miami’s MNC run in 2001 was almost derailed in Lane at the end of the 2001 season; the Canes got away with their perfect record intact by the skin of their teeth and Ernest Williford’s fingernails.

Miami won in the Orange Bowl in 2002 before Tech returned the favor in 03 to the tune of a 31-7 smackdown in Lane. Last year Tech ventured back to the Orange Bowl where the two teams determined whether Tech would be the sole ACC champs or whether the honor would be shared with the Canes. It was not.

This whole huge late-season game thing might be a rare phenomenon for the ACC but it most definitely is not for the Hokies and Canes. I suspect Little Johnny kind of likes it. Watch next year for Fredo and Florida State to provide some November excitement for the Atlantic Division that currently has none by playing late in the season. While algroh tries to draw attention to himself this week by prattling on about how important this month is in the football scheme of things and it is, there are games this weekend carrying a bit more cachet than the Hoos and Lowly Temple. Tech and Miami heads the list.

I will not offend the Weauxf Gods by claiming which team will win. All of the Miami players running their mouths this week seem to be doing a fine job of that. I will point out that it has been 1994 since the Canes beat Tech when their quarterback was not named Ken Dorsey. His eligibility remains exhausted. Also, Lane Stadium has not been kind to Miami. Playing in front of the electricity that crackles through Lane at night has been particularly vexing for the Canes. It might not be the best environment for a rookie QB.

Back in 1999, I spent a pleasant afternoon tailgating before that year’s big Tech-Miami game with a Canes alum buddy. We speculated on just how big this game might become. I suggested that it would not be too awfully long before it was as big as Tennessee-Florida. I was wrong about that. The Vols and Crocs these days can only dream about the rankings carried into this game by both Tech and Miami. This is a big game and this year as big as it gets.

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