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Back and Backless

While few seem to be noticing, it is Tech-Canes Week. To say that the usual luster is missing from this game is to put it mildly. Well, that sure ain’t Tech’s fault.

The Tech-Miami game for over a decade has generally had a huge bearing on conference and national championships. Tech used back-to-back wins over the Canes in 95-96 to capture its first Big East titles and vault into the national prominence they are still riding.

The prime time ESPN showdown for the BE title in 99 seared a Tech quarterback named Vick, Lane Stadium in prime time and ESPN’s Gameday into the national football consciousness. The 2000 game matched the Numbers 2 and 3 teams in the country.

The 2001 game saw a late Tech comeback that came within a dropped conversion of costing the Canes their MNC shot. Tech hammering the Canes in 2003 marked the high-water mark for Uncle Fester, as his program soon afterward began the decline that eventually got him goldsmithed [How long until that changes to weissed?].

The 2004 game in the Orange Bowl was for the ACC championship. Expansion sure looked pretty good at the time. The only thing riding on this year’s game is the Canes’ attempt to get back to Boise.

It has been 1997 since the Tech-Canes game had as little riding on it as this one. That year marked the nadir of Butch’s Miami tenure [Bonus points for remembering Butch’s coaching blunder in that 97 game. Hint: think Butch this year forgetting how many points you get for a field goal].

The lowered profile of this year’s game is due to the same reason as 97’s, the Canes’ Backlessness. Phat Paul’s Dee command to Randy Shannon when, after every other coach contacted had said ‘Are you kidding?’ and Shannon agreed to 1] take the job and 2] work cheap, was ‘Win every single game every single year.’ How has that worked out so far, Paul?

Tech is holding up its end of the bargain. For all of the problems faced by this year’s team and their failure to live up to the enormous preseason hype, with two weeks left in the regular season Tech is where they usually are when the QB is not named Vick, sporting a solid 8-2 record and national ranking and vying for a conference championship. They might not be the ‘elite’ program some claim as a federal entitlement, but they are consistent.

The Canes, on the other hand, are not. For the second time since Tech began its bowl run in 1993, the Canes have slipped into Backlessness. The first was in 1997, as the record got worse while Butch constantly claimed Backness while pointing fingers at everybody and everything for their Backlessness, and again the last couple when they are faced with late-season must-win games to get not to the MNC game or even the ACC Championship, but to Boise [as an aside, it would seem that Butch put his years out of coaching to good use in learning how to shorten the time it takes for his fans and bosses to become disenchanted with him. At Miami and Cleveland it took three years; at Carolina, he has whittled it down to one]. This was probably not what Little Johnny Swofford had in mind.

Randy Shannon, like Butch before him, is pointing the finger at the previous coach for the Canes’ Backlessness. In this case, Shannon is pointing at his former boss, Uncle Fester. It is somewhat curious to hear Shannon claim that those worthless bums who quit on him last Saturday night, the ones he recruited while Uncle Fester’s Defensive Coordinator, will soon be supplanted by those he [Shannon] recruits as Head Coach. Now that is loyalty. This sort of attitude would seem to breed Backlessness.

So would the Canes’ well-documented financial problems. While moving away from the dump of an Orange Bowl to a place you are not ashamed to show recruits is certainly a step in the right direction, it will do little to ease the mounting financial problems faced by Canes football. That doesn’t even address what happens to your game atmosphere as you move even further from your campus, thus making it much harder for students to attend.

Fan support for Canes football has often been described as ‘a mile wide and an inch deep.’ They might show up if the relative level of Backness is high and the Canes are indeed winning every single game every single year. Then again, given the attendance figures during their high level of Backness in 2001-02, they might not.

The tepid fan support shown the Canes might make it a simple manner to walk up on Gameday and purchase a ticket and even simpler when you do not have to worry about being mugged during the walk. It makes it tough, however, to gouge one’s fans for high contributions in order to purchase season tickets. This is not a problem at in-state rivals Florida or Florida State, or even conference one Virginia Tech. There are millions in contributions that the Canes are not getting due to their smallish fan base that their rivals are, contributions that could pay for other improved facilities such as a new training facility or practice fields. There is indeed an arms race going on in college football and the Canes are finding it well nigh impossible to keep up.

There has been chatter about whether the Canes can ever achieve a high and consistent level of Backness in today’s collegiate athletics climate. It does seem doubtful that total Backlessness will be forthcoming as there is simply too much talent nearby in South Florida for that.

As for the Canes still being a place where the level of required Backness can be achieved, maybe, maybe not. The jury is certainly still out on the coaching abilities of Randy Shannon. Having his team quit on him in what should have been a very emotional game is not exactly a large checkmark on the positive side.

It should also be noted that going Back now a dozen years and three coaching hires, all of them, Shannon, Uncle Fester and even Butch, were hired after numerous established and successful coaches turned down the Canes. There certainly seem to be a large number of coaches who don’t think consistent Backness can be achieved.

Time will tell on that one. In the meantime, the Canes come to Tech this Saturday. Their Backlessness has relegated this game to a position far below its usual Big Game status. It remains to be seen whether Shannon can convince his team to summon up enough Backness to beat Tech. It also remains to be seen exactly how Tech will approach a game against the Canes with so little riding on it. Well, Back or Backless, that’s why they play them.

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