If you’ve ever spent any time meandering the mean streets of the social media world and are a Virginia Tech fan, you have undoubtedly crossed paths on X/Twitter/whatever Elon is calling it today with Clark Ruhland.
Posting under the handle @Hokie20, Clark – who also happens to be one of the finer graphic artists on the planet – posts pictures from Hokie football games that happened on the particular date he’s posting on from anywhere from 5 to 105 years ago.
I enjoy when he does this because they always spark memories of me not only usually being there, but also what was going on in life around that same day. The male memory, at least in my case, struggles with every day recall, but put an important sports event out there and we become a machine.
There are times, for example, I walk into the den in my own house and have to stop and ask myself “why did I come in here?” But when Dick Butkus passed away a few weeks ago and a certain video showing him catching a pass for an extra point against the Eagles was making the rounds, I immediately thought “he did the same to us. Bears beat the Redskins 16-15. Curt Knight kicked 5 field goals and missed one at the end that would have won the game.”
That game happened in November of 1971.
So when Clark posted an iconic picture of Lane Stadium yesterday, it got the cerebral gears going. It was late in the afternoon on the day after Thanksgiving and the fiery orange sky against the fall foliage and smattering of Chicago maroon and burnt orange on the field and in the stands made for the perfect late autumn image.
When I first saw it years ago (it was captured by a photographer for Sports Illustrated and included in the magazine’s next issue) it reminded me of all those at a certain university in the state due south of the Commonwealth who like to imagine the sky being a certain shade of blue is indicative of favor by the Almighty. “This kind of disproves that notion,” I said to myself after getting that edition out of my mailbox. Orange and maroon were the colors of the day that late November day, and as painter Bob Ross used to often say after completing a brilliant nature scene, “God was having a good day.”
The game would be one of the highlights of the Frank Beamer era, as just 3 weeks prior, Michael Vick and the Hokies had risen to No. 3 in the country, but seemingly had no way to get to No. 2 and play in the National championship game against Florida State. Penn State was undefeated at No. 2, and the schedule didn’t seem to indicate any possible losses the rest of the way.
But on the late afternoon Vick and Shayne Graham would engineer the Miracle in Morgantown, Minnesota upset Penn State earlier in the day 24-23 to open a path. Having won their next two games, all the Hokies had to do was beat Boston College that afternoon and they were in.
I also remember the game because that was one of the rare contests I couldn’t go to. Not wanting to miss work, I had elected to have LASIK the day before Thanksgiving, as back then it took a few days before you could see normally after the surgery. Much like a dog doesn’t need to see it’s food in order to woof it down, I reasoned pumpkin pie would taste just as good even if the picture was blurry. I just hoped I could see clearly enough to watch the game Friday, as I knew I couldn’t drive to Blacksburg.
I can only say from watching it on television, it was electric. Fans stormed the field afterward and Frank gave a speech thanking everyone. From my venue I thought the fans should have carried him on their shoulders all the way back to his home in Blacksburg given how special that afternoon was.
As I saw Clark’s posting of the picture, I couldn’t help but glance up on a shelf in my study and look at a 24-year-old ziplock bag with a big chunk of dried out sod in it. My dear friend Cindy Farmer, who is a brilliant television news person, but when she puts on orange and maroon and watches Hokie sports turns into a Hokie colored Incredible Hulk (for more on this click here) brought it to me. She said she knew I’d have wanted to be on the field that day, so she grabbed a chunk of turf out of the end zone, and brought part of the field to me.
All these memories come flooding back every time I see that picture.
The years have brought a lot of change to Blacksburg, the football program and life in general as time marches on. But thanks to a Sports Illustrated photographer, a perfect moment in time for many of us was captured.
Every time I see it, I smile and hear Bob Ross’s voice saying “God was having a good day.”