I don’t want to overstate this, but the importance of Saturday’s game between Virginia Tech and N.C. State is ginormous. Humongous. Massive.
Why you ask? Well, I was reminded of the answer to this this morning when on social media someone posted a picture of Dave Braine, who was the speaker Monday night at the Roanoke Valley Sports Club.
Braine, in my mind, is the unheralded hero of what Hokie football has become. It was he who had the “Come To Jesus” meeting with Frank Beamer after a disasterous 1992 two-win season, and told him to consider hiring better assistants or consider living somewhere else. In doing so, Frank made changes that improved his staff and the program, and all those very close losses in 1992 became very close wins in 1993 as the team bounced back and went to the Independence Bowl.
Timing was everything. 1992 was Beamer’s sixth season as head coach and people were tiring of him coming close but never quite getting over the hump. It was not just fans either, as recruits were sitting on the fence wondering if it was worth coming to Blacksburg. The bowl game in 1993 calmed those fears. The Gator Bowl bid in 1994 allowed the Hokies to sign more pieces of the puzzle so that in 1995 after losing the first two games of the year, they won 10 straight and the Sugar Bowl over Texas.
They showed the country they could play with the big boys.
This message needed to be communicated at that specific time, as a young man in Newport News was trying to decide between being the successor to Donovan McNabb at Syracuse, or his family wanting him to stay close to home so they could watch him. Winning the Sugar Bowl established you could stay in Virginia and play in a big bowl and that young man – a generational talent named Michael Vick – became a Hokie, leading Virginia Tech to heights nobody every imagined.
Recruits were no longer on the fence and for the next 10 years, some of the best talent around looked at Virginia Tech as a potential landing spot. They were a national player who was in the top 25 every year, and lived in prime time on ESPN.
Frank’s last years started to wane, and whatever national reputation the Hokies had was washed away by his successor, Justin Fuente, who the school ended up firing on this day two years ago. Brent Pry succeeded him, and while no one expected him to do much that first year, he fell below even those expectations.
But after a 1-3 start, Pry discovered something akin to what Beamer discovered back in 1993. The pieces obtained in the transfer portal have found their sea legs. They’ve now gotten to 5-5 and if they beat N.C. State Saturday (which I believe they will) they will also beat Virginia a week later in the season finale and take a 7-5 record into a bowl. It won’t be some minor Poulan Weedeater bowl somewhere in the bayou either. Experts are saying a quality bowl with a quality opponent in Charlotte, NC – probably an SEC team like Kentucky – is what the Hokies will end up with.
Pry and company showed in the offseason they could sell, as they went out and got the likes of Kyron Drones, Bhayshul Tuten and several other very good players coming off only a 3-win season with nothing really to sell aside from “trust us.” To now go back armed with a possible 8-win season and successful bowl appearance could allow them to fill in more holes with premium talent and escalate a quicker return to the good old days of old.
But the Hokies have to win Saturday. A loss says to fans and recruits “we don’t know if they’re good or not.” Indeed the last time I praised them in such glowing terms, they went to Louisville and played like week-old mashed potatoes.
That shouldn’t have suprised me because after all, it is the Hokie way. The minute you relax and think your team is good, they slip on a banana peel. I’m probably jinxing them by just writing this story.
As was the case back in the 1990s, timing is everything. Do it now and you’re playing for a coach who turned it around before they even finished the second year. Big dogs like Clemson are struggling. ACC teams like Pitt and Wake are having down years. Miami – once again – is NOT back. Good players want to go where they can win now, and if you have an 8-5 season, you can look someone in the eye and say the difference between 8 wins and 11 wins is YOU.
You have to get it done now. Things can and will be different next year or the year after. People’s patience seems to be growing shorter and shorter these days. Factors seem to be converging right now that are creating a great opportunity.
No opportunity, however, occurs unless the Hokies win Saturday against NC State.
That’s why the game is so Colossal. Herculean. Jumbo. Hulking. King sized.