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After Yesterday's Game, A Change WILL Do Us Good....

It was only a few minutes after Virginia Tech’s 54-10 loss to Maryland that the question arrived on my phone via text.

“Do you think,” asked the text, “that this was the most unsatisfying season you’ve seen as a Hokie fan?”

It’s an interesting question. It didn’t ask if this was the worst season. Or biggest disappointment of a season. Just if it was the most unsatisfying.

Since I’ve seen more than 50 seasons of Hokie football, I had to think for a few moments. That season in 1973 when the team went 2-9 and lost to Alabama 77-6 was a pretty bad one, particularly in light of the team under Charlie Coffey having a winning season the year before. But in that situation, I was a new Hokie fan – so I didn’t have much to compare it to – and change was immediate. Coffey had a bad year, and the next year he wasn’t the coach.

Then there was the famous Frank Beamer season of 2-8-1 in 1992, where just about every close game went against them. A 50-49 loss to Rutgers was that team’s version of the 77-6 loss to Alabama 19 years prior, and the Hokies only beat two teams – James Madison and Temple.

But even then, I can’t say it was unsatisfying. In at least 5 of those games, Virginia Tech had a better than average chance to come out the winner, no matter whether you wore orange and maroon colored glasses or not. You could see the potential, and when Beamer made some changes on his staff, the next year began the streak of 27 consecutive bowl game appearances.

My career took me from a decade of sportswriting to the furniture business starting in the late 80s, so in 1992 during a regional furniture market in Atlanta, I ran into a senior executive of a Virginia-based company who I knew to be a pretty influential Hokie. “I don’t think this Frank Beamer is the guy,” I remember him saying. “But it sounds like they’re going to give him another year. Maybe he’ll finally show us something.”

Frank certainly showed us something. And it is that conversation that at least for me, made this season so unsatisfying.

This was a year, I have to say, where my heart and my head were constantly at war when watching Hokie football. I’ve watched these guys for over 50 years, and usually while my head is always whispering “you know what’s going to happen next…again” in one ear, my heart is saying “you don’t know, it could happen.”

As proof, I was actually texting friends yesterday before the game, saying “remember you heard it here first: Virginia Tech is going to upset Maryland today,” before my head told my heart to shut up before we lost a bunch of money.

But those internal battles within my soul usually only happen a couple of times a season. This year it was every week from the very first kickoff. After the season-opening upset of North Carolina, a team ranked by some as a French model on the internet, er, No. 10 team in the country, my heart was screaming “See! He’s getting it turning around. This is going to be just like Frank.”

But my head noticed the body language of some players on the sidelines. The nonsensical and stubborn offensive play calls. The former players thriving at other schools. Something wasn’t quite right, and I found myself hesitant to do what I normally do about Hokie football: become irrationally positive about prospects for the season.

Each subsequent week turned into a replay of that battle of internal organs, and we all know how the rest of the season turned out. It was emotionally exhausting game after game, trying to figure out are we getting better, getting worse, or just going sideways. Social media magnified things so if you said something positive, people said you were crazy. If you said something negative? Well, you were crazy too.

Yesterday, when it was finally over, I didn’t feel happy or sad. Just a sense of relief.

You see, usually when the final game of a season is played, I find myself just a little sad. There comes a time when you get old that you realize there are only a finite number of Thanksgivings, Christmases and Hokie football seasons left in your life, and you make a point to enjoy every one of them specifically in the moment.

Not yesterday. I’m very appreciative of the hard work of every player and coach on the Yankee Stadium field yesterday, but there is no magic potion that can allow a team with half its roster decimated to injuries and players sitting out to be competitive against a team with the same starters it used for the entire season. A beating was expected, and it was delivered.

I watched every moment until the final play, and as I reached for the remote to change the channel, I sighed at Maggie The Wonderbeagle and said “I’m glad THAT’s finally over.”

I think that’s the reaction from a lot of Hokies. The football program has been going sideways for a while now, so it’s time for a new guy to try his hands at the reins. A change, someone once sang, will do us good.

So Brent Pry, welcome to the show. Today is the first day of a new regime, and you start with a clean slate. Hokie Nation wants you on that wall. Hokie Nation needs you on that wall.

All I ask is that you get my heart and head back on the same page.

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Sunday, 29 January 2023

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