I watched with pure excitement as Virginia Tech thrashed Miami 31-7 at Lane Stadium in 2003. The crowd exhibited the archetype of home field advantage. The noise rose to such a level that I didn't fully regain my hearing for three days. It was the epitome of what defensive end Corey Moore had famously dubbed, "The Terror Dome."
Lane Stadium was once thought of as the loudest venue in college football, and among the toughest places to play. Year in and year out, opponents looked at their schedules and circled their Blacksburg date with the fear of impending doom. Our home crowd was both terrifying and revered. But something changed. At some point between 2005 and 2009, we lost our edge. I first noticed it at the UNC game in '09. The house that Beamer built didn't seem as loud as it used to be. At the Clemson game in 2011, I was sure of it, something was missing. During the 2012 Florida State game, I was downright horrified. I could hear people talking in the next section before a very important 3rd down. It was pathetic. Where did our frenzied fans go?
I've spent hours searching for a solid reason, but have found none that could shoulder ALL of the blame. What I discovered was a host of problems that combined to deaden the atmosphere in the stands above Worsham Field.
The first problem is the Hokies' Respect campaign. Respecting the opposing fans and being good hosts should be a given, but there will always be over enthusiastic and intoxicated fanatics no matter where you go. Something as simple as respect shouldn't have to be driven into the heads of fans over and over. Yet the athletic department remains determined that we "own it and show it." It's caused the crowd to become more laid back for fear of violating our fearless leader's agenda. At the very least we shuffle our feet and roll our eyes as the PSA is given before every kickoff.
An even bigger problem is the drop in expectations Hokies have come to embrace. Tech came very close to winning a national championship after the 1999 season. In the years that followed, we had momentum towards getting another title shot on multiple occasions. Fans were still hopeful. In 2005, we were 9-0 before falling victim to Miami. Up to that point championship talk could be heard all over town. Yet over the years, fans' expectations became more realistic. We realized that another title run would be more difficult than originally thought and became more docile.
The administration needs to find solutions. Perhaps the answer is as simple as competing for another national championship. Maybe Tech needs to bring another top ten match up into the Lane. It could be that our team just hasn't been very exciting to watch for the past few years and we need to become a more explosive football team on offense. More than anything, Tech needs fans who show up to the games and cheer just as loudly when we play William and Mary as they do when we play Miami. The Hokie faithful must support this team for better or worse. Nothing can substitute for a frantic crowd during a fourth quarter comeback. When all that stands between you and victory is the defense making one more stop, the people who fill the bleachers act as 66,233 extra defenders.
Over the course of Tech football history, the Hokie faithful have been the anchor for this team. All of us played a role, no matter how small, in willing this program to victory. Are some of us cynical? You bet we are! High expectations will cause that. But it's the fact that our expectations are so high that makes us truly great. Who would have ever thought a school in southwest Virginia could elicit such a strong following? I used to look at Texas A&M and say, "Keep your 12th man!" But if we are ever going to compete for another title we need the fans to get louder. We need a rabid Lane Stadium that makes our opponents shake in their cleats. Bring back the Terror dome mentality. Bring back the certainty that our house is the loudest. Let's make it a point that whether it's Thursday night or Saturday afternoon, we will not leave without a "W."