On August 30, 2001 Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech were all set to kick off the season. It was the BCA classic. The BCA was the Black Coaches Association, and the game was promoted to raise awareness and generate funds. The mission of the association was to improve employment opportunities and help develop ethnic minority coaches. The BCA had a television contract to broadcast these games. It usually pitted a solid matchup. Previous teams in the BCA classic included Texas, Ohio State, and Michigan State. Virginia Tech was ranked #11 heading into the game, and with Michael Vick ready to debut his sophomore season, this was a marquee game.
For me and my friends, this was a perfect kickoff to a potentially magical season. Vick was back baby! We were back. Yeah, we had gotten beat by the 'Noles in the national championship game, but we had most of that team back. Stir in some new recruits, and we thought this game was an appetizer for a championship run. Hokie fever was running at an all time high. The game was to be played on a Sunday night, and we were already planning the tailgate when the schedule was released. My brother and I had our tickets. Our friends had their tickets. This was going to to be the tailgate that ended all tailgates. After a not so brief trip to the ABC store, we descended to Lot 9. We set up camp, lit the grill, popped the "sodas" and enjoyed a perfect afternoon.
I remember that afternoon as perfect. It wasn't cold, wasn't hot. It was sunny with those perfectly white clouds that prevented you from being blinded. The clouds weren't menacing in any way. They looked perfectly innocent passing by the horizon to a more important destination. The sky itself was a "tarheel" blue, just the kind of afternoon that made the "sodas" easy going down. We threw Frisbees. We chucked footballs. At one point I think I had my shirt off (I blame the "sodas"). As game time neared I had some decisions to make. What to wear in the stadium? Blacksburg is notorious for getting chilly when the sun goes down. I put on jeans to be safe, and a long sleeve tee shirt. I grabbed my lucky hat, put my headphones on and got ready to walk. We were all the way out by the duck pond in Lot 9. It was a good thirty minute journey to Lane, if you are hustling. I grabbed a couple "sodas" for the walk, got my crew in check and we left. Listening to Bill Roth and Mike Burnop on my radio, I had perma-grin marching towards Lane.
As we neared the stadium, it looked awesome as ever. Huge and imposing with its bright lights shining, Lane was calling me to another thrilling experience. The last time I had seen her was the Boston College game, where we wrapped up the Big East and a bid to play for the Sears Trophy. At this point in my journey, weather was still not an issue. The night sky did seem a bit darker than usual, but that could be easily be dismissed as the "soda" effect. When I talked to Jake Grove recently, he had another perspective. "My most memorable moment was when we played Georgia Tech my freshman year, my first game. Before we played they put a poster up in the locker room. It had both the defensive tackles, seniors 320 pounds, all A.C.C.. Before the game I was sitting in my locker petrified. I remember in my locker, just praying the game was cancelled somehow. I remember when they came and said the game was cancelled the relief was unbelievable."
Easy to understand. First action against a beast defensive line would scare me too, but in the stands the feeling was different. Right at kickoff, the sky was acting odd. When they actually lined it up for play, the sense in the stands was the game is starting. I remember Virginia Tech was kicking off, and the kicker had his hand up to proceed. At this point, the biggest lighting bolt I had ever seen appeared to hit Cassell Coliseum. The refs immediately stopped play and the players ran off the field. Now, some of you will recall this bolt actually hit Lee Corso's rental car. He was calling the game and chose a poor parking spot. We remained standing in our section. Some more violent lightning was happening all around us, but it was funny how Lane Stadium can make you feel safe. When the skies opened up, it was torrential. I maintained. I was regretting not bringing a jacket, but the temperature wasn't my concern it was the deluge.
After the P.A. announcer begged us to seek cover, we relented. Under the west side stands, we joked and cajoled. We were wet, but in no way were our spirits dampened. I remember looking out at ten thousand Hokies packed under the grandstand with an odd thought. It reminded me of the scene in "The Titanic". Optimistic voices rallying against impending doom. Thirty minutes later, they cancelled the game. Defeated, we began the march back to Lot 9.
I have only feared for my life on two occasions. This was one of them. I have lived on the gulf coast for 10 years now, and have seen some weather. Hurricanes, flashfloods, and lightning are the norm. This was the most frequent and intense lightning I have ever seen. Every three seconds it seemed a guided missle from God was striking in my general vicinity. I am 6'4". My friends were shorter. I was literally hunched over like Quasimodo, making myself the most unavailable target. I was genuinely scared. When we finally reached our Ford Explorer I was a beaten man. Broken by the elements, I was thankful to be alive. A few weeks later the BCA offered to refund the ticket price by mailing in your stub. Forty bucks isn't worth the memory, and the bragging rights. I actually attended the game that never happened.