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Mustering Up Hatred for the Musket-bearing Barbarians

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Trying to recreate a rivalry many have never experienced or simply have forgotten leaves me in an odd existential place. How can I hate what many others around me do when I have no personal history required to do so?

Mark Thurston #48

I really missed the heyday, didn’t I? I’m going to tell you, I’m having a hard time getting more than your normal amount of interested in the season opener against the Mountaineers. Call it naiveté, inexperience, incompetence, call it whatever, but I come from a generation of fandom that doesn’t remember West Virginia as an opponent, let alone a rival of such built-up magnitude. I hear all these platitudes, I see all these highlights, and there’s an empty spot in my experience where I suppose that pride and/or indignation should be.

Virginia Tech last played WVU in 2005, which was my sophomore year in high school, when I was still a somewhat self-loathing football player. When I started to grow up in my football fandom outside my own team (Steelers, Redskins, and of course, Hokies. Army and Nebraska are secondary teams for my family, as well), my father would of course regale me of the tales of the rivalry- he was a student from 1978-1981, which was a period in which the teams split the rivalry 2-2 with the home teams winning both times. He’s told me of the battery throwing; I know of the couch burning. It’s not like I haven’t heard things that make me wince. But I don’t even remember seeing that VT-WVU game in 2005. Which means to me, this is just another football game. It’s going to be the same way to a lot of the players- they’re even younger than I am. It’s…lost a luster, one it cannot get back. I’m not alone:

Indulge me in one philosophical thought: the rivalry, or rather, the fall of it, is a microcosm of the past 10-15 years in college football. Teams shifting conferences, the degradation of traditional rivalries and the neutrality of going about your business as a university has created a dead period for this rivalry. I’m not actually complaining. Business is business, and college sports is BIG BUSINESS. These two teams went separate ways when the Big East started to fall apart, especially when it was clear that other conferences were going to get bigger pieces of the money pie. Look at it now, neither team is in that conference, which is a shadow of its former self. The Big East soon became the Big Least, and now it’s really mostly a basketball conference populated by some of the major Catholic universities of the US. Nothing inherently wrong with that, mind, but it is a complete tonal shift from the days where Miami, WVU, and VT ruled.

The teams themselves have come a long way. Both got mostly new coaching staffs- without Foster and Wiles, the Hokies would be a WHOLE coaching generation removed from the last time this game really mattered. I don’t want to sound like what Frank Beamer said when he called the run-up to the ACC schedule as exhibition games, but to many, including myself, this is just some game against a non-conference team. Should I be mad? Should I invent hatred for a team I’ve never really known or seen live? Even during the big RichRod Noel Devine/Pat White/Steve Slaton years, I’ve never exactly been a FAN of West Virginia, but I’ve never had a particular distaste for them. We haven’t been in a lot of heavy recruiting battles that I can remember with them of late, either. I can’t dredge up hatred where it isn’t. It doesn’t help that I’m somewhat existentially unsure of how the team is going to perform throughout the year, and this game is just the first test of a new quarterback and mostly new receiving corps. WVU is somewhat in the same boat- new QB, pretty much a BRAND NEW defense…it’s going to be a weird game that might be full of mishaps and miscues. Who knows? The ESPN predictor gives the Hokies a 67% chance of winning, but what’s that even based off of? We only have a vague idea of how both teams might perform.

All in all, I’m excited for the season to start. I want football back- my life’s been really busy and I’d like one of my pressure valves to just open up and let me root for my favorite teams again. But forgive me for not being like many of you- I see nothing in this game beyond my team going against some other team with a history I’m familiar with, but not wrapped up in emotionally. Maybe I should lament that, maybe I shouldn’t. It’s not clear to me now, much like the outlook on the game. Just remember not to get too excited. Leave that to the couch-burning heathens up the road, I suppose. Hopefully, this Labor Day Sunday, not a single La-Z-Boy is put to the torch in Morgantown.