My first foray to FedEx Field was back in 2004 (Coincidentally, it was also Tech's first game there), when the Hokies faced the then-No. 1 and defending "National Champion" University of Southern California Trojans. That team, replete with talent, included college football greats (And future pros...though realize I don't say NFL greats) Reggie Bush (And his backup LenDale White), Matt Leinart (And his backup Matt Cassel), Dwayne Jarrett, Steve Smith (No, not that one), Fred Davis and Dominique Byrd, Lofa Tatupu, Keith Rivers, Lawrence Jackson and Darnell Bing. The Hokies were no slouches themselves it turned out, despite losing the triumvirate of Kevin Jones, DeAngelo Hall and Ernest Wilford from 2003, and redefined the football culture at Virginia Tech that year with "Team United," kicking off what would be the longest period of success in Virginia Tech football history.
Tech was understandably a big underdog, coming off of a season in which they finished 8-5, losing 5 of their final 6 games, the lone exception a missed PAT in OT to stave off defeat to Temple, 24-23. In addition to talent losses, there were questions beginning to mount about Frank Beamer's job security, after he had apparently lost control of teams over the previous three seasons, particularly down the stretch. Also, playing the aforementioned "Reigning National Champs" didn't help, even in the Hokies' backyard.
Surprisingly, Tech put up a good fight, and it can even be argued, put themselves in position to win the game if not for an egregiously bad offensive pass interference call on Josh Hyman. Tech was up 10-7 and driving inside Trojan territory late in the third quarter, when Hyman made a nice catch to set the Hokies up 1st and 10 at the USC 12-yard line. But then a flag was thrown, and to the shock of Hokie Nation, was called offensive pass interference on Hyman. Replays of the play seem to show that both players had hands on one another, but the the USC defender overran the play, and Hyman's hand on his back or side prompted the official to consider this a push, despite no extension of the arm. The resulting penalty wiped out the gain, pushed the Hokies back into USC territory, and prompted Tech to completely implode; suffering another offensive penalty before punting to Reggie Bush, who promptly housed it to give USC the 14-10 lead and completely turn the momentum in USC's favor. That's where the curse started, folks.
If not for that moment, if not for that regrettably (And likely erroneously) flagged pass interference call, it might all be different for the Hokies at FedEx. Whatever cosmic karma that Hyman or the Hokies had violated, whatever Indian burial ground they must have desecrated (No pun intended towards the primary tenants of the facility), it all came home to roost starting that night in Landover, Md. I left the stadium that night pretty sore (As I imagine did many other Tech fans), as it was the first of many "We should have beaten that team that was better than us, but we let them off the hook (Okay Dennis Green)," games.
The follow up game/result was just as brutal, as the Hokies faced the Boise State Broncos in a game that was hastily-moved forward by two months (Especially considering the growth curve of that Virginia Tech team) by former Athletic Director Jim Weaver for financial considerations once ESPN came calling (Are you telling me that ESPN wouldn't have likewise been BEGGING for a mid-season matchup between two top-5 teams?), a decision that likely cost the Hokies two games, a potential shot at a national title game appearance and the most embarrassing loss in the program's modern history. The Hokies weren't ready, despite the season that would await them.
Tech got in an early hole against BSU, and only started to get back in it in the 3rd and 4th quarters, where they dominated the Broncos on both sides of the ball. Ultimately, while running out the clock after taking a 30-26 lead, then Tech Offensive Coordinator Bryan Stinespring opted to throw the ball on 3rd down, which resulted in an incompletion and a stoppage of the clock. That gave Boise just enough time for what happened next. The Hokies punted, and a textbook block in the back penalty occurred. The flag was properly thrown by the side judge, and unfortunately, as a result, several Hokies stopped pursuing the ball knowing that the play was coming back. Unfortunately, the flag was picked up after discussion, and Boise was given prime field position with just enough time left for a game-winning drive. They were ensured of this by another and more dastardly penalty, this time on Virginia Tech, when the Broncos' Austin Pettis caught a pass and streaked down the left sideline for a huge gain. Hokie linebacker Bruce Taylor, in his first-career start, tackled him out of bounds, and the laundry hit the field. Despite the fact that Taylor had launched himself before any whistle was blown, and despite the fact that Pettis, who had already stepped out of bounds and then continued to present himself as in bounds, the flag was upheld, and two plays later, Boise quarterback Kellen Moore found a wide open Pettis in the back of the end zone behind the inept coverage of one Jeron Gouveia-Winslow to complete the comeback and the 33-30 Boise State win. Cursed.
The final blow (To date) was a game I reluctantly attended while managing this site, when offered free tickets by my predecessor at my current job; Virginia Tech vs. Cincinnati. The Hokies were fresh off of a home win over Bowling Green, following a demoralizing loss at Pittsburgh (Further Heinz Field haunts) and looked a lot more 2003 than 2011 in their opening two contests, wins over Georgia Tech and Austin Peay, prompting me to do a comprehensive and scathing film review of the Pittsburgh game, and eventually, after the Cincinnati debacle, The Gobbler Country Manifesto. The title of that article (Or this one) should itself suggest what happened: the Hokies lost. But not only did the Hokies lose to Cincinnati, a quasi-upper-tier Big East team, they looked completely feckless on both sides of the ball for much of the contest, and deserved to lose, even if the Munchie Legaux touchdown pass with :13 left on the clock (Yes, that is a real person's name, and the Hokies were beaten by him) was a twist of the knife. There were several suspect calls in this one as well, many of which deriving from Antone Exum's press coverage (Which made Bud Foster look the most Pat Narduzzi-esque of his long and distinguished career, when in a rant to the media the next week, in defending Exum, told reporters that he had "played his nuts off") and a Martin Scales touchdown called back on a less-than-above-board holding call (Logan Thomas proceeded to throw an interception in the red zone when overthrowing Randall Dunn). As I intimated then, and I always want the Hokies to win no doubt, but any favorable result would have been a stolen one. What can I say about the Hokies being 0-3 at FedEx Field (And they wondered why nobody wanted to buy tickets to the Cincinnati game) under those circumstances other than, cursed.
Hopefully, that ends tonight, when for the first time in over a decade the Hokies face their bitter rivals from the Mountain State, West Virginia. It's a rivalry with few greater in Virginia Tech's football history, and though I would love nothing better than to see the game in person (Especially as I live less than 25 miles from Landover), I will not be attending. Why? You should know better by now, but here it goes: FedEx Field. I have boycotted the venue when Virginia Tech is playing there because of all the bad memories. And while I hope that they win and break any notion of the curse I'm clinging to, if they do happen to lose, we'll all know why.
P.S. Also, they won't play Sandman.