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The 70 percent mark

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I think we’re pretty good.

John Schneider - SB Nation

I’m not actually from Queens—I’ve only been here for a little over a year. For the first 18 years of my life, Northern Virginia (NOVA) was home. A lot of you can probably say the same. It’s wild to be in that ecosystem again—NOVA is probably the most aggressively suburban place in America. It’s not a collection of towns and satellite cities, but rather one sprawling entity, where few places are distinguishable from each other.

That’s not to say that there isn’t cool stuff there. We have the Bunnyman Bridge, a railroad crossing where an axe-murderer in a bunny costume supposedly roams the premises. Reston, among the oldest and most well-known planned communities in America, is here, and in many ways represents what suburbia can be at its best. The most iconic landmark in Springfield, my hometown, is the Springfield Interchange (we call it the Mixing Bowl), where I-95, I-395, and the beltway all meet. It’s listed as a tourist attraction in Google Maps, and several people have even left reviews—true story.

None of those factoids travel though. If I told someone in New York about the Bunnyman, they’d think I was a lunatic. I just find it funny that in a century where information travels so easily, some stories remain so local.

Whenever I’m back in my hometown, I’m struck by all the Virginia Tech I see everywhere. Bumper stickers, license plate frames, flags, t-shirts—the whole nine yards. It’s pretty cool having that common thread with so many complete strangers. I can’t even count the number of times someone has yelled “Go Hokies!” at me on the street here. When I see people in New York wearing maroon, it takes me a second to realize they aren’t Tech fans, but that they probably just shop at H&M.

I feel like being a college football fan is caring so deeply about things that no one else could possibly give a damn about. Almost none of the preseason minutia that we spend months overanalyzing reaches outside the fanbase. All the discourse on the Twitter threads, message boards, and in local media doesn’t get to the talking heads on ESPN. It’s not a coincidence so many college football fans complain that ESPN—and national college football coverage in general—gets it wrong. No one else really cares about Brad Cornelsen’s jet sweeps. We do, though, and it’s frustrating—even bewildering at times—to realize that others don’t see what we see.

(The jet sweep is a good play though, go ahead and @ me)

***

We’re 2-0 and ranked 15 in the AP Poll, the defense has looked massively improved, Braxton Burmeister has flashed serious quickness and solid decision making—there are good vibes all around. Or at least there should be.

When everyone thinks we suck, we’re all quick to defend our team, discuss mitigating factors, blame something else. But when our team gets praise, we qualify that, too. I saw so many fans on the timeline, after two solid wins, talk endlessly about our flaws—that our passing game is limited, our coverages are too vanilla, that somehow taking care of business in an obvious trap came (and covering the spread, no less) wasn’t enough. Some even said that they wish we weren’t ranked, so as to not raise expectations. I just don’t understand why we have to equivocate so much. Are we so afraid of a let-down that we can’t allow for any happiness? How have we gotten to a point that asserting that this team could be better than mediocre amounts to blasphemy? Have we been convinced that our program’s limitations are so insurmountable—that we’ve been left behind by the big boys—that real winning just feels impossible?

I had this AP Chemistry teacher back in high school, Dr. Acio, and even though I don’t remember any of my polyatomic ions, this one piece of advice he gave to us stuck with me for life: Chances are unless you just don’t know the material, your first instinct will generally give you the correct answer on a test—about 70 percent of the time. That means that if you think too hard about a question and change your answer, it’s more likely that you’re changing a right answer to wrong than vice versa.

This is not to say that checking your work is a bad idea—after all, 70 percent is in C-minus-D-plus territory for most people. But you shouldn’t doubt yourself unless you have clear, convincing evidence to support a different conclusion.

After the Belk Bowl in 2019, I was talking to a Kentucky fan about the game. He said that he expected an easy win—he didn’t have the highest opinion of the ACC after watching his team crush Louisville the game prior—but was surprised at how good we were. Especially how good the offense was, and how easily we moved the ball against a solid SEC defense. Granted, we lost, and I was disappointed, but I couldn’t stop telling him about how terrible the play-calling was, how painfully conservative our coaching strategy could be, and how we didn’t perform to our talent level.

Looking back on that, I probably sounded so dumb and annoying. To him, and to most people watching that day, we looked really good, and more than proved ourselves against a solid SEC team. Still, there I was, seeing nothing but flaws, reasons to be discouraged. I just don’t think that’s a way to be a fan, or a way to live in general.

As for this year’s team, I’d say there’s at least a 70 percent chance that the Hokies are really good. If we win these next three games, I might not even have to check my work.

***

I was back in NOVA for a month recently, long enough where the lines between visiting and living were blurred. It’s weird coming back to the place you’re from, to a place that still feels like home, even though its not. I think it’s cool to have that perspective, though—to see my hometown as both an insider and an outsider. It gives me a better idea of the fabric of this area, of people’s overall mindset here, of why people want to move to NOVA and why some might want to leave. Overall, it helps me think critically about something it’s difficult to feel impartial about.

I always like to drive around when I’m back home, to see my old familiar spots, to see how the place I’ve come to know so intimately has changed (or stayed the same) in my absence. The old strip shopping center we would grocery shop at has been completely re-done, just toeing the line between cool and trendy and gentrified as hell (there’s even an outdoor fireplace, for some reason?). But the Springfield Executive Office Building at Old Keene Mill and Backlick, that’s been vacant and abandoned for as long as I can remember? Still there. It’s wild to see what changes, and what stays the same. In a world that’s moving faster than ever before, it’s crazy to see some things stuck in time. I can’t decide if that’s good or bad.

(The “real” Bunnyman was actually a man upset at the area’s continued development in the 20th century.)

But what really strikes me is what I haven’t seen. Every time I come back, it feels like I discover something I’d never seen before. I remember once, when I was home from college, I was driving my normal route back home from Centreville (a Korean BBQ hotspot, and therefore one of my favorite places in America) on Clifton Road, and just for the hell of it, I took a right onto Henderson Road, and then onto Yates Ford Road, down towards Bull Run. I figured that maybe I’d get a decent view of the water, but when I came to a clearing in the woods, I saw this scenic little bridge. It was one of those low bridges—where it felt like it was crossing through the water, rather than over it—with nothing but woods surrounding the area. Add some Spanish moss, and it could’ve been the rural deep south, except just 30 minutes from D.C. I know, it’s not that exciting, but I just thought it was so cool that this place existed so close to home—a place I thought I knew like the back of my hand—and I never even knew. I guess it goes to show that no matter how well we think we know something, we don’t know everything. Maybe we should appreciate that a little more.

Did any of that make any sense? Have you seen any suspicious activity near the Bunnyman Bridge? What do you think of West Virginia? Would you rather have a regular WVU or Tennessee series, or neither? Let me know in the comments—I guess I’m just trying to start discussion anyway. It’s cool talking to you guys, makes me feel part of the community even though I live far from the main alumni bases. I think I’ll do a piece on the city of Morgantown, a place I’ve been to a few times, next, for all you crazy people actually going to that game (what does burnt couch smell like, exactly?), so hopefully I’ll have that out later this week. But until then,

GO HOKIES!!!