But before closing the door on the pain, I decided to take one more quick look around, and I noticed there was a certainly familiarity with the surroundings. I started trying to place where I'd seen this pain before. Boston College in 2007? No, that was gut-wrenching, but it was more hazy, less-focused. There was still a pale light in the room. Miami in 2005? Close, but the smell of optimism still lingered after that one. And then it hit me - I'd last seen this pain sitting in the stands in the rain after Virginia Tech lost to Cincinnati, in the 2nd game of the 1995 season when the Hokies last went 0-2.
Yes, that was it. That complete and utter despair. A week after losing a nationally televised game to a highly ranked opponent when an offensive series came up short at the end (in '95 it was 20th ranked BC), the Hokies followed up by playing like garbage in the rain and losing against an outmatched opponent. On top of getting kicked while we were down, the firghtening thought occurred that maybe the great excitement of the previous few seasons was just going to be a flash in the pan and the program would recede back into the shadows, below the nation's radar again. It has happened to countless other programs (Kansas State, Northwestern to name two), why not us?
The finishing touches on this particular pain were the worry that the Hokies might have a losing record on the season, and frankly after getting shut out by Cincinnati in '95 and JMU in 2010, who could the Hokies really beat?
So that was the last time I'd seen pain like this, and that felt familiar, but as I closed the door (for what I pray is the final time), I began looking at other indicators and why this season may not be completely lost. In 1995, the Hokies' game the following week after starting 0-2 was against #13 Miami, whom they had not beaten in Big East play. Ever. And what followed was the real turning point of the entire Virginia Tech program. Michael Vick likely wouldn't have ever been in Blacksburg if the Hokies hadn't put together one of the grittiest performances in history, beating the 'Canes 13-7 and beginning the march towards their first Big East title and a Sugar Bowl victory against Texas.
Unfortunately, the 2010 Hokies don't have a big name opponent to rally around this week. And this isn't the Little Program that Could anymore, just trying to climb the mountain. This is a program with a target on its back after 10 win seasons the past 6 years and 3 ACC titles. That team in '95 didn't have any added pressure. No expectations built on a tradition of success to be nervous about. They just went out and played their hearts out every week. This 2010 squad carries the added weight of that tradition on their shoulders. So they are REALLY going to have to dig deep down for the type of run that team in '95 put together. But the realistic goal for this team coming into this season was an ACC Championship and that is still on the table for them. Vince Lombardi said -
"Some people try to find things in this game that don't exist but football is only two things - blocking and tackling."
He wasn't a man prone to saying things because he thought they sounded cool. He spoke the truth. It is going to take execution in the areas of blocking and tackling that is on a level equal to the talent on this Hokie football team. The Hokies also have to protect the football. If they can find a way, despite the pain they're in and despite all the naysayers after their 0-2 start, to handle those things, VT can still put together a great season. If they cannot, well it can't hurt any worse than it did on Saturday, and it might lead to some long-needed coaching changes on staff. We should learn a lot against ECU about what the psychological make-up of this team is, but the two straight ACC road games after that are where we're going to see if they can execute the football basics. Either way, I'm still around to cheer them on. After all, we can't give up on this team if we ask them not to give up on themselves. Or else we may as well stop calling ourselves Superfans.