A Call to Challenge
by Matthew McKinley, 9/15/03
With all the message board grousing about the Hokie Respect campaign, I realize that this is probably not an ideal time to write this. In actuality, however, it may be the perfect time for it. I want to tell you a tale of some of the best fans in college football. And challenge you to meet that level of hospitality in return.
On September 21, 2002, the Virginia Tech Hokies traveled to College Station, TX to play against the Aggies of Texas A&M. As evidenced by the solid blocks of orange in the stands, there were many Hokies that made the trip, I being one of them. And of all that I have talked to that made the trip down, not a single person had anything negative to say about how they were treated by the Aggie fans that weekend. Not a one.
Usually, you hear stories about how one person was yelled at by a drunk student, how somebody was given the "Youíre Number One" sign with the wrong finger, or how the opposing fans were "weauxfing" before the game. (See Oliver's Weauxfing Theorem if you donít know the term. PG-13 language inside.) But apparently, that kind of stuff doesnít go on in College Station, or at least not where any of the Hokies I talked to were at.
My story begins with an early morning flight from Reagan National Airport to Bush International Airport in Houston. I was accompanied by 20 other Hokie faithful from our tailgating group, and we landed and got on our way to College Station without too much trouble, the only hitch being that our rental cars were waiting for us at Hobbie Airport on the other side of town. (As a side note, I had a pretty good funny on the flight. As we were landing, when the planeís wheels chirped on the runway, I yelled out, "Touchdown, Tech!" on the crowded, mostly-Hokie flight, to much applause. Just thought Iíd share that with those of you out there that donít think Iím very funny.) We finally arrived at College Station, checked into what turned out to be Tanmanís uncleís hotel, and had a party in the party room for a fellow tailgaterís birthday, complete with a cake saying, "Letís Go Hoakies!" Funny how that Hoakies thing follows us around.
Anyway, that evening we headed over to the world famous Dixie Chicken, renowned for selling more beer per square foot than any other bar in the country, or so Iíve heard. I believe it. The Shiner Bock was flowing like a river. My friends and I were decked out in Hokie everything, me in a VT hat, Virginia Tech coachesí windbreaker, and the famous orange and maroon shoes. So we made our way to the bar and ordered our first 32ís of Shiner. That was the last beer I would buy that night.
It truly was amazing the way we were treated at the Chicken. Every time I turned around there was a "Hey, Hokie, youíre empty. Let me buy you a drink!", a "Welcome to Aggieland. Want a Shiner?", or a "Nice of yíall to come down. Thirsty?" (Of course I take advantage of these situations, Iím a Hokie! I never turn down free beer.) The whole night was filled with conversation about the game, and every one was pleasant. In fact, the rudest thing that was said to me all night, word for word, was, "Man, itís a shame yíall had to come all this way for a loss."
My friend Greg actually traded an orange (yes, orange) #7 replica jersey for somebodyís 12th Man replica jersey, and got a good deal. Their replica jerseys are of MUCH better quality than ours. (Another side note: Iím bringing an extra maroon #7 to the tailgate, if any Aggie wants to trade. That way I can wear something for my new 2nd favorite team.) The rest of the details from the Chicken were hazy, as I didnít count how many beers I was handed, but I do remember playing a game of dominoes with some Aggies in the Chicken and getting whupped, but they were gracious in victory. We would have to wait until the next day, however, to see if they were gracious in defeat.
So it got near 11:30, and Aggies started to file out of the bar headed for the stadium for Yell Practice. This is a tradition there where the Aggies get together to practice the "yells" (not cheers) that they will do at the game. They are led by the "Yell Leaders", and everybody does this in unison, so I can understand why a little practice might help. So two friends and I headed off towards the stadium. I lost track of them on the way, but went in anyways, because I really wanted to see this. What I saw inside was surprising.
Nearly 30,000 fans were in the stadium on a Friday night at midnight for what was, in addition to the Yell Practice, basically a pep rally. The Yell Leaders made speeches like one would make at a pep rally, and they were the standard jokes: Where is Blacksburg? Whatís a Hokie? Oh, yes, itís a castrated turkey. Yadda yadda yadda. I walked in alone and stood in the midst of the Aggies, and they were really cool in showing me the ropes of what was going on. How to "hump it", or bend over at the waist and put my hands on my knees, to ensure optimal yelling position to achieve maximum volume; how to lock ankles in order to sway during the "Saw Varsityís horns off" section of their War Hymn; and explaining some of the more obscure words of that song. (Itís Chigaroogarem, not chick-a chick-a boom as I thought it was.)
All in all, it was pretty fun for an opponentsí pep rally. Iím just wishing I had a Hokie girl with me to practice "scoring" (they say when the team scores, they score, as they kiss after each Aggie score, and they turned out the lights for that practice), but that kind of stuff Iíll keep to myself, thank you very much.
Coming out of the stadium, I ran into one of the Aggies that I played dominoes with at the Chicken, and as I was separated from my group, he invited me over to a keg party across the street. I had no idea where I was at the time, but it was a pretty good group of people there, and they were all friendly. I stayed there until 3am or so, talking football the whole time, when somebody volunteered to get me back to the hotel in his truck. I got back safely and crashed.
We got started a little late that morning, and we eventually got to the tailgate put on by the local Alumnni chapter of the Hokie club. Pretty good beef catered by Rudyís, even though it was sorta hot inside that huge tent they had set up. After a little bit there, I told my friends Iíd meet them at the seats and went off in search of the 12thFan.com tailgate Iíd been invited to. I made it there, and found the same hospitality Iíd experienced the night before. Spent about an hour there, and set off for the stadium, chatting up a couple of Aggies along the way.
Well, you know how the game turned out. A 13-3 win on the road, breaking Texas A&Mís long home non-conference win streak. So here comes the test. Could the Aggies be as friendly after a loss as they were the night before the game?
That would turn out to be a resounding yes.
I realize that this is getting a bit long, so let me cut to the chase. After the game, while walking back to the hotel, we got nothing but "great game"s, "nice of yíall to come down"s, and friendly waves. Not one single middle finger. Not one single "we coulda won if". Nothing like that. The same thing out downtown that night. The same thing the next morning, and on the way back to Houston. It was nice getting back to Virginia, but I left the airport that Sunday night with a final thought: Of all the road trips Iíve been on, and thereís been a few (let me tell you sometime about getting kicked out of Primanti Bros. in Pittsburgh because of a Pitt fan that wanted to fight), this was by far and away the best road trip Iíve taken to watch the Hokies play.
The way I see it, if you look up the word "hospitality" in the dictionary, there should be a great big aTm logo next to it. These were simply the best fans Iíve ever met at an away game. And not just polite, either. They were extremely knowledgeable about their team and about football in general. Just plain olí Texas hospitality.
And so, with that rather long introduction, we come to my challenge.
My challenge to the Hokie Nation is two-fold. First, I want to challenge all Hokies to be as friendly, welcoming, and gracious to our Aggie visitors. I know we can do it. And Iím not just talking to our TechSideline.com readers. Iím talking to the whole Hokie Nation. Get the news out. Spread the word. The Aggies are coming into town, and letís let them leave Blacksburg with the same feeling I had, that this was, despite the Hokie win, the best road trip theyíve ever taken to see their football team play.
Oh, yeah, the second part of the challenge. This part is for Jim Weaver, our Athletic Director: Please, please, PLEASE, put Texas A&M on the schedule again. The Dixie Chicken is calling. And thereís a Shiner Bock (or six) with my name on it.