VT Hokies Gator Bowl: Fans win at Hoke Spirit
by Nancy Bowman Sauer
I think it really hit me when we entered the Jacksonville airport and they announced "All Virginia Tech Band members meet in the baggage area." You could feel the orange and maroon pride. It was true--Virginia Tech was headed to its biggest bowl ever, the Gator Bowl. In actuality, the excitement hit many Tech fans earlier in the year when Tech beat Rutgers. The rumors started about the CarQuest Bowl and the Fiesta Bowl, and soon Tech fans were calling their local travel agents for flight schedules to potential bowl destinations. Christmas cards to other Tech supporters carried the familiar "How 'bout those Hokies" and "See you at the Bowl." The excitement built. Hokie Clubs, alumni chapters, and friends rushed to make arrangements for the game. Two Tech fans couldn't get together without boasting about the game, coaches, and how sweet it was that we were going to the Gator Bowl while our friends from Charlottesville were going to the Independence Bowl.
As we left the airport, I noticed the highways were filled with Hokie fans. Familiar orange and maroon VT flags, license tags, and signs seemed to be everywhere. Students were piled into cars with signs on the windows such as "Gator Bowl Bound." More than 18,000 game tickets were sold to Tech supporters, and it seemed like all of them were lining the streets at parade time to catch a glimpse of the cheerleaders and band. As the crowd moved from the street into the Jacksonville Landing, friends greeted each other--some for the first time since they left college. "Everyone is here," shouted a Tech fan--and that truly seemed to be the case. No matter where you turned, there was someone that you knew. As the rain fell lightly on the pep rally, the fans danced and cheered as the Tech band played. The crowd roared when Coach Frank Beamer took the stage. There was no question--this was bowl mania! Even when the rain became steady, the fans lingered, swapping stories and yelling Tech cheers.
The Omni hotel, home to the team for the week, was constantly buzzing with fans. "Go Tech" and "Number One" echoed throughout the hotel. The alumni and Hokie Clubs occupying hotels in Amelia Island, just north of Jacksonville, were just as excited and busy. The lobby quieted only when folks left for the pre-game brunches. Game strategies and New Year's Eve plans were the most popular topics when more than 900 alumni gathered for those kick-off brunches in Jacksonville.
Game day brought cloudy weather, but that didn't cloud the excitement as fans donned familiar orange and maroon sweatshirts and headed down Route 301. Buses, cars, and vans carried fans from Jacksonville to the stadium in Gainesville, because stadium renovations required the game be moved to the University of Florida. Unfortunately, traffic control was not a highlight of the trip. Traffic snagged in Waldo, Fla. "Where's Waldo?" was replaced with "Here's Waldo" and "Waldo could sure use a couple of Tech engineers to keep things moving!" On our bus, most people knew each other, but those who didn't quickly became friends--something I notice generally happens when people realize that they have Virginia Tech in common. After a couple of rounds of "Tech Triumph," the conversation turned toward "fan" coaching, with everyone contributing their two cents on how to beat the Volunteers. Soon, anecdotes beginning with "When I was at Tech ..." floated down the aisles. My, how "rough" it used to be!
The sponsor of the Gator Bowl, the Outback Steakhouse, provided a stadium tailgate party (complete with steak and burgers) that pleased even the most discriminating fans. And having the Hokies and Volunteers in the same area heightened the excitement, although our burnt orange looked much better in the glow of the stadium light than their bright orange. As kickoff drew near, more than 62,200 fans surrounded the field. Then the hum of the crowd grew to a roar as the Virginia Tech team and cheerleaders ran onto the field. Never have Tech fans made their presence so well known. Unfortunately, the first series of plays dampened our spirits, but everyone remained supportive. The tone for the game was set on the second play from scrimmage when Tech quarterback Maurice DeShazo was intercepted by linebacker Tyrone Hines. Although the game had a disappointing finish, (23-45), and the bus ride back was a little quiet, fans who made the trip to the Gator Bowl were glad they did.
Many fans were still proudly sporting their orange and maroon back at the Jacksonville airport. One thing about us Tech fans, we love our team and aren't afraid to show it. So how 'bout a round of "Tech Triumph" for the '94 Hokies, the Gator Bowl, and Tech's great fans? With the potential of the '95 Hokies and with this year's Gator Bowl committee singing the praises of the Tech fans, I know I only have to wait 10 more months until I run into the Tech band at another bowl city airport. I think I'll start packing!
Nancy Bowman Sauer (IEOR '84) is president-elect of the Virginia Tech Alumni Association.
Virginia Tech Magazine Volume 17, Number 3 Spring 1995