Virginia Tech-Virginia: A Cavalier Attitude Towards The Rivalry
That is the record Virginia coach Al Groh has posted over arch-rival Virginia Tech and Frank Beamer.
No other record matters more to Cavalier fans and no other record perfectly exemplifies why a change is so desperately needed in Charlottesville, Va.
I recently came across a column by Justin Cocchiola talking about the Hokie perspective on the rivalry, a series that has been clearly in the Hokies favor since the "miracle of 1998" when Ahmad Hawkins reeled in a huge 21-point Cavalier comeback in Lane Stadium.
Reading it made me realize that someone needs to articulate the other side of the rivalry. Sure, I do not claim to speak for every Virginia fan across the country, so pardon me for taking a bit of a Cavalier attitude in explaining my thoughts on the rivalry.
For my first inclination is to say, what rivalry?
Don't get me wrong, I hate Virginia Tech. As any good rival, beating Virginia Tech in dominoes would make me ecstatically happen. In reality, the Cavaliers beat the Hokies all the time. It is actually the rule and not the exception.
However, those victories take place on the baseball field, the basketball court, and the pitch. It's been six long years since the Cavaliers smelled victory on the gridiron, in a dramatic 35-21 victory which led to Virginia's second straight bowl victory in three seasons under Groh.
Since the Hokies have joined the ACC, however, Virginia has yet to defeat their bitter rivals.
Not to say they have not had their opportunities. In 2004, the Cavaliers lost by seven at Lane Stadium. Tantalizingly close to posting consecutive victories and claiming only two losses for the regular season.
In 2008, the Cavaliers lost by three thanks to Vic Hall's incredible speed. A costly interception late by Marc Verica took away a chance to knock home the game-tying field goal and force overtime.
Virginia has knocked on the door, but they have yet to breakthrough with the victory.
For you see, almost doesn't count , especially in football. It does not matter how many times you almost win, when you don't win, reputations are made.
People begin to believe that the Cavaliers do not deserve to be on the same field as the Hokies.
The Hokies crank out 10-win seasons, the Cavaliers have one winning record in the past four seasons.
Rivalry losses make it appear like the gap between the programs is more like a gulf. When you dig deeper though, it really is not the case.
Sure the numbers look bad, but a few wins here and there would change everything. If Virginia had won in 2007, they would have gone to the ACC Championship Game instead of the Hokies.
If Virginia had won in 2008, Georgia Tech would have represented the Coastal Division and cost the Hokies a chance at an Orange Bowl victory, not to mention a big BCS payout.
These losses hurt more than pride, they hurt the overall perceptions of the programs. Over time, those perceptions become reality.
Whoever is going to be the next coach of the Virginia Cavaliers does not need to worry about recruiting, academics, fan apathy or facilities. All he needs to worry about is beating Virginia Tech, if he can do that everything else will fix itself.
The Cavalier fans are not greedy, I think most understand that we are never going to be an perennial fixture in the top-ten. However, there is an expectation for us to be competitive. There is the belief that we should not be losing by double-digits to William and Mary and Duke at home.
If a coach can crank out winning seasons with an appearance in the ACC Championship game every five years or so, he could restore Virginia to its success in the early 1990s.
Al Groh came to Virginia saying he would bring the program to the next level, however that level has only been a step backwards as he now has more losing seasons in his nine years than his predecessor did in twice that period of time.
Which leads us back to this week. Most Virginia fans remain optimistic about this weekend; they want to believe that the team can rally around their lame-duck coach and send him out with an improbable victory.
The Cavaliers have had moments of offensive genius, such as the Southern Mississippi game or the first half against Clemson. However, those spurts have been few and far between.
In reality, Virginia is banged up and mentally exhausted from one of the more trying seasons in recent memory. Winning this game would require a tremendous amount of innovation, much like the "Wildcat" wrinkle made the game competitive last year.
Does Groh have any more tricks up his sleeve? Would they even be effective?
If they were, it would be a nice way to send out a man who has given so much to this university. No one takes joy in the demise of Al Groh's tenure here, but it is reality and must be dealt with.
Hopefully, this weekend marks the end of an era. With this game behind us, Virginia can concentrate on the change they need to make in order for this rivalry to be important on a national scale once more. That is something we can all desire.
After all, this series has become a lose-lose for the Hokies. If they win, they were supposed to. If they lose, it would shock and infuriate the fan base who has become used to dominating the series.
While there can only be one winner on Saturday, if the Cavaliers make the right change this off-season, everyone wins.
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