In 1998, I was 14 years old and only beginning to understand the deep-seeded rivalry between Virginia and Virginia Tech.
My father and his father had both been Cavaliers and so my world view was ultimately shaped by that background, and then the 1998 game made me a fan for life.
That weekend I had visited my grandmother who lived out in Hillsville, Virginia and on the way home we passed by Blacksburg on Interstate 81 a few hours before game time.
What I saw stuck with me for a long time, the interstate was a parking lot. Everywhere I looked cars were decked out with team paraphernalia.
Granted, most of the flags and bumper stickers and everything else were in maroon and orange, but I was proud every time to see orange and blue emblazoned on some car—a brave fan, usually, entering the Lion's Den known as Lane Stadium.
The 1998 Virginia Cavaliers were rather brave players themselves, they knew that this was going to be a tough task. Both teams were 8-2 on the year and both were ranked in the Top 25. Virginia had a bye week prior to this contest to prepare for the game.
Yet, none of that preparation seemed to pay off in the first half.
Relegated to listening to the game on the radio, I listened to the Hokie broadcast team describe a blood bath. The Cavaliers, led by quarterback Aaron Brooks and running back Thomas Jones, could not get anything going and even gave up the ball twice in the first half.
Virginia trailed 17-0 and eventually 29-7 at half to really make things look bleak by the time I arrived home in Richmond, Virginia.
My mother went to the grocery store, at peace with the fact we were going to lose. My father and I, both way too frustrated and disappointed, watched the game in separate rooms. I knew he would watch until the bitter end but I was not going to suffer through that pain.
I told myself I would give Virginia one chance to see how they came out in the second half.
On the opening possession, the Cavaliers faced a 3rd-and-17 and Brooks was able to connect with wide receiver Terrence Wilkins for a big gain and a first down. After a fourth down conversion, Virginia was now down 29-14 and I was hooked.
After both teams made bad decisions, Virginia intercepted a pass from Al Clark and ran it all the way into the end zone to make it a one possession game late in the third quarter.
The Hokies responded with what looked to be the game-clinching field goal to take a 31-21 lead with just over 12 minute remaining in the game. Brooks was able to march Virginia down the field and connected on a high lob pass to his running back of all people for a huge touchdown. Brooks scored a two-point conversion to make a three-point game with 7:02 left.
Since I began watching the game on television and not the radio, Virginia was outscoring the Hokies 22-3. Now I was trying not to move from my lucky spot but I kept pacing the floor in anticipation of that big moment.
That moment felt like it would never come as Virginia Tech marched down the field once more to take control of the game. The Hokies crossed the 50 into Virginia territory, knowing that a touchdown could cement the game.
Instead, the Cavalier defense kept them out of a field goal range and forced a punt. However, the ball landed at the 7-yard line, meaning that Virginia was way back from even tying the game, let alone winning it.
What happened next is one of the most iconic moments in Virginia history.
Brooks connected on two nice passes down the field and then threw a long bomb to Ahmad Hawkins at the 25-yard line. Hawkins lost his defender and flung himself towards the end zone, collapsing to the ground with both hands up in the air in a sign of gratitude, elation and celebration.
That image of Hawkins looking up with arms wide open has become a symbol of Cavalier football. It is the image that, 13 years later, still adorns the top banner of The Sabre.com, Virginia's number one fan site and forum.
Wali Rainer picked off a Hokie pass to seal the victory and cap off the greatest comeback in Virginia history. At that moment, my dad and I ran towards each other and proceeded to jump and scream like the world was ending.
All that frustration, all that disappointment was wiped away in one moment. We had beaten our arch rival in a humiliating fashion, taking away an assured victory and sending the home crowd away heart broken.
That image, that moment has meant so much for Virginia fans because that elation has been sorely lacking lately. Since that game, the Cavaliers have only won once it what used to be one of the closest rivalries ever.
In 1995, the series was tied and now the Hokies would love to claim dominance over Virginia and the Commonwealth Cup.
This year, 13 years later, Virginia fans have hope that they can once again feel the thrill of that moment. I, for one, not only want the Cavaliers to beat Virginia Tech so that they can win their Coastal Crown and play for ACC Championship but so my dad and I can once again jump up and down in complete jubilation at exorcising demons that have tormented Virginia fans for far too long.
That game made me a Cavalier fan. It showed me the importance of patience, of execution and of faith in your team. We have suffered in the basement of the ACC in the past few seasons, but 1998 gives me hope that this time, once more, Virginia can be the one laughing last.
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