Charlottesville versus Blacksburg. Navy and orange versus maroon and orange. Cavalier versus Hokie. The greatest rivalry in the state of Virginia will be vastly different this year, as the Cavaliers travel to Blacksburg for a Commonwealth Cup matchup against the rival Hokies with limited fans in the crowd due to the pandemic. During such crazy times, college football is an avenue for university campuses nationwide to come together virtually to support their schools. The outbreak of COVID-19 has undoubtedly hindered this experience. To reminisce on older times, it feels as though an analysis on gameday traditions is necessary, and I believe that I am the best candidate for the job as I’ve been on both sides of the battlefield.
As a current U.Va. student who transferred from Virginia Tech after my freshman year, I was lucky enough to experience gameday traditions at both schools. My perspective as an ex-Hokie — or in my Tech friends’ minds, a traitor — shows me how different the two schools can be for technically the same event. While the goal remains the same — to cheer your team to victory and for bragging rights until next year — the manner in which each respective student body accomplishes this is quite different.
VIRGINIA: The Hill
A staple of beautiful Scott Stadium is the grassy hill on the northwest side of the complex. Known for being full of families on early fall noon kickoffs, or being full of rowdy college students on a Saturday night primetime game on ESPN, the hill is the place to be on gameday. While not quite as well known as Clemson’s Death Valley Hill, where the Clemson players run down right before kickoff, the Scott Stadium Hill is definitely a prime spot to catch a football game. The close proximity to the field also gives students perfect easy access to rush the field after big wins, such as last year’s Commonwealth Clash.
VIRGINIA TECH: Center Street
This is the place to be on Saturdays. On any given Saturday in Blacksburg, the entire town feels like a ghost town. Dining halls are empty, nobody is walking around the campus, and it just feels eerie. However, as you cross Washington Street towards Center Street, you quickly realize where everyone is. Simply put, Center Street is the location of the biggest tailgate in the state of Virginia. Right next to Lane Stadium, the street gives fans easy access to the game after a wild day of tailgating. Virginia Tech students live for these tailgates in the fall, and cannot be left off of a list of gameday traditions.
VIRGINIA: CavMan on his horse
While the costumed CavMan roams the sidelines during Virginia football games, the actual Cavalier riding his horse during halftime is a sight to behold. Many schools have live mascots, such as Uga the Bulldog at Georgia, Mike the Tiger from LSU and the War Eagle from Auburn, but we actually have two — the Cavalier himself and his trusty steed. I still remember the first time I saw him riding on the field as a child and was startled by the fact that they actually let this guy ride a horse on the football field. And of course, who can forget that game against TCU in 2009 where the Cavalier fell off of the horse.
VIRGINIA TECH: Skipper the Cannon
As a university with considerable military background, Virginia Tech is one of six universities in America with an active corp of cadets on campus. With this in mind, it is not a surprise that after every score for the Hokies in Lane Stadium, cadet members shoot the Skipper the Cannon from their practice facility. The loud boom is quite a startling noise, but with a stadium that owns four out of the six games in college football history that have registered on a seismograph, it’s not quite as scary as one would think. I would probably be more worried about feeling the fan-induced earthquake.
VIRGINIA: Cheering when Coach Tony Bennett is spotted
Tony Bennett, to Virginia fans, is essentially immortal. At a school where basketball has been the pride and joy for years, simply just spotting Bennett is a huge deal. And when he’s flashed on the jumbotron, the stadium erupts. I have never heard fans get more excited about a coach for a different sport than the actual team scoring a touchdown. Only at Virginia, I suppose.
VIRGINIA TECH: Key plays
Any football fan would know that on the defensive side of the ball, hearing the phrase “third down” should stir up some noise. Virginia Tech fans are no exception. The entire stadium signals that the upcoming third down play is important, or in their words, “a key play,” by holding a literal set of keys high and shaking and dangling them. While yes, the high pitched rattle of metal might drive you crazy, it does its job of hyping up the fans and the defensive players on the field. My freshman year, I didn't even have a car, so for game days I would put together a collection of random spare keys on a lanyard just to participate in this tradition.
VIRGINIA: “And that’s a Cavalier … first down!”
Anyone who has been to a football game at Scott Stadium has heard the PA announcer after a first down on offense. “A five yard rush … and that’s a Cavalier First Down!” he exclaims every single time we gain a new set of downs. This season, Virginia is averaging 24.1 first downs per game. Imagine hearing that same exact phrase over 24 times in the span of one game. While slightly bothersome, it is without a doubt a staple of a football game in Charlottesville, and of course the more first downs we get, the better our chances of winning.
VIRGINIA TECH: Pregame tunnel walk
In Blacksburg, the walk from the practice facility to Lane Stadium is fairly close compared to at Virginia, where the McCue Center is over a mile from Scott Stadium. This allows the Virginia Tech players, after warmups, to walk back to their usual locker room, get prepared and walk back to the stadium. However, a tight tunnel is the only entrance that the players use to get inside of Lane, with a width that can barely fit two players side by side. Inside of the claustrophobic tunnel is the name of every Hokie senior for over 30 years, and at the end, right above the exit, is a chunk of limestone known as the Hokie Stone. Inscribed with the phrase “for those who have passed, and for those to come, reach for excellence,” each player reaches up and taps the stone before they take the field. As the players walk under the tunnel, they feel the thunder of the fans, as it builds up to the final game day tradition that will be mentioned.
VIRGINIA: Breaking of the rock
A new tradition that Coach Bronco Mendenhall implemented was breaking a rock after every milestone the team completes. Whether it be after every win like last year, or even after the completion of camp this year, breaking the rock signifies accomplishing a goal that the team had previously set. There was nothing more exciting than last season when Mendenhall broke the rock after the Commonwealth Clash victory. That victory checked off two boxes for the Cavaliers — to beat Tech and to win the ACC Coastal Division. A tradition that may be new in terms of age, breaking the rock seems to be a mainstay for the Virginia Cavaliers football program.
VIRGINIA TECH: “Enter Sandman”
The most energetic and loud entrance in college football has to be “Enter Sandman” at Lane Stadium. Simply put, there is nothing more crazy and exciting than an entire stadium of fans singing the song by Metallica. Every true Hokie fan knows the words to the rock song, and even Metallica themselves have embraced being the figurehead of Virginia Tech football. The Virginia Tech athletic department was recently able to gain rights to the phrase, “exit light, enter night” — lyrics from the chorus of the song. The entire stadium jumps up and down during the song’s build up, and when the team runs out of the tunnel during the beat drop, it literally shakes the earth.
VIRGINIA: The Good Ol’ Song
While this may not be as rocking and raucous as “Enter Sandman,” the Good Ol’ Song reflects the traditions and ideals of the University. Every true Cavalier fan knows the words, similarly to the Hokie fans and Enter Sandman, but this is definitely a different type of energy. While “Enter Sandman” is only played prior to kickoff, the Good Ol’ Song is played after every score. There is nothing that beats the feeling of connecting with your friends, family and even strangers around you and singing the lyrics to Virginia’s song. While the ad libs to the song reflect a more harsh opinion about Virginia Tech, these two schools have a rivalry that is strong, full of competition and most importantly, here to last.