I went to a couple different colleges, both with Division One athletic programs, fairly good football teams and loyal - if not fanatical - fan bases. In 1990, I wore a jacket and tie in the Mississippi heat to watch the Ole Miss Rebels battle their way to a 9-2 regular season record in college football's toughest conference - the SEC. Later, after I transferred to Virginia Tech, I was on-hand as the Hokies football program rose to prominence under the leadership of legendary Coach Frank Beamer.
My native Northern Virginia is awash with Tech alumni, and many people I know travel regularly to see the Hokies play in Blacksburg and at various bowl game locations. Whenever I watch Ole Miss play on TV, I think of my late friend Jose De La Vega, his love for the Rebels and how fiercely loyal the Ole Miss fan base has remained in the face of decades of adversity.
But I haven't been to an Ole Miss game since November 1994 when I watched the Rebels play Mississippi State with Jose. I think about going every year, and have even been invited by my buddy Rex, but it's a long drive and life has gotten in the way.
I went to a Virginia Tech game in Blacksburg 16 years ago, when my oldest son Jake was a baby, but after that limited myself to watching college football on TV for many years. There were a couple main reasons for this:
First, around the time Jake was born deer hunting became my primary hobby. If I had time to travel in the fall I devoted it to hunting with my late Uncle Jim in King William County, travelling to hunt at my dad's Northampton County property and in recent years hunting my club properties in various Virginia counties. Or even if I was just hunting locally here in the Leesburg area, I was reluctant to give up a Saturday in the woods so I could go see a game.
The other reason was that, as Jake and his brothers Nick and Brett got older, I spent most of my fall Saturdays watching - and often coaching - their sports. Football or fall baseball went straight into basketball, and typically Thanksgiving weekend brought the only free Saturday of the fall.
Our fall sports schedule was lighter this year, largely because Brett is still hobbled with a long lingering foot injury, and I also decided to step back - just a little - from deer hunting to make time for other things. In October, I read Stuart Stevens' book The Last Season, and immediately decided one of those other things would be taking Jake and Nick to a college football game.
In The Last Season: A Father, A Son and a Lifetime of College Football, Stevens, a native of Jackson, MS, tells the story of the Ole Miss Rebels 2013 football season and how the author and his then-95-year-old father attended nearly every game. Stevens looks back on his childhood in 1960's Jackson, his relationships with his parents and in particular on how his relationship with his father was shaped by their shared love of watching the Rebels play. If you love college football, your parents, your children, history or the American South, you should read this book. I'm a big fan of all of the above, and I loved The Last Season.
As I closed the book, I asked myself how I, as an alumnus of both Ole Miss and Virginia Tech, could have been a father for nearly 17 years without taking my kids to see either team play. Fortunately, this year has marked the beginning of a period in my life when I spend less time wondering why I haven't done certain things before and more time doing them now. So I bought tickets to Virginia Tech @ UVA, and Saturday afternoon Jake, Nick and I set out for Charlottesville.
Even as a graduate of Virginia Tech, I've always liked Charlottesville and the University of Virginia. I have great memories of visiting my sister and attending games there during the two overlapping years that she was a UVA student and I was at Tech. I especially enjoyed it when my dad and stepmother Linda joined us in Charlottesville for the 1993 Tech/UVA game, which they'd done in Blacksburg the year before.
The UVA campus is beautiful, and Charlottesville is one of Virginia's great small cities. I'd root for UVA in football against anybody other than Tech or Ole Miss.
It didn't take long for my kids to feel at home in Charlottesville as well. Anticipation began to build, and crowds grew in the street as we ate our pre-game meal at The College Inn, located in the famed part of town known as "the Corner."
After dinner, we walked several blocks to Scott Stadium amid a crowd that favored the Hokies. Virginia Tech travels well, and the holiday weekend was no exception. Even with a season that had already seen three losses, thousands of Tech fans showed up to see the Hokies take on the Wahoos.
The UVA fans became thicker as we reached the parking lot and the season ticket holders' tailgate parties. Tech fans filled back in around us though, when we reached our seats high above the field on the visitor's side.
The game was a defensive battle that ended in a 10-0 Virginia Tech win. I was happy and so was Nick, who said it was the first time in awhile he'd been to a sporting event where the team he liked won. Jake, who had been practically the only person in our section not wearing Tech apparel, was quiet, and I suspect he may have become a UVA fan that night.
That's fine with me though. We don't always have to like the same teams, and I may even attend some UVA games next year against teams other than Tech. Charlottesville is a lot closer than Blacksburg, and it's in a beautiful part of Virginia.
We rode home through the hills in darkness, the three of us talking about the game and the two colleges and laughing and joking a lot. I pulled into the driveway at 2 a.m., thankful I'd bought those tickets and thankful that I'd read that book.