Tragedy vs. rivalry
Flash back two years. The Hokies were in Charlottesville for their annual football game against Virginia. Wahoo fans came out in full force. They wore shirts, they held signs that read "culture vs. agriculture" and they used their vulgar mouths. Hokie fans responded in equal force. A "T" was painted on the center of the field on Virginia's V-sabre logo.
In 2004, ESPN analyst Kirk Herbstreit was quoted as saying he "never realized how much those people hate each other."
Then there was April 16, 2007. Hokies looked to the world for support after immense tragedy, and Wahoos worldwide reached out to Blacksburg with open arms. Virginia students wore maroon and orange and T-shirts that said "Hoos for Hokies." Virginia sports message boards were filled with support -- calling Hokies brothers and sisters -- instead of the usual disdain found for the opposing school.
"Never thought I'd say this, but Go Hokies," one blogger wrote on The Sabre, a Virginia message board.
With Virginia's biggest sporting event of the year looming one week ahead, some fans aren't sure what things will be like. The biggest question is: What mentality will prevail? Tragedy or rivalry?
"I think everything's going to be toned down," Hoo Crew President Ben Breit said. "But the passion on both sides, I don't think will be toned down at all."
It seems that with more than just a rivalry on the line, fans aren't willing to compromise an ACC Championship berth in exchange for some brotherly love among Virginians. Virginia Tech students don't expect the environment to be any more welcoming than in the past.
"I understand rivalries bring out, simultaneously, the best and worst out of people," Virginia Tech fifth-year student Aaron Marcus said. "It wouldn't surprise me if things were the way they were two years ago."
Though no one is sure what the atmosphere will be like this weekend at Scott Stadium, no one expects the other side to let the pressure down.
"Coming from their end, I think the last thing they would want is pity," Breit said. "I don't think they'll think it's a big deal if we put up signs that say 'culture vs. agriculture.' At the same time, I don't think there are many people here who are going to go that far."
While fans might focus on victory more than anything else, an effort of unity has been made by the Z Society. Dozens of students have been recruited to unveil a large flag displaying the two schools' logos.
"At the game on the 24th, you will be unveiling a 65' x 120' Virginia Pride flag as a celebration of and tribute to our two schools," an e-mail from the Z Society stated, describing the act as a "display of student solidarity."
Additionally, the Cavalier Marching Band and the Marching Virginians will perform Friday night at John Paul Jones Arena. At halftime, the two bands will be joined on the field to perform as the flag is displayed on the field.
The prevailing belief, however, remains that the way the rivalry exists -- the way it has always exists -- doesn't conflict with the unity of all students, fans and alumni as Virginians.
"I will boo U.Va. for the same reason I boo any other team Virginia Tech plays," Virginia Tech senior Tom Billheimer said. "Booing isn't unsportsmanlike. It's just me rooting against the other team."
Whether or not booing detracts from the unity the two schools have established over the last seven months, it has become clear that if it helps the team win, then that's more important than efforts made to unify the two schools.
"Once the teams come on, once the game starts, I'm rooting for U.Va.," Breit said. "I'm rooting against Tech. I want my guys to win and I'm going to do whatever I can to affect the outcome and whatever I can contribute to that."
Since the tragedy, it hasn't been so odd to see a Wahoo wearing a Virginia Tech sweatshirt. Since April, transfer students haven't felt so awkward saying they used to attend school in Blacksburg. Truly, Hokies and Wahoos have never been so together.
But if fans decide football trumps respect, then whatever notions we learned about loving our enemies may be lost forever.