Hokie tradition lights up Lane
Welcome to Blacksburg
Before every home game on a brisk Saturday afternoon or chilly Thursday night in the friendly town of Blacksburg, Va., a sea of Chicago maroon and burnt orange floods the gates of the monstrous Lane Stadium.
Fans greet each other by high-fiving and chest bumping in order to get pumped up for the game. People wear Tech apparel and heckle the opposing fans who anxiously stumble into the gates of the football powerhouse.
The starting lineup is announced and the bass from Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” thumps through the loudspeakers as students, children, parents and even grandparents jump up and down to welcome home the Hokies.
At Tech, in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Southwestern Virginia, “tradition” is a common term thrown around. Tech has many famous football traditions, including firing off a 40-year-old cannon and jingling keys during a third down at a football game.
“Being with all of the people in the student section is nothing you can imagine,” said Danielle Buynak, Virginia Tech (14′).
Buynak grew up 148 miles northeast of Blacksburg in a town many Hokie fans don’t like to mention.
“I was a UVA fan for my whole life growing up in Charlottesville,” she said, “At UVA you like football when you win, but at Tech, people just love their Hokies and love them whether they win or lose.”
Many students who attend Tech will never forget their first football game, including recent Tech graduate Justin Graves.
“I came to my first game against Furman in 2008 and was blown away,” Graves said. “The tailgating and pre-game activities were a really cool feeling to be a part of. The traditions here are awesome.”
Skipper and The Keys
One common experience many freshmen encounter at their first Tech football game is hearing Skipper. Skipper is a cannon that is fired off from the practice field, located behind the north side of the stadium, whenever the Hokies score.
In the 1960s, two cadets attending Tech were sick and tired of hearing the rival Virginia Military Institute cadets chant, “Where’s your cannon?” The men gathered up scrap metal, built the cannon and rolled it into a Thanksgiving Day game with a triple charge, locked and loaded.
The cannon blew the hats of the VMI cadets and a new tradition was born. The cannon was given the name “Skipper” in honor of the recently assassinated John F. Kennedy who was a skipper on a PT-boat in the Navy.
“The first time I heard it I was in a group with friends and we all jumped,” said Graves, “It is a really cool tradition.”
Another interesting tradition is the third down “key play”. “The “key play” is really fun,” said Liana Bayne, Tech undergraduate (‘13), “The whole stadium rings and it sounds like 66,000 jingle bells.”
Some college sports fans may think a few cheers are enough of a tradition, but the tradition party never stops at Tech.
“Tradition really enhances the whole football scene,” Bayne said. “It makes it even more fun to be a part of.”
CJ Yunger experienced a Hokie game before he attended Tech and was impressed.
“I went to a game with my best friend’s parents against Maryland and the place was electric,” he said. “Whenever they scored everyone around me would high-five me and everyone was really friendly. I’ve never heard of anyone who regrets going to Tech and I think the tradition is a big part of that.”
The Lunch Pail, the Corps, and one big Hokie Nation
Tech football has not only formed a strong local community, but also a strong “Hokie Nation.”
“When you wear a Tech shirt at an airport anywhere in the world, a fellow Hokie will be super friendly to you and might even chant a cheer,” Buynak said. “I really love Tech for the community and that’s the main reason I came here.”
Another intimidating tradition the Hokies have is the lunch pail tradition. Whenever the Tech football team goes on the road and wins, it collects a patch of grass from the opponent’s field and tosses it into their black “VT” lunch pail. To many fans, the lunch pail is a reminder of the strength of the powerful Hokie Nation.
One last Tech tradition happens to be a very special one, which only two other universities in all of the United States share. The voluntary Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets has the honor of firing off Skipper as well as attending Cadet ceremonies and promotions. This group is a very unique aspect of the campus and are yet another way Tech emphasizes its love for tradition.
It’s easy to understand why Tech fans care so much about their football team. Hokie fans feel they are a piece of one large Hokie puzzle.
Tradition makes the small town of Blacksburg, Va. very special. It is not often you see a large ACC school with so many unique traditions. Not many schools have military ties, own a cannon or have 66,000 fans jumping to “Enter Sandman.”
Tradition and passion light up Lane Stadium on game nights, they explode Skipper and they continue to fill up the lunch pail with more and more patches of grass. The strong, friendly community of Blacksburg may be tucked away in the mountains of Va. where many cannot see it, but tradition is what put the town on the map in the first place and that’s what the “Hokie” Pokey is all about.
Follow Nick Sobel on Twitter at @NickJSobel