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Thoughts From a Pessimistic Hokie

By Preston Huennekens | October 27
(Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images)

The Chokies

I’ll be the first to admit it - I am, more often than not, a pessimistic fan.

Since my Dad is a Virginia Tech alum, I’ve been a Hokie fan ever since I knew what football was. This means I have always had a familiarity with the awful term, “Chokie,” a portmanteau of “Hokie” and “choke.” For those who have not heard this, let me explain.

In my younger years, fans would break out the term Chokie to describe when Virginia Tech lost a big, nationally-relevant, televised game. These occurred during the real glory years of the Frank Beamer era when the Hokies fielded teams that unquestionably belonged in the Top 25, but could never completely hold onto a Top 10 or Top 5 ranking throughout the season. There would always be a stumbling block, usually against another ranked team. During the Big East years (1991-2003) and early ACC years (2004-2010), this usually meant rivals like West Virginia and Miami. Notable examples include:

- November 4, 2000 loss to #3 Miami when the Hokies were #2

- October 22, 2003 loss to unranked West Virginia when the Hokies were #3

- November 5, 2005 loss to #5 Miami when the Hokies were #3

- Consecutive losses to #3 Boise State and FCS opponent James Madison in 2010

For whatever reason, it never appeared that Virginia Tech performed well in the spotlight against big competition. Even if this was not the reality, it became the perception. The Hokies rarely won bowl and non-conference games against marquee opponents like Southern California, Georgia, LSU, and Auburn.

But the team had incredible success during this period nonetheless. The silver lining is that Virginia Tech remained remarkably consistent and often won over 9 games a season. In the twenty seasons between 1991 and 2011, Virginia Tech won three Big East championships and four ACC championships. During that heyday, Virginia Tech finished 13 seasons with over 10 wins. For many fans, it became a “given” that the Hokies would finish the season with a bowl game and a Top 25 ranking.

But this success did not last for a plethora of reasons. That is another article for another day.

The turning point - in my humble opinion - was actually when I enrolled as a student at Virginia Tech myself. The 2011-2012 season was my senior year of high school. That year, the Hokies finished 11-3, appeared in the ACC championship against an ascending Clemson squad, then lost in overtime to #17 Michigan in the Sugar Bowl in controversial fashion... Danny Coale caught that damn ball. Even with that heartbreak, it was a successful year for Virginia Tech football.

Things simply changed when I arrived in Blacksburg. The Hokies had a disappointing 7-6 campaign in 2012, improved to 8-5 in 2013, dipped back to 7-6 in 2014, and then repeated that 7-6 record in 2015. My fifth year (2016) was a bright spot - Coach Fuente led the Hokies to a 10-4 record and a near-defeat of Clemson in the ACC title game. Arguably, this was the last time Virginia Tech resembled the height of the program in the 2000s that finished with 10+ wins, a conference title berth, and an appearance in a reputable bowl game.

Our “standard” (if you can call it that) of choking has changed. It no longer means losing in primetime on a national telecast to #3 Miami or #5 West Virginia when we are ranked #2. Instead, it is losing to unranked opponents - Old Dominion, Duke, East Carolina, take your pick - when we are either ranked or understood to be a better football team on paper. And it is a much harder pill to swallow.

This past Saturday’s game against Wake Forest is a perfect example. I refuse to accept or believe that this season’s Wake Forest is a better team than Virginia Tech. Yet they outcoached and outplayed the Hokies on Saturday, and we came away with what I consider to be an embarrassing loss, especially for a team heralded as one of the better of the Fuente era. You do not have to go too far back on the message boards to see arguments for why this would be “our year” to reassert dominance in the Coastal (before the ACC adjusted the schedule and season due to COVID-19).


What Causes Pessimism in the Fan Base?

Every team has its fair share of pessimists and Debbie Downers. Hell, I remember talking to Miami fans after last year’s game. Miami genuinely went from being Clemson-level dominant in the early 2000s to mid-tier in under 20 years. That is a genuine grievance. A similar dynamic exists for Virginia Tech, not in the sense of national championship wins (we have none) but in the sense that we were so consistently good for a long period. Virginia Tech’s program set the standard for itself between 1991 and 2011 when they had 13 seasons with over 10 wins and multiple conference championships. We simply have not seen that level of success replicated with consistency since the 2012 season. And when we don’t meet that standard, people get justifiably upset.

In case anyone is missing the point: most pessimistic Hokie fans (including me) react the way they do because of the success that this program has achieved.

We are not some backwater team that expects too much of itself and asks too much of its staff. We are Virginia Tech. We’ve won BCS bowl games. We’ve been to a National Championship. We’ve won the ACC championship multiple times. The success that most fans expect - 10 wins and a conference championship appearance - is not unrealistic, because it happened at regular intervals before.

When you see us lose to the Wake Forests and Dukes of the world, you have the right to be upset with the state of the program. As a fan and as an alum, it is perfectly reasonable to look around and ask yourself, “what the hell happened?”

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What Can You Do to Change It?

This is a crucial question that Hokie fans have to ask themselves. What can you - as a fan, alum, supporter - do to change the future of Virginia Tech football?

For my fellow pessimists, it is not enough to mope around on Twitter and fire off hot takes on the messaging boards. It is not enough to complain to your friends, coworkers, and strangers about how bad Hokie football is. And for my optimists out there! Optimism on its own will not get us anywhere, either!

If you want Virginia Tech football to have success, you have to seriously consider donating to the Hokie Club.

Clemson did not turn into the powerhouse that it is just because Dabo Swinney is a great coach with a magical scheme. They committed to funnel money to their football program and continue to blow other ACC schools out of the water when it comes to fundraising for their scholarship and athletic programs. Their IPTAY program is the envy of the ACC as well as most of the college football world, and for good reason.

I am one of the most pessimistic Hokie supporters on the planet. I am the first to admit it, and anyone who has ever had the misfortune of watching a game with me will attest to this fact. But I want Virginia Tech football to change. I do not want to continue watching Virginia Tech lose bad games to bad teams. And I frankly do not think I have any right to complain about the product on the field unless I’m willing to make an effort to do something about it.

That something is donating to the Hokie Club. I understand that it can seem ridiculous to donate your money to a failing or unsuccessful product. But fundraising for athletics is one of the only ways that we as everyday, ordinary fans can make a difference for the better for the university and football program that we love.

So that’s it. What are my final thoughts as a pessimistic Hokie coming off a bad loss? Expect more from the team. Do not accept mediocrity when you don’t have to, and don’t defend it. But hope for greater success in the future - and help make that success happen by supporting the Hokie Club.

Use this link to Donate to the Hokie Club