Sunday, April 22, 2012
Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: Tech-UVa rivalry blossoms
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BLACKSBURG - Frank Beamer said 40,000 people. Linebacker Jack Tyler said 50,000.
Pretty sure they're both overestimating the crowd that was going to attend Saturday's Virginia Tech spring game on a nasty day - those of us in the press box figured maybe 15,000 were here when the weather turned sour - but the best part is there's no way to know.
The thing got rained out. Anything goes.
And, Tyler can add this little nugget:
"UVa, they get 5,000 people," he said. "We have that for stretches."
Sound familiar? On Thursday, Tech running backs coach Shane Beamer told our Andy Bitter and several other reporters this: "I saw where our rival school had 8,000 or something at their spring game, which is a nice little crowd," Shane said. "We'll probably have that for pre-game, maybe."
This is good. The Tech-UVa rivalry is getting back to its year-round roots.
As recruits started committing to Tech in rapid succession on Saturday - all of them in-state targets - both sides of the commonwealth feud reacted on Twitter and on message boards. "Take that, Wahoos!" or "We didn't really want him anyway, Hokies!" went the refrain, depending on the loyalty.
That's pretty common in the recruiting battle. But can you remember the last team both fan bases cared enough about the other to target spring game attendance this ferociously? When coaches and players actually jumped into the comparison frenzy?
Again, the actual number doesn't really matter. What matters is the raw emotion that number engenders.
As we discussed Tech's crowd estimate in the press box, trying to come to some sort of consensus, a lot of the other reporters said they weren't going to bother putting it in their stories. Smart dudes.
As soon as I tweeted the 15,000 guess that was reluctantly agreed upon, Tech fans let me have it.
"No way," one tweeted.
"Were you IN Blacksburg today?" tweeted another.
And another: "You're a dumb [bleep] if you believe London's estimate of 8,000. There was 5,000 max at UVAs. #UVAhomer #8inarow."
Perhaps the most reasonable response came from@TAEdisonHokie: "You can be assured based on past history for Tech Spring Games that lots more than 15k were on the way before the storm hit."
I think he's right. And I also think a lot of other people who normally would have come did not bother after looking at the forecast. Breaking out the parkas is one thing for a Thursday night in October; it's another for an exhibition in April.
Truth is, fans didn't really miss much with this game getting canceled. Some fringe players hoping to make their final statement didn't get the opportunity. That one backup who always seems to have his breakthrough day did not. The kickers didn't get the chance to perform under significant - albeit manufactured - pressure.
But the position battles were going to resume in August one way or another. They always do.
The biggest thing we missed was seeing how full the stands were going to be. Spring game attendance is part of the arms race now, as much a source of braggadocio as the size of the lockers or the number of times your games get relegated to ESPN3.com.
This guy's learned his lesson.
Estimate with caution.