Final Score: Va Tech 34 – UNC 48
Weather: 80’s and Sunny; Ticket Price $55.50 Stub Hub; Parking $10
“Generation Gap” by Tree
This trip was part of a visit to see my son at Va. Tech in his freshman year. We drove to Blacksburg on Friday afternoon where we struggled to get out of DC. I should have known better than to leave at 3pm on the Friday of Columbus Day weekend. I knew the route to Blacksburg by heart as it was part of my Sales District, but we still managed to find a new place to eat on the way. We stopped at the Union Station restaurant in Harrisonburg, home of James Madison University. It is worth the stop if it fits your itinerary on the way to a Va Tech game from the north.
I read on the Net that Mel Kiper ranks this stadium in the top five for experiences or ambience. I am not sure I would go that far, but I would agree it is picturesque. Our seats were on the 30 yard line about 10 rows up. They were pretty good seats, but another ten rows up would have been better. There were two video scoreboards and they did a nice job on displaying stats on the boards. It was a lot more convenient to look up at the scoreboard than pulling the stats off your phone, especially on a sunny day. I have been to other stadiums; Michigan State comes to mind, where they do not put up any stats at all. We were on the visitors’ side and Va. Tech fans were fairly well represented. I expected to see more of the preppy look at UNC, but there really was not as much “guys in ties, girls in pearls” as I thought there would be. While it was early October, the sun was bright and hot. In fact, we forgot sun screen and my son got sunburned. The concession stands seem to be local. The only thing annoying was that they didn’t seem to have water fountains and the stadium wouldn’t fill up an empty cup with water. I am sure the concessionaire wants to maximize profits, but taking a stand on water seems to be a very poor decision from a liability perspective especially when your venue is in the South. The stadium is fairly roomy and the restrooms were crowded but fast moving. It was not moving fast enough, however, to avoid a generation gap squabble.
Finding parking at UNC was very easy and my son was able to identify the lots and prices on his phone in the car. We parked in a hospital lot on campus for $10 following a well identified route. I applaud UNC for making the directions very clear. We had a reasonably short walk to the stadium. The stadium was surrounded by trees and the crowds of mostly UNC fans were friendly. We didn’t see any tailgate lots on way to the stadium, but that was probably by design. There were some hardy Va. Tech fans tailgating in the hospital lots. My guess is that there was probably some good tailgating at UNC , we just didn’t see it.
UNC dominated the running game. Their feature back, Gio Bernard, ran for over 260 yards, slicing up Va Tech’s defense like a hot knife through butter. Tech’s passing attack was up to the task, putting up a fair amount of points as well. Surprisingly, the difference really seemed to be special teams, which is usually something Tech dominates. Both teams had returns for touchdowns, but UNC’s kicking game was dominant. The punter did a nice job getting the ball to turn over on his kicks. UNC’s kicker, Casey Barth, looked to be as much of a lock to play in the pros as any kicker can be. His brother was already in the pros, and Casey had broken all his records at UNC. The Tar Heels pulled ahead late, but couldn’t put Tech away. I was thinking of leaving mid-way through the 4th quarter, but Tech drove down to the 20 in the so we had to hang around to nearly the finish. That proved to be a costly decision because with so many fans parking in the hospital lots, it took forever to get out. It took an hour to go less than 5 miles. Anyone looking to go to a UNC game should plan on tailgating after the game or leaving early. Leaving at the end of the game considerably raises the odds of sitting in traffic for a long, long time.
My Dad and Stepmother were making their annual sojourn to Florida to escape the Erie winter and they went ahead of us to Blacksburg to meet my son for dinner. As retirees, they are on a slower pace and like to make their traveling relaxed. The plan was to meet them for breakfast at the hotel on Saturday morning for the trip to UNC. It should be noted that staying in hotels in Blacksburg feels like highway robbery: two hundred bones for the low end of the major chains.
The day didn’t start well as my wife and I overslept and I was fifteen minutes late to pick up my son at Va. Tech. By the time we got our moveable feast going out of Blacksburg, we were already a half hour off schedule, leaving at 8am instead of 7:30am. Since we had to make a side trip to pick up my son’s buddy, Brian, at Elon University, my parents headed directly to Chapel Hill. I usually have things fairly well planned, but I was kind of winging it this weekend. And while my parents are pretty good travelers, each year they become a little less flexible. It is not unreasonable as they deal with the challenges of old age, but as with most seniors, there is a bit of the “I am old and I will do what I please” going on as well. I have no doubt I will develop the same attitude.
The plan was to meet at the easiest, most immediate stop right off of I-40 as we entered Chapel Hill. Again poor planning on my part because this level of ambiguity was not likely sitting well with my folks. So the old man immediately gets out the AAA highway map and starts charting his course. With a GPS in his car and two Iphones between them, there were plenty of modern navigational aids but being a Navy man, I think my Dad would rather get out a sextant and start charting by the stars. Not surprisingly, my Pops planned the most direct route while my GPS said to stick to the interstate. The old man was resolute in his route and I was not going to try to convince him otherwise.
We made our side trip to Elon, picked up Brian and headed onto Chapel hill. My wife was on her new cell phone which was an adventure in itself as just the night before my son had to show her how to answer it. As she exchanged conversations with my stepmother, I felt her discomfort slowly working its way to a low panic – Which exit? Where to stop? How are we going to meet up? “Danger Will Robinson, Danger”. Eventually they landed on a meeting point and gave my wife the address over the phone. I was just shaking my head as she wrote the address down; I was thinking “why didn’t they text it.” So while the meeting point was two miles toward Chapel Hill instead of immediately off the exit, it was fairly convenient even if we were then running into game traffic. It was something I was hoping to avoid for the sake of my parents but there it was. We stopped and switched passengers as my wife goes off shopping with my Stepmother and my Dad joined us to head to the game, but not before he checked his trusty map first. The gap in technical proficiency by generation does not go unnoticed or uncommented upon by the youngest generation in the car.
At halftime Trent, Brian and I went to the restrooms. They had a unique design where the restrooms ring the stadium and they had two floors. We went to the top restrooms and with folks walking up and down the stairs, there was some bumping and jostling. When I went up, everyone was cordial and polite. After he finished up, Trent had resorted to filling up his cup at the sink to get some water. He called Brian on the phone to ask him if wanted to do the same. Brian was taking Trent’s call as he went up the stairs and as he momentarily stopped to answer his phone, an older gentleman bumped into Brian. The man, in a Carolina blue polo, then said “Damn college kid, get off your stupid phone”. Brian, in his Hokie t-shirt and, with a poor choice of words, retorted “f#*% off” and walked the other way. As Brian turned the corner to come to us, I saw the old coot waving his arms and chasing him down. He and Brian exchanged a few words and I stepped in and apologized for misunderstanding. The guy then challenged Brian to a fight. Trust me when I say that would have ended badly for the old fellow. He then said he was going to get the police involved which was fine with us, because he smelled of alcohol and we had not drank at all that day. He then sulked off, and left us there to chuckle about the incident.
What was funny was that at 50+ years in age, this guy knew better, especially when Brian had just walked away. While I did not condone Brian swearing at the guy in the beginning, he did walk away and it was the other guy that kept coming. It was ironic to me because, up to that moment, I was thinking how gracious and polite the UNC fans were to the Hokie fans. It would be unfair to characterize an entire fan base on one crank. I would characterize Keenan Stadium a very fan friendly venue and one I would feel very comfortable with bringing my entire family to visit.
The remainder of our experience was uneventful. While it was exciting to see the game come down to the wire, staying to the end was a problem for two reasons. One, my parents were hoping to get in few hours of daylight driving toward Florida and now that was not going to happen. So certainly, some senior citizen angst was created. The other problem was that we were trying to make it across town for the Florida State versus NC State game later that evening. But, that’s another story (See NC State).