Pols weigh in on UVa.-Tech football clash
The Virginia-Virginia Tech football rivalry has stepped it up a notch - since the politicians got involved.
The addition of Virginia Tech into the Atlantic Coast Conference in 2004 - prompted by the intervention of former governor Mark Warner, who pushed for the inclusion of Tech at the expense of former Big East Conference-mate Syracuse, which had been considered a frontrunner for being brought in along with Miami and Boston College early in the conference expansion talks - turned what was for decades a backyard brawl into an annual clash with division and conference-wide implications.
And that is the case again this year - though UVa. will enter Lane Stadium in Blacksburg with a 5-6 overall record, the 'Hoos could take second place in the ACC Coastal Division from the 9-2 Hokies with an upset win.
In another case illustrating how politics makes for strange bedfellows, the Commonwealth's elected leaders are united on one thing - that Saturday's game is the Hokies' to lose.
"This is a great rivalry game for Virginia. We always look forward to the Tech/UVa. game," said Lt. Gov. Bill Bolling, a Republican who, like Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, is a Virginia Tech fan.
"As far as who we are pulling for, I have to admit that we are adopted Hokies. Our oldest son, Matt, just graduated from Virginia Tech, so we bleed maroon and orange. We cheer for UVa. every other week of the year, but this weekend we'll be pulling for the Hokies," Bolling said.
Steve Landes, the chair of the Republican caucus in the Virginia House of Delegates, and whose 25th House District includes portions of Albemarle County just west of Charlottesville, the home to the University of Virginia, didn't say what his rooting interest was.
"But looking at the two teams, I think Tech will be successful," Landes said.
"That game is such an emotionally charged game - there could be a surprise. It could be very close, or it could be just a blowout for Tech," Landes said.
Landes is a committed sports fan - regularly attending athletics events at both schools. He thinks Tech football fans give their team an advantage in their home stadium.
"It will help Tech, obviously, that it's in Blacksburg. That makes it a lot easier. And that stadium is just impressive - with the fan support and the noise in the place," Landes said.
"Tech fans just get more enthusiastic. Unfortunately, UVa. football fans, they're enthusiastic, but sometimes, if their team gets a little bit behind, they just get really, really down on the team. And I think that hurts them sometimes," Landes told the AFP.
Staunton Republican Del. Chris Saxman - on the short list of up-and-coming Virginia pols to keep an eye on - is, like Landes, a big sports fan, particularly a big football fan.
Saxman thinks the line on the game - the Hokies were favored by 17 points as of the writing of this story - is perhaps out of touch with what will happen on the field.
"That's a big line," Saxman said. "Virginia's defense is a lot better than I think they're given credit for. With Branden Ore being out, I think Virginia covers, but loses.
"I think maybe a 10-point game - if they can cut down on the mistakes that they had last year, which was an abysmal game for the Cavaliers," Saxman told the AFP.
Ah, yes - last year's game. Virginia Tech manhandled their in-state rivals by a 52-14 count in Charlottesville last November.
Winchester Republican Sen. Russ Potts - the former athletics director at Southern Methodist University back during its Pony Express days and former member of the NCAA men's basketball tournament-selection committee - thinks the memory of that showing could serve to motivate the Cavaliers.
"I think Virginia Tech will win, but I think it'll be a close ballgame," said Potts, a candidate for governor in 2005. "Virginia has played much better. The quarterback at Virginia (freshman Jameel Sewell) is really getting better - and it looks like Virginia is peaking now. So they're meeting Virginia Tech at the right time.
"I think you have to give the edge to Virginia Tech - I'd say 10 points, 14 points, somewhere in that area," Potts told the AFP.
Mount Solon Republican Sen. Emmett Hanger - who in a previous life was a basketball player at James Madison University - sounds like he might be running for higher office again soon.
Asked his thoughts on the game, Hanger - who was briefly a candidate for the '05 Republican Party lieutenant-governor nomination - said he is simply "pulling for it to be competitive."
"I'll be watching for a good football game," Hanger told the AFP. "I don't think I'll be rooting for either side this time. I guess this year I would have more of a tendency to be rooting for Virginia Tech - in that the expectations for their team at Tech were greater, and they haven't quite lived up to those expectations. So I would like to see them have a good game."
Attorney General Bob McDonnell also played the politics game.
"I've been to a couple of those games over the years, and seen each of them win," said McDonnell, a Notre Dame graduate who roots for the Fighting Irish.
"I think the records sort of go out the window when Tech and UVa. play. They have a great rivalry," McDonnell, a Republican, told the AFP. "They're two excellent football programs - but more than that, what I'm proud of is that we've got two of the top 25 public institutions academically right here in Virginia. We've actually got more, but these are two of them. They're excellent schools with a lot to be proud of because of their outstanding academics, their community support and just the fine people that graduate."I think it will be a competitive game. UVa. is coming off a big win. Tech has several big wins this year. I certainly hope that it will be a competitive game - and like a good politician, I'm rooting for the best team," McDonnell said.