As I stood beneath the north end zone bleachers at Lane Stadium, I could hear the thousands of feet jumping above me.
Metallica’s “Enter Sandman” blared over the loudspeakers, the stadium did just as it had the seemingly hundreds of times I’d been there before.
I stood for much of the first quarter, peeking through the iron gates that separated the field from the entrance. The jumbotron gave me what I needed to see.
With a ticket for the south side of the stadium tucked away in my pocket, I waited for my best friend to bring me a ticket. That ticket would get me in to the north end, where my friends stood covered in orange and maroon. It’s what we would do when we were students. Still, it’s what students do to enjoy the game with their social circles.
I stood there and thought that I wasn’t sure I was young and dumb enough to do that anymore. Do adults sneak into other sections to sit by friends? Perhaps it was my overthinking mind working on overdrive. When you stand and wait, there’s not really much else to do but think.
The empty, lonely underside of the metal bleachers gave me an understanding of this place, my alma mater.
In a weekend of catching up with old friends and making new ones, something didn’t feel right. When I walked across a campus with new buildings and construction at every sidewalk, the coeds walked to class. Under those bleachers, I felt like it wasn’t my home anymore.
To be fair, it’s not my home anymore. It once was, and that time is gone. Despite attempts to regain that feeling, it felt further away than it ever had.
Eventually, I found my way into the stands. I watched the same game much of the football world watched Monday night. It was terrible and ugly. Virginia Tech couldn’t put together any rushing game, a first for the school. The defense was fine, but couldn’t create a turnover.
Creating turnovers against Georgia Tech has always been a necessity. With the ball control offense the Yellow Jackets run, it’s too hard to gain ground without frustration. The Jackets simply bleed you out. I watched as that happened again.
With a late score, it seemed like the Hokies had taken over. My joy turned into jumping, hugging and screaming at the top of my lungs. Then, as it feels like it has happened six million times before, the opposing team took the lead. With less than a minute to go, the roller-coaster ride was over.
After waiting for some action the entire game, I had received too much of it. I suddenly wished the game had gone back to the dull, prodding, annoying pace it was before. No action would have been just fine. No action would have meant a chance.
Now, the chance was gone as far as I was concerned. For my friends next to me who are also alumni, there was no chance for our team to win.
We’ve seen that episode of Hokies football before, and the replay button seemed to be stuck. The replay was stuck in a stadium full of people who were stunned. It was the silence that only a visiting fan can appreciate. It was deafening. Yet, the silence was like beautiful music to the fans from Atlanta. The silence was golden. It was also navy blue.
An undergraduate girl stood with two of her friends behind us. As the game wore on, the critical moments became a topic for discussion. Do they punt here? Should they burn a timeout to stop the clock? Each time the questions were asked, the girls threw incomplete. When the orange-clad Hokies took the field to attempt one last drive, the girls believed.
That is where the difference couldn’t have been any clearer between myself and the students at my alma mater.
Having seen it a million times before, I didn’t believe. Not only didn’t I believe, I almost didn’t even care. I’ve become cynical and jaded among a couple other things, and I couldn’t help but laugh on the inside at their childish ambition.
The real world is out there, and it’s real. In the real world, Virginia Tech isn’t scoring. Oh, but to live in college is bliss.
Enjoy the dreams.
In what seemed like a blink of an eye, the Hokies scored. They went to the first home overtime game in school history. and they forced that important turnover. They marched to the 1-yard line and made the game-winning field goal.
We hugged and smiled. We laughed and cheered. We yelled like we were calling someone who was lost along the way.
My friends and I walked to the local sports bar where we spent many nights as students. It was one of the best times I’ve had in recent memory. No worries, no cynicism, no real world.
Once in a blue moon, those things will happen and the moment will be frozen in time. That moment will likely be as real to me as the other ones remembered on that campus.
As the euphoria settled down, I had an epiphany that maybe the people naive enough to hold on to hope were what being a student is all about. Perhaps those girls who couldn’t see what was coming could teach me a thing or two. That maybe with that final kick, we were all back where we started at that gigantic university we called home.
For a few hours on a Monday night, I was a student again. I was in a giant room full of people united by one thing and one thing only.
The empty shade beneath the bleachers was a faint memory.
Just faint enough to make me appreciate it.