Interview with ESPN’s Chris Fowler

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ESPN’s Chris Fowler, the host of ESPN College Gameday, will be the
special guest at the upcoming Richmond Hokie Club Football Kickoff Dinner on
July 29. Fowler was kind enough to talk with TechSideline.com about that
upcoming event. He also talked about the Tech program, the 2008 season, and the
upcoming game against Alabama.

To attend the Richmond Hokie Club Football Kickoff Dinner and see Fowler in
person, please click
here
.

On why he’s doing the Richmond Hokie Club Event:

We’ve felt a really close connection with Virginia Tech for a long time. It’s
part of the history of Gameday. Kirk Herbstreit was down there a couple
of years ago, and Erin Andrews this year. Both are very good friends and both
spoke very highly of the hospitality they experienced from the Hokie fans in
Richmond and how the event was run. It has a very good reputation amongst my
colleagues, I was kind of eager to do it.

It comes at a great time of year for me. It’s a time when I’ll be getting
ramped up for football season, so I’ll be looking forward to it.

On the Gameday experience at Virginia Tech:

We had been on the road for five or six years already, since 1993. It had
already begun to grow. But then in 1999 we went to Blacksburg, and the crowds
that showed up were so enormous, larger than we’d ever had.

The enthusiasm for the show being there, sparked in large part by Frank
Beamer’s urgings to be there … I think Frank was one of the first coaches to get
it early on that the arrival of Gameday was a promotional opportunity for
a football program, and a chance not to show how much they love the TV show, but
how much they love their football program. Showing up is a sign of spirit. It
was a national stage for what Hokie passion was all about.

We had that great turnout the first time we where there, and we said
“Okay, sometimes that initial enthusiasm wears off when you go back
again,” but the second time the crowd was even bigger. I would say
two-thirds or three-quarters of the pressbox side of Lane Stadium was filled up.
And the people really couldn’t get that close to the set. They just sort of
showed up to watch it on the big screen. I would say it was a real milestone in Gameday’s
growth as a road show.

It was impressive. For anyone who had never been to Blacksburg or Lane
Stadium and didn’t know much about Tech’s program because it was somewhat new on
the national scene, it was a great opportunity to show it off. I think Frank
sensed it and the crowd responded. I think in some ways the Tech program was
viewed differently after that, and certainly the success they’d had on the field
[makes a difference in perception].

We showed up, and they just destroyed people. It was 59-3 against Syracuse
that year, or something like that. It was the most lopsided score ever between
two ranked schools.

On Virginia Tech’s Program:

It’s hard to discuss briefly, because I think the growth of it has been
amazing if you think about it. I think maybe Tech fans take it for granted that
there have always been good football players from that area, and that Tech’s
always had a pretty good program. But to take a program from the level of being
solid and sound to the level of being conference champions, national
championship contenders is a huge jump, and I don’t think everybody fully
appreciates how hard it is to do that.

Once you’ve been to Blacksburg and you’ve been to campus, you understand
what’s special about it. But it also remains a very tricky place to recruit
because the curriculum isn’t for everybody, the location isn’t for everybody.
It’s sort of what makes the bond on campus so tight. It’s not like the staff is
going to have their pick of top players. They really have to hustle and sell and
find the right kind of guy. They are competing against a lot of tough
competition to get those players.

To be able to build it so that it’s a consistent favorite in the ACC and
always a team that’s capable of making a run at a national title, it’s just
remarkable. It really is. It’s something that I hope Tech fans don’t take
for granted.

Let’s not measure ourselves against USC, Florida, or even Alabama. We’re
talking about schools that are surrounded by an enormous amount of talent, and
they do have national championships to sell, and so on. Not everybody is going
to get that many five star players.

I think when you look at what Tech has done, and you look at the quality of
players that come out of there, they do a great job of building players. Guys
can go there and maximize their potential. They develop players who aren’t five
star recruits, and that’s certainly a huge part of their program, and I think
that’s what impresses people nationally about Frank’s program.

Was Fowler Surprised by Tech’s Success in 2008?

Yes, I was. The ACC is sort of a conference that’s up for grabs. Let’s face
it, if you can put some things together, make plays and win close games and
things go your way, it’s not a conference that is so formidable at the top that
you can’t win it with a team that’s a year away, which Virginia Tech clearly
did.

It shows that championship grit. Not everyone in an in-between year would be
able to be resilient and hang in there and play their best at the end of the
season, which is what Tech was able to do. It shows that [winning] is now
something that’s become engrained in these players. It’s the ability to play for
a championship and understand what it takes and that they play their best when
they need to.

It’s a very tough thing to teach sometimes, and it also shouldn’t be taken
for granted.

Favorite Gameday spot at Virginia Tech:

I like doing the shows outside the stadium now. We started to do that a
little more on Gameday because we’re taking the show to where the people
are at that time of day. For a night game that doesn’t kick off until 10 hours
after the show, being inside the stadium isn’t a good place to be.

We really enjoyed doing the show from the quad area [Alumni Mall]. It was
near the library, which has the bridge across. We were there twice. We had very
good turnouts and we got to showcase the campus.

Obviously the show we did before the East Carolina game was a unique entity.
We felt that the only location to be for that particular show was right outside
the stadium so we could begin the show with the stadium as a backdrop and the
crowd around us, and then move right inside to capture the emotion of the
entrance and pregame ceremonies. That was a very unique show, and we needed to
do it in that location to make it work.

The Alabama Game:

Tech is obviously viewed as the team to beat in the ACC, and we’re really
looking forward to being at the opener against Alabama. I don’t know if it’s
officially announced, but let me put it this way: the chances are excellent of
us [College Gameday] being in Atlanta for that game.

It’s a tremendous experience to be able to go to a game like that. [The
Clemson-Alabama game] was like a preseason bowl. The energy and excitement was
better than a bowl because the season was starting fresh, and the hope was high,
especially for Clemson. Obviously Alabama went in there and punctured it, but I
think this year expectations are sky high for the Tide. I did their spring game.
Their defense is fierce, and I know Bud Foster expects to have a fierce defense.
I think it’s going to be one of those games where right out of the chute, it’s a
very physical, defensive-oriented game. It will come down to a few plays.

It’s a chance for Tech fans to be there, and they may have been to Peach
Bowls and other events in Atlanta, but this is different. There was a lot of
juice, a lot of excitement inside the Georgia Dome for that game, and we hope to
capture that outside on Gameday. We certainly invite Hokie fans to be
part of the backdrop. Don’t let Alabama fans dominate the scene, because you
know they’re going to be there.

We’ll have it probably very close to where we had it last year, in Centennial
Olympic Park. There will be lots of things for fans to do. I’m sure you can
expand on this as it gets close, but I’m just putting my pitch in to try to be
there. Even if you don’t have tickets. There are so few home and home,
non-conference games arranged, and Atlanta has really done a good thing. It’s
the best game of the opening weekend. It really is something cool, so I hope
people will get to Atlanta and take part even if they don’t have a seat.

I don’t compare it to a bowl game. Both of these teams have high
expectations, both expect to have great seasons, but right out of the gate you
better be ready to play. It’s what makes it exciting, the high hopes colliding
inside the dome on the very first weekend, and it’s going to be very cool.
Atlanta has hit on a great formula.

You can [lose it and still play for a national championship], and that was
sort of Saban’s philosophy, but you can also win it and use it as a springboard.
People began to take Alabama very seriously after that win last year, and
rightfully so. Tech can do the same thing. You go in there and you beat Alabama,
and you score enough points on that defense to get a win, and Tech instantly
becomes a serious contender in 60 minutes of football. That’s the fun part of
it.

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