Live in the Moment

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There
are 120 teams in Division 1A football, and all but 14 of them are done for the
year. The season is winding down, and the Hokies, for whom it started so poorly,
have a great opportunity in front of them this evening. Stanford’s good, but so
is Virginia Tech, and it should be a whale of a game.

Most of the headlines for the Hokies in this last week of preparation have
been bad ones: Antone Exum and David Wilson won’t play the first quarter due to
a curfew violation; six players who aren’t in the two-deep are headed home for
undisclosed violations; Ryan Williams has been battling a tweaked hamstring;
Tyrod Taylor had a stomach bug earlier in the week; and — maybe you’ve heard
this one — Virginia Tech is 1-18 against top five teams during Frank Beamer’s
tenure. TSL even picked the Hokies to lose, like most score predictions, local
and national.

Combine it all together, and it doesn’t sound good for the Hokies going into
tonight’s game. But I don’t think the headlines are going to have much of an
effect on this game. The six players who were sent home on the bus aren’t anyone
of any importance at this point in their careers, and I doubt their quick
tickets home created much of a stir on the team at large.

Do you think anyone cared when Keith Short was sent home on a bus early
during preparation for the 1995 Sugar Bowl? He was a redshirting defensive
tackle, buried on the depth chart behind one of the deepest, most talented
defensive lines Tech has ever had. Short went on to have a solid career, moving
to offense and starting at center for the Hokies during their 1999 season, but
his dismissal in 1995 probably created a few chuckles among his teammates, and
that was it. I’m sure this is a similar situation.

The most lasting effect of the misbehavior of the Greyhound Six will be the
lesson they leave behind: Don’t mess around, or you’re headed home.

The absence of Exum and Wilson could be more problematic. We’ll never know
what they might have done in the first quarter to change the game. A kickoff
return for a touchdown by Wilson? A forced fumble or an interception by Exum?
Nothing? Who can tell? Although if Rock Carmichael or Jayron Hosley fumbles a
kickoff return, we’ll wonder.

Ryan Williams approaches 100% readiness a little more each day, and Tyrod is
over the stomach bug. All that leaves is that 1-18 record against top five
teams.

Other people like to bring up that record of futility, and I suppose it’s
worthy of discussion. But what the Hokies do tonight won’t change the
perceptions surrounding that record one bit. Is 2-18 or 1-19 much different from
1-18? No. Lose tonight, and the record will be 1-19 and will be brought up the
next time the Hokies face a top-five team. Win tonight, and the record will be
2-18 … and will be brought up the next time the Hokies face a top-five team.

So I don’t spend much time thinking about that record or this game’s impact
on it.

What I do spend time concentrating on, and this is difficult, is living in
the moment. This season has its blemishes, but overall, it has been a very
satisfying season. The Hokies are undisputed kings of the ACC, winning three of
the last four championships and being the first team to go undefeated in the
conference since expansion.

Virginia Tech’s record-setting quarterback, Tyrod Taylor, is about to play
his last game. We’ve gotten so used to Tyrod around here, from the time we ran our
first recruiting update
on him April of 2006, that it’s hard to grasp that
this is it. In just a few hours, Tyrod will never suit up for the Hokies again.
Not in practice, not in games. We’ll follow his efforts to make the NFL, and
we’ll always love him, but like Bryan Randall, he will become part of Tech’s
past.

That’s true for all of Tech’s seniors, of course. It’s the seniors who have
been here during this four-year period, when Virginia Tech took control of the
ACC. After tonight, they’ll all become past tense, part of the dense tapestry of
Virginia Tech football.

But living in the moment is about more than appreciating the players and this
season. It’s about understanding how quickly things can all go south. We’ve
become so accustomed to bowl games (18 straight) and ten-win seasons (seven in a
row) that we take them for granted. And I’m not lapsing into the "we’re so
spoiled, blah-blah-blah" speech. I’m stating a fact: we take them for
granted.

I try not to take the winning for granted, but most of the time, I fail. I
look around, and I see the consistency in Tech’s program, and then I see the
flailing going on at places like Maryland and Virginia, the flashes in the pan
like Wake Forest, the wannebes like North Carolina, and the failed experiment
that was Chuck Amato at NC State (admittedly getting pretty far in the rear view
mirror). And then there’s Clemson, which as a program has turned making nothing
out of something into an art form. Really? Dabo’s better than Tommy? He just
delivered Clemson’s first losing season since 1998.

I look at all that and more, and I think: Virginia Tech’s better than
that.
Indeed they are. You can’t argue with that.

And I think: That could never happen to Virginia Tech. And there’s the
trouble. It can. It does. It happens to everybody.

Just look at Texas and Florida. Let’s start with Florida, a program that won
two BCS Championships in three years (2006 and 2008), and was in line for
another one last year before losing to Alabama in the SEC Championship Game.

But this year, Florida fell to a pedestrian record of 7-5, 4-4 in the SEC,
before beating Penn State in the Outback Bowl to finish 8-5. This is a team that
had three 13-win seasons from 2006-2009. The coach that brought them all
that success is stepping down. The future is uncertain for Florida, though
admittedly, no one weeps for the Gators. They’ve got the stuff to bounce back.

Texas fell further from grace than Florida did this season. The Longhorns,
whom the Hokies unseated as champions of the ten-win season club, had won ten
games or more every year since 2001, including a national championship in 2005
and runners-up in 2009.

This year, though, Texas was one of the stories in college football,
except no one talks for long about losers. The Longhorns started out 3-0 and
then imploded, losing seven of their last nine, to finish 5-7 and snap a bowl
streak that stood at 12 seasons. Texas lost five home games. One of their two
wins in the months of October and November was over 4-8 Florida Atlantic. Mack
Brown was beside himself at times this season and has started shaking up his
coaching staff to fix the "problem."

Think the Longhorns and their fans took the winning for granted? Of course
they did. It gets so familiar that you never think it’s going to go away.

Why spend so much time talking about Texas and Florida? Because, although
both teams probably have issues that go beyond the quarterback spot, their
plummet from the summit this season came after the departure of two of the best
quarterbacks in college football: Tim Tebow and Colt McCoy.

Back in the preseason, I was annoyed with the national media, who seemed to
think that both UF and Texas would just plug in new QBs (John Brantley and
Garrett Gilbert, respectively) and stay in the top ten of the BCS. Florida and
Texas were both top-five
in the preseason AP Poll
and top-four in the preseason USA
Today Coaches’ Poll
.

But I didn’t think I was that right. Who saw Florida and Texas going
13-12 combined? I didn’t.

It all makes me wonder what happens when Tyrod Taylor exits stage left after
tonight’s game. Don’t assume the winning will go on and on, because for once, it
might not.

But this brief column isn’t intended to be a cautionary tale for the future,
or a downer a few hours before a big game. It’s meant as a piece of advice: live
in the moment. Enjoy tonight’s game, because you never know when we’ll pass this
way again.

It’s also hard to believe the season’s almost over. Every fall, I wonder what
memorable things are going to happen in a season. What plays are we going to
remember? What games are we going to remember? What moments? Will it ever get
here?

And then we’re in it, and like most stories, we’re so wrapped up in it that
we can’t imagine it ever coming to an end. But it’s about to. So have fun
tonight watching the game, whether you’re in Miami, at home, or out somewhere. And let’s hope Tyrod and his teammates finish the season in style.

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