Tech Sideline Celebrates 25 Years Today

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Tech Sideline Office
Cool new digs: Tech Sideline’s new office in the Virginia Tech Corporate Research Center, opened January 2021. (Will Stewart)

25 years ago today, probably late at night, I finished assembling the inaugural version of “Will’s Hokie Sports Home Page,” uploaded it to my Internet Service Provider NRVNet, and quietly launched something that I never suspected would turn into my life’s work.

It began with the line, “Okay, I’m going to get the whining out of the way early.”

Yeah … 25 years later, the whining is still going on. It’s the Internet, you know. 😊

That first update on March 12th, 1996 ran under the headline “The Hokies Get Screwed….Again.” It was my half-baked rant about what I thought was an unfair seeding for Virginia Tech’s 1996 NCAA Tournament bid. The 16th-ranked Hokies were a dreaded 9-seed, with eventual national champion Kentucky lurking in the second round. It all seemed so familiar, so I went off for a while.

I won’t give you the full run-down of the rant, which can be seen here. LOL, the bottom item contains a typo: “Tech Licensing Directory Martha Giesen Hale.” First time I’ve noticed that in 25 years.

In March of 1996, I was a programmer just trying to figure out how the Internet thing worked, and my two hobbies were comic book collecting, which I gave up years ago, and Virginia Tech Athletics, which I haven’t given up. I decided to make my fledgling web programming effort about the Hokies, and 25 years and thousands of articles later, here we are.

Yes, that leaves a lot of blanks to fill in, but now is not the time. Maybe someday I’ll write a history of TechSideline.com, assuming my lame memory can recall enough to make it interesting.

From those humble beginnings, my personal web page grew. I don’t have a screen shot of the original format, nor do I have the original programming, which is a shame, but you’re not missing much. It wasn’t much to look at. It had a maroon background, white text, and some Hokie stone buttons on it. That’s all I remember.

That original project did include the salutation “Welcome to Hokie Central.” Sometime within a year of the launch, we adopted the motto “All Hokie, All the Time. Period” which still survives two and a half decades later, in the header of TechSideline.com:

Our motto since the beginning: “All Hokie, All the Time. Period.”

On the one-year anniversary of my Hokie Sports Home Page, on March 12, 1997, I relaunched it under the domain name HokieCentral.com. I introduced “Hokie Central Membership,” where for contributions ranging from $5 to $75, I’d send you a piece of HC swag featuring the brand new HokieCentral.com logo designed by Hokie Matt. The swag could be anything from a bumper sticker ($5 donation) to a nice maroon jacket ($75 level). There were koozies, watches, golf shirts, T-shirts … I know a lot of you still have your HC goodies. You tell me about it all the time.

1997 brought in about 250 members. 1998’s membership count was about 600. In 1999, we were on our way to about 1,000 members, when I sold the web site to SportsWar and signed a contract to run it full time. On August 1, 1999, I left my job as a programmer with Kollmorgen in Radford and went to work full time as Hokie Central’s GM.

Good timing. Virginia Tech had a pretty good football season that fall, and I received many an email that simply asked, “What’s a Hokie?”

In November of 2000, with Virginia Tech Licensing threatening to sue web site owners with trademarked terms (like “Hokie”) in their domain name, we switched the name of the site to TechSideline.com, or TSL. Nothing ever came of those threats from Virginia Tech, but we got ourselves a new name anyway and kept on going. That whole story is an article for another day, but the punch line is that the name was thought up by a college friend who never even visits the site. He’s not much of a sports fan.

In the fall of 2000, we launched our first subscription product, the TSL Extra, which was a monthly PDF newsletter that cost $25 a year. A couple of years later, we went to a Rivals.com style of membership that included a steady trickle of daily subscriber articles, and to this day, the subscription model drives our business.

There’s a lot more I could fill in, but as I noted above, now is not the time or place.

Tech Sideline (and Hokie Central) Through the Years

I thought you’d enjoy a look at TSL and how it has changed through the years.

One thing I’ve done over the years is save screen grabs of the home page as it evolved. Sure, you can see this stuff at the Internet Wayback Machine, but it’s cool having my own copies. Here’s a look. Click any of the small images for a larger view, but beware, you may have to avert your eyes. Almost none of them are paragons of beautiful design.

They do contain interesting snapshots in time, though, as you can see by looking at the headlines, authors, subject matter, and the like.

           

A Big Thank You

I do want to say one thing, though: Thanks.

When I first introduced the concept of Hokie Central Membership in March of 1997, my work had been free for a year, and I hadn’t asked for anything. But it was getting to be so much work that I felt I either had to quit or turn my passion into a side business. So I created HC Membership to bring in some revenue. Based on the feedback I’d been receiving from people, I thought it had potential.

I showed my ideas to a few people before launching, and I remember one of them saying, “Don’t be surprised if no one sends you anything.” No, that wasn’t my wife who said that. She has always been supportive.

Two days after launching, I went to the P.O. box I had set up for the business, and inside were six checks from the very first Hokie Central members, totaling $240. I wasn’t sure where all this was going, but I remember thinking that day that this might somehow turn into something I could do full time.

Tech Sideline TSL Podcast set
Where the magic happens: the TSL Podcast set. (Will Stewart)

25 years after launch and 24 years after receiving those first checks, we owe everyone who supports us a big thank you. Steve Martin, in one of his 1970s stand-up routines, sang a goofy song that ended with the line, “But the most amazing thing to me is, I get paid for doing this.”

I know exactly what he means.

We don’t save lives. We don’t treat the sick. We don’t educate kids. We don’t feed anyone, make anything, or provide a vital service. We just try to inform and entertain. And for some reason, you have kept us in business for 25 years. We were even able to offer a young Virginia Tech History graduate, Chris Coleman, a full-time job in 2005, the first time that TSL went beyond supporting me and started to support other people.

To this day, we not only have two full-time employees, but we spend a ton of money on programming and hosting (thus supporting others), we pay out about $2,000 a month to freelance writers and photographers, and on and on. We have even endowed a scholarship in Bill Roth’s Sports Media and Analytics program at Tech that will help provide opportunities for future sports broadcasters and writers.

It’s hard to believe how big everything has gotten, and it’s all because of the generosity of you: our site visitors, our subscribers, our sponsors, and the Friends of TSL. So we thank you.

We have plans to make Tech Sideline even bigger, but again, that’s a conversation for another time. Till then, as I have said hundreds of times throughout the years as I closed emails … enjoy the site.

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79 Responses You are logged in as Test

  1. Will, congratulations ! you have contributed a lot to keeping the Hokie nation abreast of Hokie sports. Thank you for your contributions and support. Best to you in the future.

  2. Congrats!! Hard to believe it’s been 25 years!! Was cleaning out a file cabinet the other day a found a copy of the PDF newsletter I had printed out. I still wear my DSU T-shirt every year for the UVA game.

  3. Congratulations Will! Not sure when I started joining in…but it was not long after you started. I still remember HC very well and was pissed you had to change. If I could count the hours I have spent on your site…wait, that would probably be a very bad idea. Thanks for being there when nobody else covered VT and still being here today and producing some of the best content out there. Here’s to 25 more!

  4. Congratulations Will, Chris and everyone @ TSL. Will, you must feel like a proud Papa! I have been with you a long time, and I don’t know exactly how long, but I have gotten a tremendous amount of information, enjoyment and often a much needed and WELCOME DIVERSION FROM THE STRESS AND SOMETIMES MONOTONY of everyday life.

    It has become a part of my life when I have time to indulge and participate.

    Can’t thank you enough for the passion you must have had to have to begin, nurture and stick with this through the years. Yeah, I know it’s your mealticket, but I don’t think you could have done what you have without a real passion for all things Hokie and Hokie Sports.

    A sincere Thank You and Best Wishes from the “Peak of Good Livin’, ” Apex, NC.

    Billy V.

  5. Will, a most happy anniversary! Due to circumstances although for the last year and a half I have had almost no time to be on the site I will always be appreciative for the fun, information, articles, opinions and online friends over the past about 23 years for me. Spent a lot of hours on these boards. So glad I found you then.

  6. Happy birthday! I’ve been around for 20 of the 25 years and have visited the site almost every day since joining. I still have my Hokie Central jacket and wear it with immense pride. I hope to be around for the next 25. Keep up the great work.

  7. So happy for your success. I always enjoy your articles. I was an early subscriber and will continue to support your valuable service to the Hokies sports community.

  8. Happy birthday to TSL! I joined the site decades ago because I had an insatiable appetite for Hokie sports. I remain a subscriber because of the quality of the writing. Will, you capture what I’m often thinking so very well. I look forward to another 25 years.

  9. Congrats to you and the team Will. Your dedication, perseverance and eloquent writing style has entertained die-hard Hokie fans like me for 25 years and we are extremely grateful…wishing you continued success!!

  10. I have probably come to the site just about every day for the full 25 years. Changed my screen name a few years in. Congrats Will!

  11. I still have my Hokie Central T-shirt, but for some reason it has shrunk over the years! Congrats Will! Nice work over all those years! Job well done!

    GO HOKIES!!!

  12. Hearty congrats, Will. It has been my distinct good fortune to find this site and also to get to know you personally. Not to make you blush, but please don’t forget that you have a special gift: The ability to express in writing what so many of us are feeling; and to do it both more eloquently and economically than the vast majority of us are capable of. It’s great that you’ve been able to add others to TSL over the years who share your gift, and I love the expanded content and new formats. But I hope that you never stop personally contributing to the content. Hope I’m still around to read your 50th anniversary article!

  13. In July 1996 I started my first overseas job and was looking for websites to keep me informed on the Hokies. HokieCentral/TSL was the best, then and now.

    Congratulations Will on 25 years!

  14. Love this site, it’s how I start every morning with a cup of coffee. Love Chris’s insights, Will’s perspectives, and feeling like I’m a little on the “inside” of Tech sports. Congratulations and thank you for all you do to make all Tech fans informed.

  15. Will and the entire staff- Congratulations. Keep up the informative reporting and balanced opinions that truly make your website worth following and reading. I’ve been a subscriber for > 15 years, and look forward to some “newsy” info daily. If CJF can get football on track again, you may be in for some of the best overall VT sports coverage in a long time. Go Hokies.

  16. On that first screen shot, we win a conference basketball game against Fordham in 1998. Fordham. Six years later we’re in the ACC.

  17. Love those snapshots of the old webpage designs. How I miss the old design style where all the links are right there without drop down menus. It sure made site navigation so much easier all across the internet. I guess I’m old.

  18. As one of the original members congrats to all at tech sideline! Will you really are a gifted writer and your perspective on VT sports is a breath of fresh air. Anyone remember when nearly all we had was bill brill from Roanoke Times? Hope to be around for a 50th birthday for TSL!

    1. i’m afraid to wear mine anymore. i treat it as a delicate heirloom instead of a tee-shirt in my rotation. a few more washes and it might start to fall apart.

  19. Congrats Will, Chris and the gang on such an amazing accomplishment!! I’ve been a loyal subscriber for roughly 18 years and to this day your site is my first visit whenever I open up internet explorer. Will never forget the day after the USC game in 2004 when I clicked on your article “The Real Winners” to find myself in the featured picture crowd surfing at FedEx after our first TD of the game. Was even happier when, years later, you were able to dig up said image for me which I would eventually blow up to 4×6 ft. as a keepsake. My wife reluctantly lets me keep it every time we move to a new apartment lol. (Btw, that was NOT offensive pass interference!!!). Cheers to 25 more years and beyond, my friends.

  20. I took my first real job and moved to CA in 1996. Once out there, with all of the hope and worries of a new grad, I found your site and it not only was my lifeline to VT sports news (in a time where the mainstream media was not kind to coverage of our programs) but it provided a connection to something familiar. 25 years later, I’m still a loyal follower. Even now that there are many other sites that host VT news, I still go to Techsideline first. Thanks, Will!

  21. Will you and your people have done a great job of growing TSL to where it is today and I like to thank you for all you do 50 years does sound good

  22. Time flies when you’re having fun. Congratulations and a hearty thank you for doing this good service. Ut Prosim to the max!

  23. Congratulations! Not sure what my day would be without TSL. Appreciate everything you guys do to make following Hokie athletics possible.

  24. Will
    Thanks for the decades of Hokie coverage. Found your site in 97 stationed in Korea surfing for anything VT. Congratulations on the success of your “hobbie” turned full time job. You will always be the voice of Hokie athletics for me. Lifetime baby $!

  25. I have commented a couple times Will on your site that you are a great writer. With some self centered appreciation I found great joy seeing the Engineer write better than what I could get from the “pros” at the newspapers. Always thoughtful and always so readable one didn’t want to jump around as I find many other writers lead me to do.

  26. Congratulations! As a passionate Hokie Football Fan, I don’t know what I would do without TSL! ❤️🦃🏈

    Go Hokies. Class of 2001

  27. Congratulations on an amazing creation. With all the free content out there I can imagine how tough it is to compete, but to this day, yours is the only website where I’m a paid member. That’s a tribute to the quality and effort served up by you, CC, and your staff. Keep waving the flag!

  28. Reading TSL every day makes feel a little closer to Blacksburg. All alumni know a little piece of you stayed there and you took a little with you when you left. Thanks for the content and keeping us all close. We do bleed Maroon and Orange!
    Best of luck with the next 25!!!

  29. I still have the Montavius Pitts article you guys published on Hokie Central. I printed it out and never threw it away…er… had it recycled.

    1. “Pitts Commits! Will it Stick … or is he SEC-bound?”

      We all know how that turned out.

  30. I still remember Hokie Central starting up while I was still in school at Tech. HC + Mike Vick were magic days! Been a pleasure to watch your baby grow Will…congrats!!!

  31. Will, this site ruins lives….we spend far too much time on here but would have it no other way. Imagine how productive we could have been had many of us spent 1/2 the time we have on TSL. I mean, F4E would’ve owned laundries all over the world, Brown Water would own distilleries throughout the US and he would have started the craft bourbon craze not just imbibed in the pleasures, and Baltimore Hokie would have been Jerry Garcia or Dave Grohl, not sure which. And perhaps I may have amounted to something.

    You’re a vital service to many…keep up the good work.

  32. Congratulations on the big birthday. I have enjoyed the content on your site. You just need to be a little quicker pulling the plug on knuckleheads. I have a Hokie Central anecdote. I have been a member since 1999 which was a big year in VT sports. I liked to take a quick peek at Hokie Central while I was at work. Nothing excessive but my boss showed up and saw me a few times. I think it was red meat for him and he started to dislike me. When the layoff came in September 1999, I was on the list. So Hokie Central cost me my job! However, it turned out well. I had 22 weeks of severance and got a job in 20 weeks. So I got two paychecks for a couple weeks. I went to the national championship game in 2000 and then started my new job. I worked there for over 20 years and I liked it a lot more than the job I lost.

  33. Techsideline is a staple of my daily internet use and you all do an excellent job. It blends great coverage of the Hokies, detailed analysis, and perspective. It has been my “therapy” after tough losses and really helped me stay connected to the school and fans that I love.Thanks for all that you do!

  34. Congrats on the milestone guys. Thanks for all your hard work and great content over the years!

  35. Congrats on 25 years. I’m glad I started reading and subscribing years ago. Can’t wait to see how the next 25 go.

  36. I met you with HokieMatt who did some of the early coding for Hokie Central. Congratulations on your success!!!

  37. Congrats guys! I can’t remember when I started visiting the site nor when I started paying. Somehow I just stumbled across it but I definitely remember hitting hokiecentral so I’ve been here for a long time and am glad to support as much as I can. My son just got accepted to Tech a couple weeks ago so looking forward to keeping it in the family!

  38. You do know, you’re responsible for all the hours I’ve spent on this site. Just think what I may have accomplished by avoiding this site, actually, probably nothing.

  39. Congratulations Will I’ve been with you since 1999 and before that the only place I could get Tech news and stuff was from the Roanoke Times and had to go to the library to get that or the Richmond Times-D. Here’s to a bunch more years from Techsideline. Cheers!

  40. Congratulations and well done. It’s great to be able to do something you love and make a living doing it. Also, to be appreciated which you can judge based on people’s comments and responses and subscriber numbers. Keep up the good work. And Go Hokies!

  41. Congratulations Will. Tech sideline, and the afore mentioned Hokie Central, have been a source of great joy, amusement, and thought inspiring articles and dialogue for all these years. Wish you and your staff continued success.

    You allowed me to compose an article that you posted to the site in 2003. I am far from a good writer but thought it turned out OK.

    http://archive.techsideline.com/fanvoice/2003/casey001.htm

  42. Congratulations to you Will and thank you as well. I really appreciate what you have provided with this website through the years. I really enjoy checking out the football, basketball, and lounge boards on a daily basis. 25 is a special number for all Virginia Tech fans!

  43. Congrats Will, CC & the rest of the TSL team part & present!

    Hey, you get to finally wear the #25 jersey!

  44. Congratulations, and THANK YOU, a job very well done, for a long time. For several years I got my Hokie fix every two weeks via my Hokie Huddler subscription (which I still sort of miss.) Then one day in early 1997 I stumbled across HokieCentral. Since then – why go anywhere else?

  45. Congratulations Will – glad to know you as a friend and great Hokie! Thank you for all you have done for VT fans far and wide (and close to home as well). Best wishes to you and Chris and everyone at TSL – it is a pleasure knowing everyone!

    Jon Fleming

  46. If you did this in March of ’96, then I probably found you in April and have tuned in regularly since.

    I still have Hokie Central decals to prove it.

  47. TSL/Hokie Central is still my “Home away from Home” after all of these years. In the mid-90’s was constantly searching for Hokie football articles on the internet until I found Hokie Central and the list of linked articles. After that, I stopped searching the internet every day for Hokie articles and just went to Hokie Central to get my links. Now I only read TSL articles and the message boards, and mostly ignore the other published articles on other sites unless they are directly linked in a TSL article or message board post.

    Thank you Will and Chris! Congrats on going 25 years!

  48. A Quarter of a Century. Wow.

    Congratulations, Will, Chris, and everyone else who is now involved, or has been involved, in making Tech Sideline what it is!

    And, this Anniversary conveniently happens on a Friday. Sweet!

    Happy 25th, TSL! Here’s to many more!

    https://i.imgflip.com/51gly3.jpg

  49. My Buddy introduced me to Hokiecental in 1997 (my sophomore year) and been enjoying the content ever since. You and Chris provide the best content and I really enjoy the writing style. Hoping for another 25 years and beyond!

  50. Congrats! TSL has been a big part of my life ever since I stepped on campus in the fall of 1997. Thanks for providing a great resource for Hokie fans!

  51. Congratulations! My only real go-to source for all things Hokie sports related. Well worth the price!

  52. Congratulations on 25 years !!! Most businesses don’t make it this far. The last year has to have been the toughest of the 25 but not only is there light at the end of the tunnel, we can see the train. Thanks for keeping me connected to VT.

  53. Congrats Will! Very impressive achievement and I appreciate the endless hours of entertainment this site has provided me over the past 25 years. TSL and I have survived more conference calls together than I can count!

  54. Thank YOU Will and Chris. TSL has become a daily fix, like a warm blanket by the fireplace. Always insightful, informative and fun. Can’t wait to see what the future holds! CONGRATS on 25 years!!!

    1. Congratulations, Will and staff!! You have become addictive for me, but in a good way. The first thing I do is check TSL every morning to see what’s happenin’.

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