In 1998, NASCAR mogul O. Bruton Smith proposed setting up a football field in the middle of his Bristol (Tenn.) Motor Speedway (110,000 capacity) and playing a football game between Tennessee and Virginia Tech. He proposed the idea again in 2005 with seating capacity up to 160,000.
It was fantasy land -- neither school reported hearing from from Smith officially about the idea -- but the fans clamored for the game between two natural, geographic rivals: Tech is in southwest Virginia and Tennessee is 3 ½ hours away in east Tennessee, connected all the way by interstate.
Finally, the game is happening ... but in the Georgia Dome on New Year’s Eve.
“People in our part of the country have wanted this game for a long time,” Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer said.
Beamer grew up a Tech fan -- he is from Hillsville, Va. -- but he admired Tennessee and its rich tradition. Of course, the Hokies now also have a rich tradition, thanks in part to Beamer who has been in Blacksburg 23 seasons and has Tech gunning for its sixth straight 10-win season.
“I think we’ve come along,” Beamer said. “Growing up in southwest Virginia, I always liked Virginia Tech. That was my school. But Tennessee always seemed bigger and it was from a football standpoint.”
The last time the two schools met was in the Gator Bowl in 1994, when Peyton Manning ruined the Hokies, 45-23. That was just the second bowl game under Beamer. Tennessee leads the series, which began in 1896, 5-2.
Girding for Hardesty
At Virginia Tech, the Hokies practice what they preach.
An hour after the daily press conference, where linebacker Cody Grimm said the priority for the Hokies’ defense in the Chick-fil-A Bowl was stopping Tennessee running back Montario Hardesty, the most spirited unit at Monday's practice was the Tech defensive line.
Charley Wiles, the defensive line coach, was in and among his group, pushing hard on fundamentals and technique. The Vols' identity on offense is rock-em, sock-em football with Hardesty, who has gained 1,306 yards. The Hokies are prepared to get physical with Tennessee and its zone blocking scheme.
Tech will be appearing in a bowl game for the 17th straight season, which is the nation's third-longest active streak (Florida State, 28, Florida, 19). The Hokies are 7-9 in bowls since Beamer became coach in 1987. ... Jayron Hosley, the Tech punt return specialist and cornerback, was back at practice and looked fit after a bout with a viral infection. ... When defensive schemes are discussed, there are some titans in college football. Nick Saban of Alabama and Pete Carroll of Southern California are often mentioned, but two men who will be on the sidelines of the Chick-fil-A Bowl are right there with Saban and Carroll; Tennessee’s Monte Kiffin and Virginia Tech’s Bud Foster.