Virginia Tech's Lane Stadium Is a Hostile Environment for Visiting Teams

By Mark Viera
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, September 26, 2009

BLACKSBURG, Va., Sept. 25 -- Before every third-down play, Virginia Tech fans at Lane Stadium jingle their keys to signify a key play. Before the fourth quarter starts, they do the Hokie Pokie. And before the team takes the field, they jump.

With Metallica's "Enter Sandman" blaring and fans bouncing around, the Hokies' goose-bump-raising entrance onto the field has become one of the trademarks of a fall Saturday in Blacksburg. It has also helped to make Lane Stadium one of the most hostile, intimidating environments for a visiting team in college football.

That atmosphere will be on full display Saturday, when No. 9 Miami (2-0, 2-0 ACC) takes on No. 11 Virginia Tech (2-1, 0-0) in the most important conference game of the year so far. Lane Stadium, where the Hokies are 38-5 since 2003, will provide the home-field advantage that Virginia Tech might need to overcome the surging Hurricanes, a rival from the teams' days in the Big East.

"This is going to be a big challenge for us," Miami Coach Randy Shannon said of playing in Blacksburg. "The stadium is unbelievable. The fans are unbelievable."

On Saturday, there will be plenty on the line. The winner would establish itself as the team to beat in the ACC. With wins over Florida State and Georgia Tech, Miami put itself in the driver's seat with a favorable remaining conference schedule after Saturday's game. Virginia Tech, meanwhile, would like to make a bold statement to the rest of the conference by knocking off Miami in its ACC opener.

"Everybody wants a playoff? We're in one," said Charley Wiles, the Hokies' defensive line coach. "This is an ACC championship football game. It just happens to be in September."

With playoff stakes comes a playoff setting. That starts with "Enter Sandman."

The famed entrance was created because Virginia Tech erected a scoreboard, before the 2000 season, with a large video screen and the university's athletics marketing team wanted to create an entrance video for the Hokies. While the film production was contracted to a producer, it was up to the marketers to find the right music.

There were a handful of songs in consideration, including "Welcome to the Jungle" by Guns N' Roses and the Alan Parsons Project's "Sirius," which already had gained attention as the Chicago Bulls' entrance music. Virginia Tech's marketing team settled on Metallica's "Enter Sandman."

"For me, it was great because of the rhythm of it," said Roger Springfield, the producer of the Hokies' original "Enter Sandman" video who now works as the director of media properties and production at Syracuse University. "The beats in it, the rhythm -- for editing purposes, it lent itself well to what we were talking about doing."

"Enter Sandman" was first used at Lane Stadium for the 2000 season opener against Georgia Tech. Although the game was canceled before kickoff because of torrential rain and lightning, the song had caught on.

The second element of the "Enter Sandman" mystique came later. Before one particularly chilly night game, some of the Virginia Tech marching band members started jumping up and down to keep warm before the team's entrance. Soon, everyone copied.

"The next thing you know the whole band is jumping up and down," David McKee, the director of the Marching Virginians, said in a telephone interview. "And then next thing you know the whole stadium is jumping up and down. It was one of those accidental traditions."

Since 2000, "Enter Sandman" has woven itself into the fabric of the community. The song can often be heard downtown, blasting from passing cars or from inside the bars.

Tim East was then the assistant athletic director of marketing and promotions who oversaw the first "Enter Sandman" video. Asked recently if he could have envisioned the song's popularity, East said, "Not in my wildest imagination."

"Enter Sandman" is one element that feeds into the frenzied scene at Virginia Tech home games. Some visiting players relish it. For others, it is a headache.

"Who doesn't want to play in a hostile crowd, go out and have fun?" Miami quarterback Jacory Harris said. "I'm not a cocky, arrogant player, but I like playing away. At the end, when you see the fans, you want to see them with stunned faces."

But Miami tackle Matt Pipho said it could get so loud at Lane Stadium, "you can't even hear yourself thinking." Hurricanes strong safety Randy Phillips said he has "had some pretty bad experiences" in Blacksburg because of Virginia Tech's rowdy fans.

When it gets loud and the snap count becomes inaudible, visiting offensive linemen sometimes hold and squeeze each other's hands to know when the ball is hiked (86 false-start penalties have been called at Lane Stadium since 2003). At other times, quarterbacks have to walk to wide receivers and offensive linemen to make pre-snap calls.

On Saturday, Virginia Tech will have a frenetic supporting cast at the Lane Stadium. But for all the chaos among the thousands at the game, the ones with the most direct impact will be the ones doing the playing, not the cheering.

"We feel like we've got a tough place to play, but we've got to go play," Bud Foster, the Hokies' defensive coordinator, said earlier this season. "Those 67,000 people don't strap on the Riddell. Those 11 guys on the field do."

Staff writer Amy Shipley in Miami contributed to this report.

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