Here in Redskins country, promoters never imagined that they would sell all 91,665 seats at FedEx Field for a college football game -- even for tonight's matchup between the country's No. 1 team, the University of Southern California, and Virginia Tech.
But news of the sellout didn't surprise Keith Seekford of Loudoun County, who asks God to let his four children "be lucky enough to go to Tech." Or Dennis Parsons of Fredericksburg, who has had his tailgate menu planned for a week. Or Angela Palazzolo of Reston, who ordered a special orange-and-maroon shirt and says "everyone" she knows is going to the game.
USC may be the top team in the nation, but the overwhelming reason FedEx Field is sold out today is the roughly 30,000 Tech alumni in the Washington area and their cohorts, who bought about 75 percent of the tickets. Even if they could make the trek during the regular season to Tech's Blacksburg campus, in Virginia's far southwestern corner, it might not do them any good, because games in the 65,000-seat stadium there have been selling out since the Hokies started their ascent in the late 1990s.
So most Tech fans don't get to see their skyrocketing team play. Don't get to do the "Hokie Pokey" at the end of the third quarter as they did when they were in college. Don't get to jump up and down in place to the blaring strains of hard-rock band Metallica's "Enter Sandman" as their beloved team takes the field, a tradition some Hokies call "very intimidating."
Though Blacksburg is fewer than 100 miles from the Kentucky line, the nation's capital is the closest thing to a "home town" Tech fans have, said Bill Roth, the play-by-play voice of the Hokies for the past 17 years. Today for the first time, live coverage of Tech games will be added on WTEM-AM (980), Washington's main sports radio station.
"There is a tremendous love affair between Tech alumni and this school, and now they get to show off in their home town," Roth said. "I think we're going to set a world record for doing the Hokie Pokey."
For days, the Hokies' official Web site has been counting down the minutes to tonight's 7:45 kickoff. Promoter David Gardiner said he expected to sell about 65,000 tickets to the game -- but that was before Hokies bought all 47,000 allotted to the school and then hit official and unofficial ticket-sales sites on the Internet. The USC Trojans also sold their entire allotment of 11,000 tickets -- impressive, Gardiner said, considering how far from home the game is being played.
When the supply ran out this week, the $45 tickets began appearing on Web sites such as the classified marketplace www.craigslist.org for as much as $225 apiece. Tech fans like to think the scalpers don't belong to that passionate, upbeat band that calls itself Hokie Nation.
"I'm sure Hokie fans are just selling them at face value," said Seekford, 41, an insurance broker from Loudoun County. "You'll find Tech fans are all good people. They'll extend a hand and won't rub your nose in it. . . . They are the type of people who if you're lost, they'll try and help you with directions."
This will be the biggest college football game ever in the Washington area and -- temporarily -- a record crowd at FedEx Field, which added 5,000 seats in the offseason to a venue that's already the NFL's largest. So with good reason, law enforcement officials are treating it just like a Redskins game, with restricted pedestrian access along Redskins Road and 190 Prince George's County deputies and Maryland state police officers to control cars and crowds.
With so many local Tech fans, dozens of bus caravans are planned today. One of the buses will carry 61-year-old Hunter DeJarnette Jr., Class of 1968. DeJarnette, an engineer with the city of Chesapeake, Va., rallied 88 people, most of them alumni, to go to the game and head directly back, arriving home about 4:30 a.m. tomorrow.
DeJarnette said he loves his alma mater and hopes to show it by cheering loudly and "creating hearing problems for the opposition."
But many Hokies in the Washington area started gearing up yesterday, international Hokie Pride Day, always the Friday before the first game of the season, when fans wear orange and purple in solidarity. Officially, the colors are Chicago maroon and burnt orange and were selected in 1896, when the school's name changed from Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College to Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University.
That year, a senior won first prize in a cheer contest for what he called his "Hokie" yell, a name he said he invented as an attention-getter. Since that time, according to school's Web site, Hokie has meant nothing more -- and nothing less -- than "loyal Virginia Tech fan."
Last night, loyal Tech fans gathered at hotel parties and bars such as Lulu's Club Mardis Gras in Northwest Washington, where the theme was "Party like it's 1999" -- the year the Hokies went to New Orleans to play Florida State in the Sugar Bowl. They lost, but many kept their Mardi Gras-style beads.
Palazzolo, 31, said it has been impossible to keep up with all the local Tech-related events this weekend. "You can sneeze in this area and hit a Hokie."
But Hokie-mania worked against Taylor Porter, a 23-year-old USC graduate who works for C-SPAN in Washington. She was still without a ticket yesterday and said she was just going to head to FedEx Field ticketless, in hopes of finding a nice scalper.
"I just waited until the last minute thinking it wouldn't be a big deal, but clearly," she said, "I was wrong."
Staff writer Joshua Partlow contributed to this report.