It was a cool, gorgeous November day, the leaves in full color and a light breeze blowing. Inside University Hall, several Virginia basketball players were shooting around and workmen were preparing the arena for the season, less than a month away.
In the hallway, a long line of students stood by the ticket window. But they were not waiting to buy basketball tickets. They were waiting to buy football tickets for today's 1:30 p.m. game against Virginia Tech at Scott Stadium. And the sign on the window made their situation clear: "All Virginia Tech, sold out," it said, meaning only tickets remained for next week's game with North Carolina.
Dick Bestwick, the Virginia football coach, looked at the line as he walked out of the building and shook his head. "Did you ever think you'd see the day when people lined up in November to buy Virginia football tickets?" he asked, a satisfied smile on his weatherbeaten face.
A lot of things are happening these days at the school Thomas Jefferson founded 160 years ago, things that many people never thought possible.
"We are thinking bowl," said quarterback Todd Kirtley. "Simple as that. we think we can do it, our fans think we can do it and we want it. There's no reason why we can't go to a bowl."
The Cavaliers are 5-3, and still a long way from a bowl bid with today's game against Tech (4-5) and contests against North Carolina and Maryland after that.
But when the subject of bowls comes up, people are not laughing. At a school with a total of six victories in four seasons prior to this one, that's saying something.
Bestwick, who took over the program four years ago after it had been left a shambles by the Sonny Randle regime, is properly given a major share of the credit for Cavaliers' new-found respectability. Another key factor -- and there have been several this season -- has undoubtedly been Kirtley, the slightly built sophomore from Fairfax's Robinson High School.
Almost no one recruited Kirtley two years ago, mostly because of his size (6-foot-1 170 pounds). But Virginia and William and Mary did and, from the beginning, Kirtley's first choice was Virginia.
"Todd's not big, no," Bestwick said. "But he's a good athlete and he knows how to win. There are some people who are born mature. Todd's one of those people. He's a natural leader at quarterback."
Kirtley in many ways is typical of the athletes who played football at Virginia in the '70s -- bright, personable, not singleminded about football and realistic about their abilities. "I may not be big or strong, but I'm slow," Kirtley said with a laugh.
But there is a difference. Kirtley wins football games, and he makes big plays. He has completed 52 percent of his passes for the season, including 13 of 21 in the Cavaliers' 31-0 stomping of Georgia a week ago.
"On paper, I shouldn't be able to play the game," said Kirtley, who looks smaller than his program dimensions because he is so slender. "I just try to be a little smarter, work a little harder and play a little harder than the other guys. I know I'm not going to get it done on pure natural ability but that doesn't mean I can't get it done."
Kirtley, with the help of running backs Greg Taylor and Tommy Vigorito, an outstanding offensive line and in improved defense, has done the job for Virginia this year. If the Cavs can beat Virginia Tech, they will clinch their second winning season in 28 years and their first since 1967.
"Before the season, we felt we were going to do better,' Kirtley said. "But I think a lot of people around here were expecting us to be the same old team because every spring people write that we're better and then we're not.
"But now, people are going wild around here. They love winning as much as anyone. I was reading the other day that Virginia and Kansas State are the only major schools that have never been to a bowl. I couldn't believe that. We've got to change that. I'll be very disappointed if we don't do it. Certainly next year if not this year."
To go to a bowl, the Cavaliers must beat Tech and then whip North Carolina the following week. The day of the Carolina game is the day bowl bids go out and some folks at UVA think Virginia could get a bid. At that point, the Cavaliers would be 7-3 before playing Maryland the following week.
But even though a bowl bid would be a wonderful finishing touch, this already has been a delirious fall for Virginia followers, many of whom had come to believe their school would never produce a solid football team.
It has been especially delirious for Bestwick and for Athletic Director Gene Corrigan, who hired Bestwick four years ago in the wake of the Randle disaster.
"There were a lot of people who told me I was crazy to take the job," Bestwick said. "On day one, I was certain it could be done here. I wasn't so sure on day 561, though."
In fact, after Bestwick had finished three seasons with a 5-27-1 record, some alumni were stunned when Corrigan, realizing that the team was on the verge of a breakthrough, extended his contract.
"There was one guy who called me and screamed and ranted and yelled," Corrigan said. "He said Dick would never produce a winner. He came up to me after the Georgia game and told me he wasn't good at eating crow but he was there to eat some."
What makes Corrigan, UVA's alumni and players happiest is the fact that the team is made up of students who play football, not football players who pose as students.
"I think all of us like the fact that we're thought of around here as good people, not just good football players," said Kirtley, who carries a 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale) average as an economics major. "During the offseason last year, I was just like any other student. I went to class, I studied, I socialized. Sometimes people were surprised to find out I play football."
Not nearly as surprised, however, as some of Virginia's opponents this season. They are finding out the hard way that Virginia plays football. Good football.
"People around here are just as crazy for winning as any place else," Bestwick said. "We had a hard time convincing kids we had no way of proving it.
"Now we've got proof."