Virginia Tech football fans will start filling the "end zone" rooms in Beamer's Restaurant sometime after lunch Thursday, and, for the next several hours, they'll consume Hokie bird wings, Beamer burgers and their beverages of choice. At Beamer's Restaurant, the dozens of bars and restaurants on Main Street and in the parking lots surrounding Lane Stadium, all Virginia Tech fans will agree: "TGIT: Thank God It's Thursday."
In what has seemingly become an annual tradition at Virginia Tech, the No. 3 Hokies play a Thursday night game on ESPN, giving their fans a midweek break from everyday life. Thursday night's game against No. 13 Boston College will be the Hokies' 13th Thursday night ESPN game -- only Georgia Tech and Brigham Young have challenged "ER" episodes more often. This will be the second consecutive Thursday night affair for the Hokies, who beat Maryland, 28-9, in College Park last week.
"I personally like it," Virginia Tech Coach Frank Beamer said. "I think our kids like it. I think it's the equivalent of Monday night football in the pros. You're the only game on or you're the most important game on TV."
The Hokies, one of six undefeated teams left in Division I-A, have relished their Thursday night appearances on ESPN, winning 11 of their 12 previous games on that night. Virginia Tech's only loss was a 20-14 defeat to Boston College at Lane Stadium on Sept. 7, 1995. Since then, the Hokies have won 10 Thursday night games in a row, including a 55-6 drubbing of Maryland in Blacksburg last season.
"It's a game every kid who plays football dreams about playing in," defensive tackle Jonathan Lewis said. "This is just a dream come true."
Beamer said the exposure from playing in front of a national audience on Thursday night has been invaluable to his program. As a matter of fact, the Hokies' rise from a mediocre program to one of the country's most successful teams has coincided with its prime-time appearances on ESPN.
Virginia Tech made its first appearance on Thursday night against West Virginia in 1994. The network had to rig brighter lights to show the not-so-familiar Hokies to the rest of the country, and Virginia Tech responded by walloping the Mountaineers, 34-6, to win their 100th game at Lane Stadium.
In the loss to the Eagles the following season, Boston College won even after the Hokies were given an extra down on their last, futile possession. Trailing 20-14 in the final minutes, Virginia Tech threw an eight-yard pass on first and 10, and as officials scrambled to spot the football, the Hokies were mistakenly given a first down. But quarterback Jim Druckenmiller threw four consecutive incomplete passes and the Eagles won.
Virginia Tech didn't appear in a Thursday night game again until the 1998 season, when it won at Boston College, 17-0. The next season, quarterback Michael Vick made his first appearance on national television on a Thursday night, as he and all-American defensive end Corey Moore led the Hokies to a 31-11 victory over Clemson at Lane Stadium. More than three months later, the Hokies were 11-0 and played Florida State in the Sugar Bowl for the national championship, losing, 46-29, in the Louisiana Superdome.
"I think the Thursday night games have been really big in our development because it's the whole country watching, not just people in Virginia," Beamer said. "I think they're big. If you can play well, they're a tremendous recruiting advantage. If you're playing on Saturday, you're competing against five games in your time slot. If you're playing on Thursday night, there's not much else on TV."
Some colleges have been reluctant to play on Thursday night because administrators feel the midweek games put too much of a burden on fans who travel from far away to attend the games. There are a limited number of hotel rooms in Blacksburg, and many fans have to take Friday off work.
"The special thing about it is it's a prime-time game," guard Will Montgomery said. "You get so many vacation days, so you might as well use one on this game. It's as good of a reason as any."
ESPN has televised Thursday night games since 1984 -- Brigham Young played at New Mexico in the debut game -- and the network now televises games nearly every night of the week. This is the fourth season in the last six that the Hokies have twice played on Thursday night.
"I think with our fans, taking that next day off is the least of their worries," Beamer said. "They're loyal fans, and they'll be ready for Thursday night."
Hokies fans proved how rabid and loyal they were when Virginia Tech beat Texas A&M, 35-19, on a Thursday night in September 2003. With Hurricane Isabel knocking out electricity to more than 1 million people in Virginia, a crowd of 65,115 still showed up at Lane Stadium and withstood a downpour and 37-mph winds. "The atmosphere is just wild and crazy on Thursday nights," Lewis said. "It's hard for the quarterback to make audibles and calls. You'll see him walk up to the line and get in everybody's ears because they can't hear him. I think the crowd makes it a bigger game. That's why Thursday night games are so big here because the stadium gets so loud."