Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly described Virginia Tech as the state’s largest university. Virginia’s largest university is Liberty University. This version has been corrected.
BLACKSBURG, Va. — Before he even said it, Shane Beamer flashed a sheepish grin, knowing his words were about to rile up a rival fan base.
Beamer, Virginia Tech’s associate head coach and son of Coach Frank Beamer, had gotten wind of a radio interview done by Virginia offensive coordinator Steve Fairchild a few weeks ago, when the first-year Cavaliers play-caller cracked: “U-Va. should not lose to Virginia Tech. I’ve been on both campuses, and I’m new to the area, and I’m just giving you kind of an unbiased feel here.”
Beamer obtained a recording and played it for Virginia Tech’s running backs. He then e-mailed the clip to the rest of the Hokies’ coaches in case they needed any motivation. So on Monday, with Virginia Tech and Virginia preparing to battle again for the Commonwealth Cup on Saturday at Scott Stadium, Beamer didn’t hide the fact the comments annoyed him.
“It was surprising that a coach at another school would say that,” Beamer said. “I don’t have a problem with him thinking his team shouldn’t lose to another team. I don’t know if you’d say that publicly, but he did. What bothered me, though, was the comment ‘I’ve been on both campuses.’ Now you’re saying that our campus is better than yours, our school is better than yours. . . . I thought that was a little bit of a cheap shot, personally. When somebody takes a shot at, in my opinion, what we stand for, you don’t need to go there.”
The in-state rivalry between Virginia and Virginia Tech is a classic one, built on differences that go back to when the two schools were founded. Virginia is Thomas Jefferson’s “public Ivy,” long considered one of the nation’s top universities. Virginia Tech began as an agricultural school and has since grown into one of the state’s biggest universities.
This latest spat was simply evidence that, while lopsided on the football field in recent years, the friction remains alive and well. The Cavaliers (2-9, 0-7 ACC) haven’t beaten the Hokies since 2003 — at nine games, it’s the longest winning streak either team has had in a series that began in 1895 — and enter Saturday’s game armed with an eight-game losing streak, their longest in-season skid since 1975.
But as senior left tackle Morgan Moses put it, “If you win against Tech, everyone will forget it.”
“We’re preparing like it’s our Super Bowl,” offensive linemen Luke Bowanko added. “To us, this would kind of put the cherry on top of an otherwise down season.”
Not wanting to provide any more bulletin-board material, Fairchild brushed off Shane Beamer’s comments this week. “I was just having some fun with the guys on the radio. We respect Virginia Tech,” he insisted.
But during his first year in Charlottesville, Fairchild has noticed “that everybody’s all on one side or the other, and they’re very loyal to their university and their team.” If he needs a reminder, there also continues to be a countdown clock to the Virginia Tech game in one of the hallways at the Virginia football team’s on-campus headquarters.
“You talk about the hate and the emotional aspect, it seems like to me . . . I don’t know if it’s worse, but it’s still the same,” said first-year Virginia defensive coordinator Jon Tenuta, who played Virginia Tech five times as a safety and graduate assistant for the Cavaliers (1978-1982). “You go and play those guys, and for that three hours and 30 minutes, it’s a war. It’s a battle. There’s a lot of things said, and it looks to me like it’s not gonna change.”
Saturday’s game has plenty of story lines, from how playing time is split between Virginia quarterbacks David Watford and Greyson Lambert to Virginia Tech’s outside shot at making a BCS bowl. Though the Hokies (7-4, 4-3) have lost three of their past four games after starting the season 6-1, they would advance to the ACC championship game against No. 2 Florida State with a win over the Cavaliers and a Duke loss to North Carolina on Saturday.
But there’s more pressure, Virginia Tech offensive lineman Andrew Miller said, not to be the team that ends nearly a decade of dominance over Virginia. Shane Beamer’s barbs have only reinforced that.
After making his comments about Fairchild, Beamer joked he “spent too many years around Steve Spurrier” as an assistant to the famously arrogant coach at South Carolina. But it isn’t the first time he has tweaked Cavaliers fans. During his first year back at Virginia Tech as an assistant in 2011, he made fun of how few fans showed up to Virginia’s spring game. In September, he noted on Twitter that more people had attended Virginia Tech’s win over Western Carolina on Sept. 7 than the Cavaliers’ high-profile matchup with then-No. 2 Oregon at Scott Stadium.
Beamer tries to avoid stopping in Charlottesville when he’s driving along Interstate 64 on recruiting trips to Richmond, to the point that one time he even jokingly asked his 4-year-old daughter to wait until Waynesboro, about 30 miles west of Charlottesville, before pulling over for a bathroom break.
A year ago, though, he went to John Paul Jones Arena to watch a Virginia Tech-Virginia basketball game with his wife, and the couple went out to dinner beforehand. One of their favorite fast-food chains is Raising Cane’s, and the closest location to Blacksburg happens to be right on Route 29 in Charlottesville.
“This is hard to admit, but I’ve been up there. Not often,” Shane emphasized. “It’s not easy, but Charlottesville’s a good town and a pretty campus.”