Column: Remembering The Virginia Tech Bowl Streak — 27 Years Of Greatness

by Carter Hill

Photo courtesy of Virginia Tech athletics

No one faults the Virginia Tech football team for not playing in a bowl game this season.

We understand it. We get it. 

The guys wanted to go home for Christmas. Many haven’t seen their families since June. They were allowed to go home for Thanksgiving, but not everyone did. 

The decision to opt out of a bowl game shouldn’t be disputed, and that’s not what we’re doing here. I wouldn’t want a swab shoved up my nose for two more weeks. Who would want to run the risk of giving up Christmas for a last-minute cancellation?

We get it.

The players’ didn’t want to play. So they’re not, but they deserved to make that choice. 

Keep in mind this wouldn’t have been a normal bowl trip. Typically, the team would travel to their bowl destination five or six days before the game. 

Let’s use the Military Bowl for example. In the Hokies’ trips to the Military Bowl played in Annapolis in years past, the team would stay a block away from the White House in Washington DC at The Mayflower Hotel.

They would then bus the 32 miles to Annapolis on game day. This gave players the opportunity to explore the National Mall, be a tourist, and get extra practice time while getting closer with their teammates and enjoying bowl week. This year, it would be a typical road game. 

The team would stroll up to their hotel the night before the game, go to the stadium the next day, and go home. 

It’s totally understandable why Virginia Tech opted out of a bowl game. The one thing that came with that — snapping the nation’s longest bowl streak. I thought this would be an appropriate time to remember the 27 years prior, and why that success meant so much to Virginia Tech.

Saving A Legend

For the folks who have been around awhile, many will remember that the bowl streak started with the saving of legendary head coach Frank Beamer’s job.

Beamer hadn’t made a bowl trip in his first six seasons in Blacksburg. From 1987 to 1992, his head coaching record was a paltry 24-40-2. The next season though, is when everything clicked. 

A Streak Was Born 

In 1992, Virginia Tech went 2-8-1 with the only wins coming over 1-10 Temple and Division I-AA James Madison. In 1993, the Hokies won nine games.

That included a 45-20 rout of Indiana in the Independence Bowl. Following their first bowl appearance since beating NC State in the 1986 Peach Bowl, the Hokies finished 22nd in the AP Poll. Flash forward two years later to 1995, Virginia Tech really started hitting its stride. 

In 1995, the Hokies took home a share of their first Big East championship, and slaughtered a top-10 Texas team in the Sugar Bowl, 28-10. For the first time ever, Virginia Tech had a 10-win season and finished in the top 10.

After another 10-win season, and two more top-25 finishes the next three years, a man out of Newport News made his presence known.

You may have heard of him.

His name was Michael Vick. By the time his career in Blacksburg was over, he had forever changed Virginia Tech football. 

Vick guided the Hokies to a perfect regular season in 1999. For the first time ever, the Hokies were one win from a national championship. Unfortunately Virginia Tech came up short against Florida State in the Sugar Bowl, 46-29.

The Hokies then followed that up with a one-loss regular season, and found themselves again finishing ranked near the top at No. 6 in the nation. Virginia Tech took a step back with Vick bolting to the NFL, but remained a consistent top-20 program before leaving the Big East for the ACC in 2004.

Stepping Up, But No Stepping Back

Long behold under Beamer, Virginia Tech became an even more serious contender in the ACC. Over its first two seasons as a member, Virginia Tech claimed two top-10 finishes and an ACC title.

That title came in 2004 — its first as a member — which was also was the year in which Virginia Tech began a streak of eight straight 10-win seasons. Dominance. 

Over Virginia Tech’s first eight seasons in the ACC, the Hokies won four conference crowns and appeared in five BCS bowls — three Orange Bowls and two Sugar Bowls. The last of those came in 2011, which was an absolute heartbreaker in the Sugar Bowl.

In the final major bowl game of the Beamer era, the Danny Coale “catch” continues to live in infamy. Virginia Tech ultimately ended up falling to Michigan in overtime, 23-20. The 2010 team with quarterback Tyrod Taylor at the helm, which overcame a 0-2 start with 11 straight wins, remains the last to win the ACC.

The last four years of the Beamer era weren’t as successful. Beamer however, did win three of his last four bowl games.

The streak started with an overtime victory over Rutgers in the 2012 Russell Athletic Bowl. While Beamer was having throat surgery, his son Shane Beamer, who recently became the head coach at South Carolina, served as interim head coach in a 33-17 win over Cincinnati in the 2014 Military Bowl.

Fittingly, Beamer’s final bowl game was at the same venue as his first — the Independence Bowl. In a shootout that featured nearly 1,200 total yards, the Hokies held off Tulsa in Beamer’s final game, 55-52. 

A New Face

After Beamer’s retirement, Memphis head coach Justin Fuente then stepped in to his place. The task before Fuente was simple but not easy: pick up where Beamer left off.

Things started out well for Fuente, who led Virginia Tech to a 10-win season in 2016. That was capped with a 35-24 win over Arkansas in the Belk Bowl — a contest where the Hokies rallied from 24 points down. Fuente’s second season featured nine wins and a second straight top-25 finish.

The streak continued despite a scare in 2018. After a 4-6 start, the Hokies edged rival Virginia in overtime before winning a rescheduled contest against Marshall to earn a bid to the Military Bowl.

The final bowl appearance of the streak was a controversial 37-30 Belk Bowl loss to Kentucky in 2019. That followed the Hokies’ first loss to Virginia in 16 years in a contest that ultimately decided the ACC Coastal division.

Tying a Bow Around It

In case 2020 hadn’t been bad enough already, the streak officially ends after a fantastic run of 27 years of peak Virginia Tech football. 

What does the future hold for the Hokies? We don’t know.

Although Virginia Tech finished 5-6, the streak really ended because of the pandemic — not because of a lack of an invite, or it ending on the field. 

That’s something I hope fans will have peace with. If the bowl streak wasn’t a big deal, why didn’t Alabama or Clemson have it?

Sure, bowls don’t seem to mean as much now, but for the first 20 years of that streak, those were real accomplishments. Regular appearances in major bowl games that were once commonplace for Virginia Tech now seem like distant memories. 

It’s weird to see Virginia Tech’s name not attached to a bowl game, but after a weird year like this, this seemed like a fitting way to end the streak. We’ll see if the Hokies can start a new streak in 2021, but until then, let’s enjoy the holiday season, remember how awesome these past 27 years were, and count down to kickoff on Labor Day weekend. 

Onward, Hokies.

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