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For fans, Virginia Tech-West Virginia rivalry 'a nice kind of hate'

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BLACKSBURG — For the first time in 18 years, the West Virginia football team paid a visit to Lane Stadium on Thursday night to take on Virginia Tech.

Despite the teams being old rivals, plenty of Virginia Tech and WVU fans actually tailgated together before the game.

After all, some Tech graduates are friends or colleagues with WVU graduates.

And some Tech fans have WVU fans in their family.

WVU graduate Mary Hanson of Roanoke is married to a Virginia Tech graduate. Their three girls attend Virginia Tech — not that Hanson minds too much.

“The orange only burns the first time you wear it,” Hanson joked as she tailgated outside Lane Stadium.

Hanson co-hosted a tailgate Thursday with her friend Tiffaney Perhala, a resident of Texas and Smith Mountain Lake who graduated from Virginia Tech. The two have been friends since being introduced by a mutual friend at a Tech-WVU game 23 years ago.

“We have had a rivalry [between the schools] for so many years,” said Hanson, who grew up in Morgantown, West Virginia. “We’ve gotten a bad rap and as a Mountaineer, I’d like to change that. We can all be friends.”

Thursday was the last scheduled game between the old rivals.

“I’d like to see them continue to play,” Hanson said. “It brings out the fans. Everybody loves it.”

Virginia Tech graduate Michael O’Neill of Moorefield, West Virginia, is the father of WVU students Ben and Gracie O’Neill. He tailgated with some of his old Tech buddies, his kids and some of his kids’ friends.

Family bragging rights were at stake Thursday. Michael O’Neill said his kids might have to wear Hokie colors if the Hokies won Thursday night.

“Last year in Morgantown he was on one side of the stadium and we were on the other side and the whole time we were texting in our family group chat, talking crap back and forth,” Gracie O’Neill said. “I would say WVU’s biggest game this year was Pitt, but for us personally, it’s this game.”

West Virginia beat the Hokies 27-21 last season in Morgantown. It was the first time the rivals had met since the 2017 season opener at FedEx Field.

Last year was the first on-campus meeting between the teams since Virginia Tech paid WVU a visit in 2005.

Virginia Tech and WVU met annually from 1973 through 2005. The teams used to be Big East rivals, but Tech jumped to the ACC in the summer of 2004. The conference switch was the main reason the series ended after nonleague meetings in 2004 and 2005, although there was also a desire by the schools to curtail fans’ sometimes heated behavior at the games. The teams did not meet again until the neutral-site game in 2017.

“This is the best rivalry,” said Michael O’Neill, a 1986 Tech graduate who grew up in Virginia. “We thumped UVa a lot of times a lot of years, but the best game of the season was always the WVU game.

“Hopefully college football can get back to … backyard rivalries.”

Andy Fox attended his first WVU-Virginia Tech game in 1966. The 1972 Virginia Tech graduate tailgated Thursday with a group that included Tech fans and WVU fans — chief among them Fox’s brother, West Virginia graduate Kenny Fox.

“We couldn’t get him into a good school, so he went to West Virginia,” Andy Fox cracked.

The brothers grew up in Beckley, West Virginia.

“[The Tech-WVU games] used to be one of my favorite days of the year,” said Andy Fox, who now lives in Florida. “I’d take off Friday and cook all day.”

The brothers wish the series would continue.

“I wish they would renew it and play every year,” Kenny Fox said.

West Virginia graduate Marvin Woodie of Bluefield, West Virginia, tailgated with a group that included a colleague, Virginia Tech graduate Sean Weisiger of Midlothian. The group also included Woodie’s high school pals, Virginia Tech graduate Bob McCord of Smith Mountain Lake and West Virginia graduate Roger Schwartz.

“When I go up to Morgantown, there will be times that I don’t wear my Tech stuff because beer bottles tend to fly in your direction every now and then,” McCord said.

“In West Virginia, our family tree is a stump. There are no branches,” Woodie joked.

The Tech fans had no problem hanging out with WVU fans.

“It’s all good fun. It’s not UVa. It’s OK,” Weisiger said. “Now, if it was UVa, it’d be a different story.”

“Our office is probably mixed 50-50, Tech fans and WVU fans, in southern West Virginia,” Woodie said. “We always pull for each other when we’re not playing each other.”

Weisiger attended the teams’ memorable 1999 game at WVU. The Hokies won 22-20 on Shayne Graham’s 44-yard field goal as time expired.

“Shayne Graham’s aunt just happened to be sitting in front of me, … hugging me because she can’t watch him kick that ball to continue our undefeated season,” Weisiger said. “I picked his aunt up and swung her around and she said, ‘I guess he made it, huh?’”

The Black Diamond Trophy was at stake Thursday night. The game marked the 54th meeting in the series.

“[WVU leads] 29-23-1,” Schwartz correctly said.

Virginia Tech graduates Mary and David Hopkins of Nelson County tailgated with a group that included their son and daughter-in-law — WVU graduates Perry and Felicia Hopkins.

“What do you want to bet? One couch? Two couches?” Perry Hopkins joked with his parents.

Virginia Tech graduate Curtis Moore of Louisa County not only tailgated with two of his old Tech fraternity brothers but also with a colleague — WVU fan Ben Tatum of Louisa County.

“It is a real, real rivalry,” Moore said of the series. “It’s close enough geographically that we should play each other.”

“Every year we should play each other,” Tatum said.

Thursday’s game marked WVU’s first trip to Lane Stadium since 2004.

WVU graduate Mikey Scarbrough and three of his pals drove to Blacksburg on Thursday from Fayette County, West Virginia. They took pregame photos of the statue of ex-Hokies coach Frank Beamer.

“It’s a nice kind of hate,” Scarbrough said of the rivalry. “Everybody here’s family. We all get along in the parking lots — most of us do. But we hate each other on the field, and that’s what makes this game so big.”

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Mark Berman covers Virginia Tech men’s basketball and many other teams at the university. He also helps cover other colleges, including Radford, VMI, Roanoke, Washington and Lee and Ferrum.

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