Dec. 2022 – WEB EXCLUSIVE
By William Berryman Phaler,Jr.
After a beautiful sunset in the mountains, the sky was pitch black in southwestern Virginia. Folks were packed around my grandfather and me like sardines, but it wasn’t fazing me. I was waiting. Waiting for the moment. The moment that my grandfather had been telling me about for years, jumping to Sandman was here. It was time. I heard the ever-so-familiar guitar introduction. The video board caught my attention as it displayed “The Mighty Hokies.” The Hokies darted out of the tunnel as Metallica blasted through the air. Right as it hit me of what was happening, I woke up disappointed, as I had just been in a dream of something I looked forward to for years.
The aroma of biscuits and sausage filled the room. Over the years, waking up to this, combined with the distinctive mixture of old farmhouse, always reminded me that I was at my grandparents’ house. My grandparents, Jerry and Lois, have been in that house since the 1980s, which left plenty of time for that aroma to settle into my mind. Lois and Jerry, or as I’ve always known them, Moose and Granddad, live in Craig County, Virginia. Craig has many similarities to Morgan County, especially with the lack of anything but trees and overdue Trump signs. My grandparents chose this place in spite of those two exhilarating attractions. The Groseclose family chose Craig because of the proximity to home. It was a little over an hour drive from both of their hometowns, and more importantly to Granddad, it was close to Tech. Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University to be more exact. It’s always just been Tech to me though. My grandfather is a graduate of Tech, and he was a part of the Agricultural Engineering program and ever since his graduation in 1967 has bled maroon and orange, the school colors. His love for Tech was definitely passed on to me, and for as long as I could communicate it, I wanted to go to a Tech football game. That’s why I was at my grandparents, to go to my first Virginia Tech football game with granddad. I was pumped up to be at my grandparent’s house. I was about to experience Blacksburg and Lane Stadium, the home of the Hokies, for the very first time.
Granddad and I started our adventure to see the Hokies in his small, faded red, two-door pickup truck. The truck, once bright red around the time I was born, looked like it had been to hell and back. It isn’t much to the naked eye, but I have an assortment of great memories with my granddad in it. The road we took the truck down towards Blacksburg reminds me of many of the roads in East Tennessee. The bright double yellow lines, the absence of shoulders, and the vastness of nature were all a part of the delightful landscape. While staring out the window, I shot question after question at my granddad like a child in a nerf war. “How old is the stadium?” “What’s that new quarterback’s name?” “Who’s the other team’s coach?” “Who played for Tech that year?” “Do you think they will run out to Sandman!?” This was by far, the most important question to me, and the most frequently asked question to my granddad. I probably pestered him with that question ten times in the first twenty minutes of the trip. Sandman, or more officially known as “Enter Sandman” by Metallica, was the song that almost every Hokie sports team played at their games. It became popularized on campus by the football team. Every home game the team would run out of the tunnel to the song, while a crowd of 60,000 plus would jump up and down in the aisles of the stadium while screaming the lyrics. I’d seen it televised on Virginia Tech games my whole life and really looked forward to being a part of it in person. Granddad reassured me every time I asked, “Yes, Will, they’ll play it. Will, they haven’t changed it since your cousin was there in 2000.” His reassurance over Sandman pushed me to be even more excited to be in Blacksburg.
Once our drive of just over an hour had ended, my granddad parked at a Hardee’s just on the edge of campus. I was really overjoyed that he found a Hardee’s, because while out and about on adventures, we’d eat at Hardee’s. We always got the same thing. It was our little superstition. We would both get chicken tenders, along with a mixture of Coke and Dr. Pepper that my granddad claims tastes like Pepsi. After we had our superstition meal, we began to walk from the Hardee’s to the enormous Lane Stadium. It was just over a mile walk and my granddad guided us right through the middle of campus. He pointed out the dorm he stayed at, and the dorms that my mom and uncle had stayed in during their time at Tech. After we passed the last building he had pointed out, I saw it. The home of the Hokies. Lane Stadium was stunning. I had never seen any building of that magnitude before. The columns, the Hokie bird statues, the VT logos everywhere all seemed so perfect. Then, we got inside the gate, and as far as the eye could see, it was just maroon and orange everywhere. I was just in awe of the atmosphere. While I was starstruck over any and everything, granddad dragged us to our seats in the middle level of the stadium at the fifty-yard line.
Once the two of us were settled in our seats, the ever-so-familiar guitar introduction began to play. Before I knew it, the whole stadium was jumping. If you weren’t jumping on beat with everyone else, or not jumping at all, you would fall. Soon the drums came in, and you couldn’t even hear yourself think. It was Enter Sandman time in Blacksburg, and now it made sense to me why I wanted to be a part of the Sandman experience at Tech. The lyrics started to be sung by Metallica and the crowd in unison. The enormous video board showed the Hokies in the tunnel, all in their tight maroon uniforms, with their signature “VT” everywhere. The players raced out onto the field, followed by a roar of cheers, and then more Sandman. About halfway through the song they stopped the music and started the actual football. This disappointed me a little bit as I felt like something was missing.
The game ended up being one of the best I’d ever witnessed throughout sports so far in life. It went to a seventh overtime, which was a record for both schools. The Hokies ran a quarterback sneak into the end zone to break the tie, and as soon as the referee shot his hands up for a touchdown, the stadium went berserk. My granddad and I hugged. I gave a high-five to everyone I could reach. The music started playing and the crowd started screaming the lyrics. The speakers stopped playing right before the “Exit light, enter night” line, but it didn’t stop anyone. It didn’t stop me. I got to be in the crowd for Enter Sandman, with my granddad, at a game for the Hokies which the two of us so dearly loved. Sharing that experience with him was fantastic and it is the first thing that always pops into my mind whenever I think about him. Having a memory of something I’ve always wanted to do, with a loved one, is more than I could ask for out of being a part of something as simple as jumping and singing a song with sixty-thousand other people. Ordinary and silly rituals aren’t so ordinary and silly when they are yours.
This article was written by 16-year-old William Berryman Phaler,Jr. of Morgan County, Tennessee.