Run and Shoot: The Bird Is Back

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The Bird Is Back

BLACKSBURG, Va. - Good morning from Lane Stadium. In half an hour's time on Worsham Field, the No. 9 Virginia Tech Hokies open their season against the Pirates of East Carolina University.

And yes, it is a football game that's being played here today.

This, of course, is the first time Lane Stadium has been filled for a football game since the horrible massacre that took place here on April 16, and there's been a lot of greater significance that will be attached to the game. The game will be preceded by ceremonies to honor those who lost their lives that day, including the presentation of a check from ECU to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund, a recognition of First Responders, a tribute video, and the relase of balloons into the air.

Some have also tried to say, "Hold on, it's just a football game," and for my feelings on that, you can read this column. In any case, given the way this game has been built up, one is almost tempted to paraphrase the late, great Howard Cosell and say, "oh, and by the way, East Carolina is here too."

Well, the Pirates aren't exactly Sonny Liston, but if the Hokies aren't careful, ECU could wind up being Chuck Wepner, the fighter who went the distance with Muhammad Ali and inspired Sylvester Stallone to write Rocky. This is a team that went 7-6 last year and played in the Papajohns.com Bowl, and should not be taken lightly.

Of course, the starter in that game, Rob Kass, is suspended for today's game, which means that Brett Clay will be join six other first-time starters in the ECU lineup, including two members of the offensive line that will be protecting him. Center Fred Hicks' three prevoius starts came at defensive tackle in 2004 and 2005, so it could wind up being a banner day for the Hokies defense, which has allowed the fewest offensive touchdowns of any team in the land since the start of the 2000 season, and has seized the most interceptions to boot.

On the Virginia Tech side, the Hokies have only lost two home openers under Frank Beamer, the last one against Boston College in 1995. They've won their last five meetings with the Pirates, including the last meeting in 2000, when all the Hokies' touchdown drives in a 45-28 victory took 90 seconds or less. That, however, was before Skip Holtz took over at ECU.

A lot of eyes are focused on Blacksburg today, and one can be sure that Virginia Tech will be looking to put on a show. See you at kickoff.

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