There he was—call him Everypreppy—Docksidered, khaki-trousered, navy-blazered, prevented from embarking on the standard University of Virginia post-football-game cocktail party crawl by one minor detail: this moron was hanging by the backs of his knees from the south goalpost at Scott Stadium, the very goalpost that hundreds of his fellow students, also in semiformal attire and also presumably blotto, were in the process of tearing down.
To find out what had transformed these refined Virginia Wahoos into coarse, disheveled yahoos last Saturday night, one needed only to read the scoreboard above them: VIRGINIA 20, CLEMSON 7. Since 1955, Virginia had played Clemson 29 times and had never managed so much as a draw. The Streak, as both sides came to know it, had taken on hexlike dimensions for some Cavaliers. For others, it merely frayed nerves. "I wish one of my predecessors had beaten them once or twice," Virginia head coach George Welsh admitted somewhat testily the day before the game. "Then I wouldn't have to answer these questions every year."
"You'd think that in one of those games something freaky would've happened that would have enabled us to win," mused senior defensive tackle Joe Hall on Thursday. Actually, plenty of freaky things had happened—all of them to Virginia. Through the decades, as surely as Lucy pulls the football away and Charlie Brown lands on his back, the Cavaliers found ways to feed the Streak:
•In 1958, after they had held the lead for most of the game, the Wahoos were beaten by a late bomb. Tiger coach Frank Howard, who called Virginia his "white meat" because the Cavaliers had always been such easy pickings, said, "that white meat is getting darker all the time." He exaggerated.
September 16, 1990
•In 1966, Virginia led 35-18 late in the third quarter. Clemson scored the game's final 22 points.
•In 1980, Clemson won on a 52-yard field goal with :06 remaining. The Tigers had trailed by two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
•In 1988, with just two minutes remaining, blown coverage by a Cavalier corner-back making his first start gave Clemson the winning touchdown.
This season, a this-could-be-the-year hopefulness took root in Charlottesville, owing in part to the return of an explosive offense quarterbacked by a graduate student in education, Shawn Moore, and in part to strife at Clemson. When former Tiger head coach Danny Ford was forced by university president Max Lennon to resign in January and was replaced by Ken Hatfield, late of Arkansas, the football players nearly mutinied. Many threatened to transfer (none ultimately did). "It's been a slow transition," admitted one of Hatfield's assistants last week.
At Clemson, the Tigers sensed a possible upset in the making and escalated their game-week woofing accordingly:
"I don't think they respect us enough after 29 years. I think we're going up there to get some respect," huffed Clemson linebacker Doug Brewster. As for Shawn Moore, Brewster said, "Every time he loads up, he's going to get hit. I promise you that. Better tell him, 'cause I think he should know that."
"He's in for a hard afternoon. We're going to send the dogs after him," promised Tiger inside linebacker Ed McDaniel.
Hearing those remarks, Moore smiled broadly. "Sometimes I like to be hit," he said. "Gets the juices flowing." It was just after noon on the day before the game, and Moore and center Trevor Ryals were lying around their apartment—Moore on his bed, Ryals facedown on the carpet like a grounded zeppelin.
"Pretty mouthy this year, aren't they?" said Ryals, vaguely annoyed. "Must be that new coach. Ford never used to let 'em run their mouths like that."
"Hey, Trevs," said Moore. "What are we going to do today?"
"Well, we'll have to eat lunch pretty soon. Then, how about if we go rent a couple of Nintendo games?" Not exactly quaking in their flip-flops, these two.
Not everyone was so sanguine the day before the big game. Virginia defensive coordinator Frank Spaziani, in particular, fretted about his linebackers. In stark contrast to Clemson's linebacking corps—considered the deepest and most talented in college football—Virginia's were thought to be both callow and shallow, especially on the inside. "They'll attack us there," said Spaziani. "Until we prove we can stop them, they'll run right at us, try to bloody our nose."
Indeed, the Wahoos' defense was packing its nostrils with cotton less than two minutes into the second quarter. Clemson led 7-0, having scored on a six-minute, 28-second drive that was the football equivalent of demolition by wrecking ball. On five of the drive's 13 plays, the Tigers lined up in a full-house backfield with two tight ends, all but announcing, Yo, Virginia! We're running the fullback off the center's right buttock. Stop us if you can.
In the second quarter, with the Clemson offensive line still kicking sand in the Cavaliers' faces, 19-year-old Virginia defensive end Chris Slade made successive plays that changed the complexion of the game. First, he pressured Clemson quarterback DeChane Cameron into an intentional grounding; then, on the ensuing third-and-22, Slade beat All-America tackle Stacy Long to the outside and blindsided Cameron.
"When I got to the quarterback," recalled Slade, "it was like Christmas." Which is probably not how Cameron, who fumbled the ball on the play, will remember it. "I have a little vendetta against Clemson," said Slade, who was recruited by both schools. "Their assistant coaches bad-mouthed Virginia a lot, and I wanted to show 'em I made the right decision." Slade's early Christmas gift to his teammates set up the field goal that sent Virginia into the dressing room down by a single point, 7-6.
The play of the game came neither on Cameron's fumble nor on Cavalier tailback Terry Kirby's second-half, four-yard touchdown run that made the score 13-7 Virginia. It came four downs after Kirby's touchdown, when Chris Gardocki, Clem-son's terrific left-footed punter, sailed a lazy 55-yard spiral into the arms of a back-pedaling Jason Wallace.
Wallace can tell you about the Streak. He was branded the goat of the '88 loss after falling for one of Clemson's favorite ruses. To confuse defenders, the Tigers often keep 12 or 13 players in the huddle, then run one or two off the field at the last second. On that Saturday two years ago, Wallace, who was starting in his first game, saw a wide receiver, Chip Davis, leave the huddle. Assuming Davis was headed for the sideline, Wallace left him uncovered. His lapse cost Virginia the game. No one remembers Wallace's 13 tackles or two pass breakups in that game. Says Wallace, with a trace of defiance, "I had a great game."
The unfairness of it all was presumably not on Wallace's mind as he fielded Gardocki's punt on the Virginia 14, sidestepped a tackier and began gliding behind a set of human guardrails. Carrying the ball in his left arm while pointing out targets for his teammates' blocks with his right, Wallace was finally run out of bounds at the Clemson seven-yard line.
Wallace's redemptive return set the stage for Herman Moore's redemptive touchdown catch two plays and a penalty later. Quarterback Moore hooked up with receiver Moore on one of their patented alley-oops to make the score 20-7.
But it was the punt return that kept gnawing at Hatfield when the game was done. "Take that away, and you got-a six-point game in the fourth quarter. Anything could happen," he said. Something freaky, in other words. Of course, now that Virginia is cultivating its own modest Streak, Clemson is the team that will need to be on guard against freakish things.