Ye, of little faith. UVA football needed you, but you weren’t there. Again. The last two weeks, it was too hot and humid. This week, it was too chilly, too overcast, a chance of sprinkles, you had to mow the grass, go to the soccer game, whatever.
You weren’t there.
Another 30,000 empty seats, just like last week when I-AA Richmond was in town on a hot late-summer day. This week, it was #21 Louisville on a day that could very well have been the first step toward the official end of the Mike London era. A loss in the ACC opener, and Virginia was staring down the barrel of another losing season, another forced regime change, another uncomfortable period of time waiting for another new guy to try to get things back on track.
Meaning, well, a couple of things. You didn’t want to see it, so you stayed home. Basketball season isn’t that far off. Your heart hasn’t been in it in a while anyway. I get that, can’t fault that, not at all.
Flip side, you go, scream your head off, hoping against hope that what we saw two weeks ago when mighty UCLA came to town wasn’t a fluke, maybe help make it a little harder for Louisville’s new starting quarterback, Will Gardner, to change plays and protections at the line, and worst case, you spend what felt like the first day of fall with friends in what turned out to be decent weather.
You didn’t come. A lot of you didn’t watch, from what I can tell, with traffic down on our live blog from where it was two weeks ago for UCLA.
You expected a wrenching defeat, car wreck unfolding, and you averted your eyes.
I can’t explain why, exactly, but about three months ago, I decided to give London the benefit of the doubt, after spending most of last fall calling for his head, and for the head of Craig Littlepage, the athletics director, for not canning him when he could.
Then I discovered something that gave me hope beyond grasping at straws, that UVA actually had talent in the pipeline, that what London and Littlepage had been saying the past couple of years wasn’t just so much bunk. The roster was finally loaded with London recruits, and he was finally past the hole in recruiting that resulted from the final two dreadful years of the Al Groh era.
A few breaks would have to go UVA’s way, with a schedule that no one with a lick of common sense (we’re pointing our fingers at you, Jon Oliver) would hand to a coach with a veteran team loaded for a run at a national title, much less one on the verge of being blown up.
I called the UCLA game an upset for UVA, was laughed out of the sanitarium, told I was drinking Kool-Aid, when in reality I was the one mixing and serving the Kool-Aid, because no one else in the media that covers Virginia football was seeing it the way that I was. The first 10 minutes of London’s presser at the ACC Football Kickoff were variations on the question, When are they finally going to fire you?
Virginia went into the UCLA game a 22-point underdog, and if not for three turnovers that led to three Bruins defensive touchdowns, the Cavs walk out of the opener with the upset.
The 45-13 win over Richmond meant nothing to anybody, except that it made the defensive effort that limited the dynamic UCLA offense look very human, limiting preseason Heisman Trophy short-lister Brett Hundley to one touchdown drive on the long day, look like an aberration, as the I-AA Spiders racked up more than 450 total yards.
Which brings us to Louisville and today’s half-empty stadium. It was also, to be fair, half-full, and surprisingly loud for a stadium that was half-empty, half-full. The folks who did turn out still knew what it was fans are supposed to do in key moments, yelling their lungs out for themselves and their missing seatmates throughout, the din reaching a crescendo when Louisville had the ball inside its 20 for its last offensive series, down two in the final couple of minutes, desperate to get the ball downfield for a possible game-winning field goal, and not coming close as the noise reached if not quite deafening, pretty impressively loud for 34,000 people in a 65,000-seat stadium.
You didn’t know it two weeks ago when all Virginia could claim was a moral victory, you didn’t know it last week in the win over Richmond, you might not know it now, but I’m telling you now – UVA football is back. This team will win seven or eight games this fall, including ending the long drought against in-state rival Virginia Tech, and the recruiting haul that London has ready to sign in February is going to add to an already deep roster to build toward an even more successful future.
The guy writing this spent much of last fall and the football offseason in silent protest of the subpar season that was sure to come before analyzing the roster man-for-man and seeing a few weeks ago what only a few people in Bryant Hall could see.
And now you’re seen it, or rather, read about it.
Virginia football is back. And it welcomes you back.
See you in two weeks for Kent State.
– Column by Chris Graham