CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) – After the April 16 shootings at Virginia Tech, the words “Hoos for Hokies” were painted on a University of Virginia bridge that has become sort of a public forum for student expression.
It marked a rare but appropriate hiatus in the fierce rivalry between the U.Va. Cavaliers – informally known as Wahoos, or simply Hoos – and the Tech Hokies.
There was a new message on the bridge Saturday: “Go Hoos, Beat the Hokies.”
The rivalry was back and bigger than ever as Virginia and Virginia Tech clashed in the most meaningful football game in the series’ 112-year history. The Hokies beat the Cavaliers 33-21 to earn a berth in the Atlantic Coast Conference championship game against Boston College.
At Saturday’s game, the April tragedy wasn’t forgotten. Pregame festivities included a moment of silence for the 32 people who were killed by a Tech student who then committed suicide. It was followed by a saxophone solo of “Amazing Grace.”
But fans from both schools said before the game that they were ready for the rivalry to get back to normal. That means Virginia fans chiding Tech fans as beer-swilling, overall-wearing rubes and Hokies bashing Wahoos as wine-sipping, bow-tied snobs – usually, but not always, good-naturedly.
Some people call it “culture versus agriculture.”
“Cavaliers like to think they’re better than everybody else,” said Gary Gee, 25, of Roanoke, a Hokies season-ticket holder. “We’re just down-home hill people.”
Said 13-year-old Virginia fan Harrison Austin of Vinton: “We teach people how to do brain surgery. They teach them to plant corn.”
Some families have members in both camps. The Craig Dunbar family, of Midlothian, shared their tailgate spread of egg casserole, ham biscuits and Bloody Marys with relative Dan Black of Ashland, a Tech graduate.
“All dirt roads lead to Tech,” Dunbar chuckled.
Black responded: “Tech still has the vet school and the cows, but you don’t have to go too far outside Charlottesville to see a few cows, either.”
Still, the barbs have been delivered with less venom since the Tech shooting, said Paige Dunbar, an 18-year-old freshman at U.Va.
“It’s still a huge rivalry,” she said. “We still want to beat Tech more than anything, and we were still cheering when Boston College beat them.”
But she and others marveled at the outpouring of support Tech has gotten from U.Va. There were monetary contributions and candlelight vigils. And she noted that the “Hoos for Hokies” message stayed on Beta Bridge for well over a month, while sometimes messages get painted over three times in just one night.
“That was a very admirable thing,” said Kevin Bailey of Richmond, a 44-year-old Tech grad making his way through the sea of tailgate parties for Saturday’s game.
“When something like that happens, we’re all together,” said his friend and fellow Hokie, Gene Kastelberg, 44, of Richmond. “But for the next three or four hours, we’ll go at each other.”