By Jeff White (firstname.lastname@example.org)
CHARLOTTESVILLE — The season ended in Atlanta with a historic victory, a 27-24 win over Purdue that attached an exclamation point to the first bowl appearance in University of Virginia history.
The Cavaliers exited 1984 with an 8-2-2 record, and a tradition began. A football program that for years had been an afterthought — or worse — would finish with a losing record only once in the next 16 seasons under coach George Welsh.
“That was the turning point,” Welsh said this week.
Welsh, who retired after the 2000 season, and members of the ’84 team will be honored Saturday at halftime of the UVa-TCU game at Scott Stadium.
That 1984 would one day carry such historical significance for UVa football was anything but certain on Sept. 8 of that year.
Virginia opened the season, its third under Welsh, against third-ranked Clemson that day. About 10 months earlier, the Wahoos had lost 48-0 to Virginia Tech in the 1983 regular-season finale at Scott Stadium, and now they were humbled again, on the same field.
Clemson 55, UVa 0.
The ‘Hoos had finished 6-5 in 1983 — only their second winning season in more than a decade — and were expected to be better in ’84. Not only was the roster stocked with talented players such as Barry Word, Jim Dowbrowski, Ron Mattes, Bob Olderman, Charles McDaniel and Lester Lyles, but Welsh had a tremendous staff.
His assistants in ’84 included two men who are now ACC head coaches: N.C. State’s Tom O’Brien and Boston College’s Frank Spaziani.
O’Brien coached the Cavaliers’ offensive guards and centers; Spaziani, the defensive backs. The other assistants were Ed Henry (defensive ends), Ken Mack (running backs), Art Markos (defensive line), Bob Petchel (wide receivers), Tom Sherman (quarterbacks), Tony Whittlesey (linebackers) and Danny Wilmer (offensive tackles and tight ends).
With Welsh, who would be inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 2004, in charge, Virginia clearly had all the ingredients needed for a successful season. But the loss to the Tigers raised doubts among fans and, more important, UVa players.
“That devastated the team,” Welsh recalled. “That loss was tough to come out of psychologically.”
But the Cavaliers proved to be as resilient as they were talented. They rebounded from the Clemson debacle to hammer VMI 35-7, then whipped Navy, Welsh’s alma mater and previous employer, 21-9 in Annapolis.
Then came a trip to Blacksburg, where Tech fans were still incensed about comments made by McDaniel, a linebacker who even then didn’t mince words. They threw bottles, among other things, at him in Lane Stadium.
“It was a very hostile environment,” McDaniel recalled this week. “It was a situation where you were clearly in the enemy’s den, and to come out of there with a win was huge.”
The Cavaliers came in having lost four straight to the Hokies, two by shutout, and a fifth consecutive defeat appeared likely after three quarters.
UVa trailed 23-13. But one of the most memorable plays in the series’ history — a 33-yard completion from quarterback Don Majkowski to freshman wide receiver John Ford on fourth-and-inches from Tech’s 34 — ignited Virginia’s comeback.
The Hokies missed a 51-yard field-goal attempt on the game’s final play, and the ‘Hoos celebrated a 26-23 victory.
McDaniel said: “That was a huge, huge win for the players, for the staff and for the school, and it was further evidence that we were on the way.”
“That year was the start of turning the program around, and that was a pivotal game,” Majkowski told the Newport News Daily Press in 2005.
The Cavaliers’ ascent stalled when they tied No. 20 Georgia Tech 20-20, but they followed that by crushing Wake Forest 28-9. Then came a trip to Morgantown, W.Va., to face the nation’s 12th-ranked team.
Many observers predicted a blowout, and they were correct. But it wasn’t what they expected. UVa shocked the Mountaineers 27-7.
“We were pretty good at that point,” Welsh said, “but we caught them at the right time. They had just beaten Penn State the week before” — after losing 25 straight in that series — “and when we got there the day before, [newspapers] were still writing about it. I think they underestimated us.”
The Cavaliers didn’t overlook their next opponent, N.C. State. Virginia destroyed the Wolfpack 45-0 at Scott Stadium. That win moved the Wahoos into The Associated Press’ Top 20 for the first time in 32 years, at No. 19, but they departed after tying North Carolina 24-24 in Chapel Hill.
“More ties than a soccer team,” Welsh said, shaking his head.
The regular-season finale went worse, as UVa lost 45-34 to No. 18 Maryland in Charlottesville. But a trip to Atlanta loomed for the Cavaliers, who had accepted an invitation to the Peach Bowl. It’s difficult now to appreciate the excitement that surrounded the program as the New Year’s Eve game approached.
Bowl appearances were routine for other schools, but not for UVa.
“It was such a big deal for all of us,” McDaniel said, “for the fans, the University and definitely the athletes and the staff. It had never been done before.”
McDaniel started as a true freshman on Welsh’s first UVa team, which went 2-9 in 1982. He originally committed to North Carolina but changed his mind after meeting the Cavaliers’ new coach.
“George Welsh was the reason many of us chose to come to Virginia,” McDaniel said. “He wasn’t a great salesman, he was just brutally honest, and you looked at his past history. If you can take Navy to four bowls in five years, and you can finish in the Top 20, you can sure as hell do it at Virginia.”
The 1982 season was rough — “It took Welsh a year to purge the system of players who didn’t get it or didn’t care or didn’t have the ability to do it,” said McDaniel — but UVa’s success the next season laid the foundation for the breakthrough in ’84.
“That third year, we knew we had the pieces in place,” McDaniel said. “Now, we started off like hell, but we came back … It wasn’t a rah-rah team, but it was a team that believed in the mission, believed in the philosophy.”
In the Peach Bowl, then played outdoors at Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium, Jim Everett threw three touchdown passes in the first half, and Purdue went into the break ahead 24-14. But the Cavaliers’ defense, led by cornerback Ray Daly, stiffened, and their offense took control.
Majkowski scored on a 1-yard run early in the third quarter, and Kenny Stadlin tied the game at 24-24 with 12:59 left.
Stadlin’s 22-yarder with 7:17 remaining proved to be the game-winner, and when the time expired, a party began that lasted well into the next day.
“It was a special time,” McDaniel said. “I think if you ask most people, that bowl game is still the greatest bowl game in the history of Virginia athletics, because of what it meant. It was the first time, I think, that Virginia became known as a football school, or certainly one that was on the map.”
Start Of Something Big
At halftime of Saturday’s football game between UVa and TCU at Scott Stadium, members of Virginia’s 1984 team will be recognized.
That was the first team in school history to advance to a bowl game, and coach George Welsh’s standouts included Don Majkowski, John Ford, Charles McDaniel, Ron Mattes, Bob Olderman, Jim Dombrowski, Lester Lyles, Kenny Stadlin, Barry Word and Howard “Beaver” Petty.
Here’s how the season unfolded:
Date Opponent Score
Sept. 8 No. 3 Clemson L, 55-0
Sept. 15 VMI W, 35-7
Sept. 22 at Navy W, 21-9
Sept. 29 at Virginia Tech W, 26-23
Oct. 6 at Duke W, 38-10
Oct. 13 No. 20 Georgia Tech T, 20-20
Oct. 20 Wake Forest W, 28-9
Nov. 3 at No. 12 West Virginia W, 27-7
Nov. 10 N.C. State W, 45-0
Nov. 17 at North Carolina T, 24-24
Nov. 24 No. 18 Maryland L, 45-34
*Dec. 31 Purdue W, 27-24
*Peach Bowl in Atlanta