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October 18, 2010


By: Rachel Perreault

Tech players struggle to describe the feelings as they run out of the Avery Tunnel before a game.

Exciting. Unique. Electric. Surreal. After thinking and fumbling over the decision for one word to describe the feeling and experience of being in the Avery Tunnel before a game at Lane Stadium, this is what some of those who frequent the 200-foot long, claustrophobic tunnel just before kickoff can come up with. As players’ screams and rambunctious shoving fill the crowded passageway, the loud roar from the stadium swarms the small space as 66,000 strong shoot to their feet when Metallica’s Enter Sandman begins to blare out of the stadium’s sound system. Emotions run high for everyone, even those watching from miles away, as players, coaches and special guests spill out onto the field and another fall Saturday in Blacksburg begins.

The dimly lit, cave-like tunnel is decorated with a stripe of maroon and orange on each side of the faded white walls and Plexiglas plaques that bear the names of each year’s seniors, starting with the class of 1990. It is one of the best-known places on campus yet it is also a place many know nothing about. Even the people who travel through it the most do not know the story.

Senior defensive tackle John Graves let out a long laugh when asked if he knew the name of the tunnel he has walked through countless times during his career. Graves had no idea it had a formal name, also admitting to missing the sign each time he has passed. Few take notice to the small plaque that hangs above the entryway, a sign that honors longtime fans R.T. and Brenda Avery, who gave back to their beloved program and school in a major way when it needed it.

Though the Avery’s name went on the tunnel in the late 90s, it was actually built as part of the original stadium in 1964. It was there for the first game and has been an iconic piece of Virginia Tech football ever since. It is the same tunnel that head coach Frank Beamer passed through on September 24, 1965, for the first game ever played in Lane Stadium. Beamer admitted no one back then had any idea that the stadium and entrance would ever become what it has, because in that time, when cheerleaders and a marching band were what got the fans riled up, a larger, new place to play was excitement enough.

Reaching up and touching the Hokie stone as they come out of the tunnel is a thrill for all Tech players. The sign reads, “For those who have passed, for those to come … reach for excellence.”

Few have had the honor of a firsthand tunnel experience, but those who have been through know it’s not an experience that anyone else can understand. For someone like Graves, who has traveled the tunnel numerous times over the past four years to someone like R.T. Avery, who once took the opportunity to enter the field with his team on game day, they explain the experience exactly the same. At a loss for words, both can conclude that there are none that translate.

“I was real curious when I was younger, as a freshman, of how it was to go through the tunnel,” Graves said. “Everybody just said wait until you go through it. It’s something that you can’t even describe. You can’t even put in words. When I went through it, it was exactly what they told me. You can’t put it in words.”

It’s an emotional time in Lane Stadium as the clock continues to tick down to kickoff and a blanket of anticipation and excitement covers the stands. The video of the team trickling into the Avery Tunnel begins to show on the scoreboard inside the stadium, as anxious fans watch the players disappear into the passageway, awaiting a glimpse of them on the inside. Standing just a few feet back in the tunnel, there is no view of the world outside, just a sea of maroon with a possible peep of grass from the right angle. As the team waits, being anything but patient, it almost seems like the crowd goes quiet for a split second before the music begins. At the first sound of its beloved Enter Sandman, the roaring crowd takes off from its seats to welcome its team.

“It feels like the crowd is going to come through the tunnel,” senior quarterback Tyrod Taylor said after asking if the stands actually sit on top of the tunnel because of the noise and movement the fans and nearby student section provides.

Moments before the exit, Coach Beamer stands still at the front of the line, awaiting the signal. A mellow Taylor shadow boxes alone in the front of the pack after taking a few silent moments to himself. Graves looks ready to go, letting it all build up and sink in as he anticipates that first snap. Though there’s not room for much movement and no chance for a conversation, more players than not are yelling and jumping, getting as loud as possible, eager to spill out of that tunnel and erupt on Hokie Nation to put all the week’s hard work and preparation on display. Making sure they touch the Hokie Stone that hangs just inside the 8-by-8 doorway before they hit the field, the squad spills out, the wait is over and the team is ready to put on the show its diehards came to see.