October 2, 2015
Lane Stadium - Aged to Perfection
On this date 50 years ago, Virginia Tech played its first football game at its current home
Lane Stadium Quick Facts • First game – Oct. 2, 1965 vs. William & Mary (Tech won 9-7)

• First score – Jon Utin (34-yard FG vs. William & Mary)

• First touchdown – Bobby Owens (13-yard run vs. William & Mary)

• First televised game – 1966, vs. Florida State (a 23-21 win)

• First loss – 1967, Miami (14-7)

• First CBS game – 1982, vs. Miami (a 14-8 loss)

• First ESPN game – 1990, vs. Virginia (a 38-13 win)

• First BIG EAST game – 1992, vs. West Virginia (a 16-7 loss)

• First BIG EAST win – 1993, vs. Temple (55-7)

• First ESPN Thursday night game – 1994, vs. West Virginia (a 34-6 win)

• First ESPN Gameday appearance – 1999, vs. Syracuse (a 62-0 win)

• First ACC game and win – 2004, vs. Duke (a 41-17 win)

By Jimmy Robertson

It is the first building that students coming to Virginia Tech’s campus for the first time, or those returning to campus to continue their studies, see. They drive along U.S. 460, an asphalt path that meanders through a pastoral setting, and the building rises up, roughly a mile or so in the distance.

The highway leads to a stoplight, and students, or perhaps those riding with their parents, take a right onto Southgate Drive, one of the main arteries into Tech’s campus. The building towers over everything else, commanding one’s attention, and those seeing it for the first time usually gape in awe.

Lane Stadium is an impressive display of concrete, steel, glass, lights, and of course, Hokie stone, the defining architectural feature of nearly every building on this campus wedged into the Blue Ridge mountains of Southwest Virginia. It is beautiful and awesome, and yet intimidating.

Lane Stadium is a building, a football stadium, and a home to a prominent football program. Yet it is certainly so much more.

Yes, the concrete, steel and Hokie stone comprise it. But what goes on inside its cavernous walls define it.

Those who attend football games know this, and as they drive onto Southgate and approach the stadium, they can feel the sensations. They envision fans draped in maroon and orange hunkered around their grills in the parking lots. They see kids in oversized jerseys tossing pigskins. They almost hear the rhythmic pulsing of “Enter Sandman” and their feet probably start tapping the floorboard of their vehicles. They cannot wait to start jumping.

Today is Lane Stadium’s 50th birthday, the golden anniversary in which Virginia Tech played its first varsity game in the venue.

It just keeps getting better with age.

The vision

Dr. T. Marshall Hahn was more than just a Virginia Tech president, the 12th in the university’s history. The man also was a visionary.

Now 88, Hahn took over the presidency at Tech in 1962 at the ripe old age of 35 – still the youngest Tech president to date. Perhaps emboldened by youth, Hahn quickly stamped his mark on the athletics area.

Hahn, along with trusted sidekick Stuart Cassell, oversaw the finishing of the construction of Cassell Coliseum, the school’s basketball home, in 1962. Then he decided to embark on another project – one much loftier than Cassell Coliseum.

In 1963, Hahn pitched a project to Tech’s Board of Visitors that called for the construction of a 35,000-seat football stadium to be built not far from Miles Stadium, Tech’s football home at that time, and just south of Cassell Coliseum. Miles Stadium only seated around 15,000.

There was one slight problem, though.

“We didn’t have any money to speak of,” Hahn said in an interview about the 50th season of Lane Stadium, which was last season.

Hahn often refuses to take a lot of credit for his role in the construction of Lane Stadium. Instead, he points to two other men who played integral roles – Cassell, who played a key role in the building which bears his name, and Edward H. Lane.

Both men performed numerous tasks related to the project, but for simplicity’s sake, Tech fans should look at their roles this way – Cassell worked with the architect and contractors to keep costs down, while Lane raised the money. The Board of Visitors, concerned about costs, liked this two-pronged approach.

“We worked with a contractor – I can’t remember his name right now – but he agreed to construction progress payments and agreed that there would be no penalty if we had to stop midstream until we raised more money,” Hahn said. “I recommended to the Board that we build the stadium in the location where it is now. We actually had bulldozers standing by the last game of the season.”

Workers actually began construction on the stadium in April of 1964. Following the 1964 season, workers razed the old Miles Stadium, making it imperative that the new stadium at least be ready for play in time for the 1965 season.

Fortunately, there were no delays in construction. A lot of credit for that goes to Lane, a former student at Tech who founded what became The Lane Company, a furniture company in Altavista, Virginia, with his father. Lane spearheaded an educational foundation project that raised more than $3 million for the construction. He himself made a sizable contribution to the project.

Construction workers worked furiously just to get the stadium ready for play for the 1965 season. They knew it wouldn’t be anywhere near completion, but hoped to get enough done to allow for competition.

In short, that is exactly what happened. On Sept. 24, 1965, Tech’s freshman team played the first game ever at the stadium against Maryland’s freshman team. The school’s varsity team took the field on Oct. 2 against William & Mary.

The first game

Old photos and video footage reveal a partially completed stadium. A chunk of the west side wasn’t completed. The north end zone, as Tech fans today know it, consisted of a small hill. The south end zone opened to a parking lot. The east side didn’t have seats yet, so fans sat on concrete or on the ground. The three-level press box wasn’t finished, but was completed enough to allow for media members and coaches to do their jobs. The scoreboard was rudimentary compared to today’s behemoth.

Perhaps because of the unfinished state of the stadium, or perhaps because football wasn’t America’s obsession back then the way it seems to be today, a couple of Tech players said there wasn’t the excitement one might have expected leading up to that first varsity game against William & Mary.

“There wasn’t a lot of excitement for the first game in the new stadium,” said Billy Edwards, a linebacker and one of three captains on the 1965 team, in an interview last year. “There was probably more excitement for the Virginia game because it was the dedication and it was the first time in some time that we [the current Tech team] had played Virginia on the campus at Virginia Tech.”

Mike Saunders, a former lineman and also a captain on the 1965 squad, expressed similar sentiments.

“There was a lot of excitement, but I’m not so sure it was any more ‘special’ than any other game going in,” he said. “We had played in a lot of stadiums that size or bigger – or comparable, let’s put it that way. We had been in those kinds of environments, but the fact that we had our own was pretty neat.”

Tech managed to win the first varsity game at the stadium, beating William & Mary 9-7. The Gobblers trailed 7-0 at halftime, but scored nine points in the fourth quarter. Kicker Jon Utin hit a 34-yard field goal with 4:31 left in the game, and then quarterback Bobby Owens scored on a 13-yard run with 37 seconds left to lift the team to the 9-7 victory. Owens’ touchdown capped an eight-play, 80-yard drive that took less than two minutes.

Tech went on to win its other two home games that season. The Gobblers knocked off rival Virginia 22-14 on Homecoming on a day in which the stadium was dedicated and named after Mr. Lane. He insisted it be named not for him, but for his family.

The Gobblers closed the 1965 season with a win over VMI in Roanoke. That gave Tech the sweep of in-state schools – something of utmost importance in those days.

That 1965 season marked the start of Hokie dominance at its new home. Tech also did not lose a game at Lane Stadium in 1966 (though the Gobblers tied West Virginia at 13). The 1966 season marked the first season for a familiar name among Hokie Nation – current head coach Frank Beamer. He played on the freshman team in 1965, but did not play in that freshman game at Lane Stadium on Sept. 24 that year.

“Coach [Jerry] Claiborne brought in six quarterbacks that year, and I was the sixth,” Beamer joked when asked about the game. “The next week, they moved me to defensive back.”

Expanding over the years

Lane Stadium continues to defy conventional logic. The older it gets, the better it looks.

Of course, it looks so great today because of its numerous facelifts and transformations over the years. It started out as a 35,000-seat stadium that took nearly four years to build – original construction wasn’t completed until 1968 – and cost $3.5 million. Now it holds nearly 66,000 seats in a relatively enclosed space.

Over a 15-year span, in the late 1960s and 1970s, athletics department officials added various bleacher seating and other seating that pushed the capacity to 40,000. But the first big expansion project came about in 1977.

University officials and then-athletics director Frank Moseley started a project that called for the addition of 39 rows of seating on the east side of the stadium. It would add approximately 12,500 seats, an upper concourse area and a snack bar, all at a cost of $3.2 million.

The project was supposed to be completed in time for the 1979 home opener against Appalachian State, but delays pushed the project back. It was finished in time for the 1980 season and brought the capacity of Lane Stadium to more than 50,000.

The big expansion projects, though, occurred in Jim Weaver’s tenure. The former Tech AD, who retired at the end of 2013 and passed away this past July, took advantage of the program’s success in the late 1990s and early 2000s – and the money that those successes subsequently produced – and pushed through two major stadium initiatives.

In 2002, a $37 million project resulted in the addition of 11,000 seats built into a double-decked structure in the south end zone. The project included 15 luxury suites, two indoor club areas, a new visitor’s locker room and a media center. Workers started the project in 2001 and finished before the 2002 season.

Then, in 2004, Weaver spearheaded a project that saw the demolition of the press box tower on the west side. The press box was replaced by a structure that ran the entire length of the west side stands and included additional luxury suites, private club seating areas, a president’s area, a press area, offices for the Virginia Tech Athletic Fund, a ticket office, a new lighting system, and more. It took two years to complete, cost $52.5 million to finish and increased capacity to more than 66,000.

Factoring in north end zone bleacher seating and a new playing field (2002), Weaver committed nearly $100 million to Lane Stadium during his time as the AD.

“No, not really,” Weaver said last year when asked if he ever hesitated at such a commitment. “I felt like we were in good shape financially – as good as we could be. I thought we needed to do it while the enthusiasm was there and while we were playing as well as we were.

“I thought it was the best time of my tenure to do something like that. We had played for the national championship [in 1999] and had gotten the invitation to join the ACC [in 2003]. So we were able to move forward on it and make it become a reality.”

Enter Sandman

Every Tech fan has a favorite Lane Stadium memory.

Saunders and Edwards, two of the three captains of the 1965 team, vividly remember the Homecoming win over Virginia, which then was making its first visit to Blacksburg in 27 years. Beamer remembers a 1966 game against Florida State in which Tech used a goal-line stand to win. He also remembers intercepting a pass against Richmond and out-running Spiders quarterback Buster O’Brien to the end zone for his only collegiate touchdown. After scoring, he threw the ball up in the air.

Those who played in the early 1980s remember Ron Zollicoffer’s catch to beat William & Mary. The 1990 team drilled Virginia in the season finale in the “black shoes” game – Tech’s players painted their cleats black before the game – after the Cavaliers had been ranked No. 1 most of the year. No one will forget the 1999 season when ESPN Gameday came to Blacksburg for the first time, and the Hokies beat Syracuse 62-0. Three weeks later, they beat Miami 43-10, and in the season finale against BC – under a beautiful sunset – they capped off a perfect regular season with a 38-14 win.

But today, nothing defines Lane Stadium more than the playing of “Enter Sandman” as the team runs out of the tunnel before kickoff. For the past 14 years, Tech fans have become part of the stadium’s “Enter Sandman” culture.

Since 2000, the athletics department has started playing the first part of the Metallica song as the team runs out of the tunnel. The fans start jumping as soon as the song begins. It is a scene beyond description, and the song serves as the university’s de facto school anthem.

The marketing folks at Tech now play the snippet late in games when the Hokies need a big play. They played it late in a 2009 game against Nebraska. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor hit Danny Coale for an 81-yard gain, and three plays later, Taylor found Dyrell Roberts for the winning touchdown with 21 seconds left.

It still serves as Weaver’s most favorite moment.

“That would rank at the top of the list for me,” he admitted. “Not so much how it ended, but just to play a first-rate opponent like that and be able to win … that really kept the momentum rolling for us.”

Beamer’s had many “Enter Sandman” moments, but one came on one of the saddest days of his life. In 2004, his mother, Herma, passed away only hours before Tech took the field against Maryland in a Thursday night affair. Beamer elected to coach the game, and his team wasn’t about to lose on this night, blasting the Terrapins 55-6.

“There was never any doubt of what she would want me to do,” Beamer said. “It seemed like all the breaks went our way that night. We jumped on Maryland pretty good, but I don’t know if we were that much better than Maryland.”

It’d be remiss not to mention the importance of those Thursday night games at Lane Stadium. They have been particularly beneficial to the program over the years, particularly during the Beamer era. In fact, Tech has played more ESPN-televised Thursday night games than any program in the nation, compiling an 11-5 mark at Lane Stadium alone in that setting.

Knowing that the entire nation is watching, Tech fans bring it on that night. The playing of “Enter Sandman” on Thursday night at Lane Stadium makes for one of the special moments in a college football season.

“The Thursday night games have been special,” Beamer admitted. “The atmosphere has always been good.

“But that night, it’s usually beyond good.”

The future

What will Lane Stadium look like 10 years from now? 20 years? 50 years? No one really knows, but no projects are eminent.

Today, Lane Stadium simply looks fantastic, like the beauty queen who never ages. Tech officials over the years have done a terrific job of balancing the stadium’s modern look while also implementing those features that pay tribute to its wonderful past.

It beckons Tech fans of all ages and races and backgrounds to come in and reside within its walls each autumn, to come and experience something that cannot be experienced by watching a 60-inch black box bolted to a slab of drywall at one’s home.

Those who have been to games know this. Those who have played on its field can attest to it, even the ones who played 50 seasons ago.

“It’s exciting for us,” Edwards said. “It’s exciting to see what’s there 50 years later, something that we were a part of and realizing our humble beginnings of playing that first game at Lane Stadium, with the way it was. Over the years, going back to games and seeing where the school is and where the stadium is … it’s always been a great home-field advantage.”

“What we really can’t believe is what Frank and others have done with the program, with what we know used to be there,” Saunders said. “It’s still the same field, but we feel pretty proud of having played in the first game and are really blown away by where it is now in terms of all the hoopla and all that goes on.”

At least for one day, today, the hoopla centers on the stadium itself, as she turns 50 years old. Nearly everyone would agree – she has never been more golden.

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