CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. -- The traffic started to build tw hours before kickoff. The stadium was filled to capacity, even though the students were on fall break. The team could be No. 1 in the country this week.
L Are you sure we're talking about the University of Virginia?
Though club ties, khakis and Ray-Bans still are the attire of
choice, things are changing. Not quite State College, Pa., or Ann Arbor, Mich. -- and certainly not Clemson, S.C. -- this once genteel college town has been suddenly, and shockingly, transformed.
"It's a lot different than I can remember," said Caleb Pennock, an usher who has been coming to and working at Virginia football games since 1964. "When you walk around town, everyone is talking about the football team."
It hasn't reached the point where victories are dissected, or players criticized. And there were few complaints about the way the unbeaten No. 2 Cavaliers tore apart North Carolina State (4-3) yesterday, 31-0, before another sellout crowd of 44,300 at Scott Stadium.
But it's getting there.
Consider that before last month's coming-of-age victory over Clemson -- the first win by the Cavaliers over the Tigers -- there was a Friday night pep rally attended by about 13,000 people. Consider that five of the six home games will be sellouts.
And consider this: With top-ranked Michigan's 28-27 loss at home to unranked Michigan State, Virginia should be ranked No. 1 in the nation for the first time in its football history. It has been a quick rise to the top this season for the Cavaliers and their fans, who still were trying to fathom what is taking place.
"The excitement and enthusiasm has poured over into a lot of areas," said Kim Record, Virginia's associate athletic director for marketing and promotions. "Our students are proud of their team. The attention we're getting nationally is unbelievable. It's better than I have ever expected."
So are the Cavaliers. But with each victory -- Virginia is 6-0 going into Saturday's game at Wake Forest -- comes more attention. Yesterday's game drew reporters from as far north as Philadelphia and as far south as Atlanta. There is talk of the Nov. 3 game here against Georgia Tech being put on national television.
It doesn't seem to bother Virginia, or at least its players. Before Michigan lost, head coach George Welsh was dismissing all talk of national championships and undefeated seasons the same way his team dismisses the opposition. Welsh clearly is not interested in the hype.
Asked if the Cavaliers are playing like a top-five team, Welsh scowled. "I don't want to get into the rankings," he said. "We've played only three games in the league and have six games left [overall]."
But the players do not inhabit Welsh's tunnel. They realize that there is going to be more attention, and with it, more pressure. "We really don't like to talk about it, but the underlying fact is that [pressure's] there," said Joe Hall, a senior nose guard from Fort Washington, Md.
The difference in attitude is also noticeable to those who have been here for a while. In past seasons, the game during fall break was a notoriously poor draw, no matter who was coming to town. Hall can see a change in his fellow students.
"They're starting to lose their ties and are coming to the games dressed in orange," said Hall, a fifth-year player.
Andrew Young was standing in the packed student section yesterday, wearing a T-shirt rather than a striped tie. He has been on campus five years and is now in the graduate program. When the rankings came out last week, and Virginia was behind Michigan, which at that time had lost once, he could sense some disappointment.
"I think some people felt we should have been No. 1," he said. "But most people were happy being No. 2. As long as we stay undefeated and play this way, I don't think you'll see too many unhappy people."
It isn't complacency as much as perspective. This is, after all, still Virginia, Mr. Jefferson's university. If they held a pep rally last week, it might have had to be done between midterms in the library.
Though the atmosphere at games is still more reminiscent of the Ivy League than the Southeastern Conference, even the ever-so-polite fans are starting to cheer for things other than the obvious touchdown or big run.
Yesterday, they went wild with every sack made by sophomore end Chris Slade -- he had 4 1/2 -- and again after Jason McMeans' interception in the closing minutes, which helped preserve the shutout. Nothing seems to go unnoticed anymore -- not even Welsh's high-five of Herman Moore after the senior wide-out broke an 83-yard touchdown catch-and-run. It was Moore's second touchdown of the game, his ninth of the season, and the longest of his career.
But there was more talk afterward about Welsh's uncharacteristic high-five. Did you really give a player a high-five, George? "Probably," said Welsh, a little embarrassed that he had been caught. "But it was a big play."
While the Cavaliers continue to show that they are not a one-man team -- quarterback Shawn Moore is one of the leading candidates for the Heisman Trophy -- the fans and the town itself are learning how to act like the crazies at Clemson or Auburn or Tennessee. Wahoos might be a pet name for their team, but it doesn't quite explain their behavior.
"The crowd in some respects isn't quite sure what they're supposed to do," said Record.
But the fans are trying hard.
When you're No. 2, and totally accustomed to it, that goes with the territory. And wait until this week, when the Cavaliers should move up. Is this the University of Virginia we're talking about?
The University of Virginia?
N.Carolina 0 0 0 0 -- 0
Virginia 17 7 0 7 -- 31
UV--Steele 15 pass from S. Moore (McInerney kick)
UV--FG McInerney 37
UV--S. Moore 1 run (McInerney kick)
UV--H. Moore 23 pass from S. Moore (McInerney kick)
UV--H. Moore 83 pass from S. Moore (McInerney kick)
NC UV First downs 14 22
Rushes-yards 33-48 49-228
Passing 1521 94
Return Yards 103 44
Comp-Att-Int 16-36-1 11-18-1
Punts 10-40 6-47
Fumbles-Lost 1-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 3-20 3-35
Time of Possession 27:21 32:39
RUSHING--N.C. State, Manior 7-33, Downes 7-22, Gunter 1-8, Shaw 1-3, Jordan 15-(minus 26), Jackson 2-8. Virginia, Kirby 15-112, Fisher 9-61, Steele 4-44, Sweeney 3-8, Washington 1-6, S.Moore 16-(minus 1).
PASSING--N.C. State, Jordan 16-36-1-152. Virginia, S. Moore 11-18-1-194.
RECEIVING--N.C. State, Shaw 5-32, Turner 2-23, Harrison 2-22, Hinton 1-19, Lawrence 2-19, Nicholson 1-17, Byrd 1-9, Downes 1-7, George 1-4. Virginia, H. Moore 6-162, Steele 2-18, McGonnigal 2-10, Kirby 1-4.
Sept. 1: Virginia 59, Kansas 10
Sept. 8: Virginia 20, Clemson 7
Sept. 15: Virginia 56, Navy 14
Sept. 22: Virginia 59, Duke 0
Sept. 29: Virginia 63, William & Mary 35
Yesterday: Virginia 31, N.C. State 0
Saturday: At Wake Forest
Nov. 3: Georgia Tech
Nov. 10: At North Carolina
Nov. 17: Maryland
Nov. 24: At Virginia Tech