By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
The Fourth of July fireworks started a day early when it was announced Wednesday morning that West Virginia University and Virginia Tech will renew the battle for the Black Diamond Trophy on Sept. 18, 2021, with the first of a two-game, home-and-home series beginning here.
In addition, WVU athletic director Oliver Luck revealed that as recently as last week he and his Pitt counterpart Steve Pedersen spoke by phone of the possibilities of finding a way to revive the Backyard Brawl series, which was discontinued after the 2011 game.
“The flesh is willing,” Luck said. “They have Penn State. They have Notre Dame now in some kind of rotation. It’s just a matter of years and dates. Everyone wants to have at least six home games, but the flesh is willing. We just have to figure out which years will work.”
The Virginia Tech series, which dates back to 1912, was last played on Oct. 1, 2005, in Morgantown with Virginia Tech winning, 34-17. WVU, however, leads the series 28-22-1.
The series ended when Virginia Tech left the Big East and jumped to the ACC along with Miami and Boston College, which ignited conference realignment across the land.
When the series resumes in 2021, there will be a 16-year hiatus in the border rivalry.
Over the last three-plus decades it has been an intense, hotly contested rivalry with WVU holding a 17-16 edge over the past 33 years.
Perhaps the most memorable moment from the games played in the 2000s came in 2002, when West Virginia students tore down the goalposts in Milan Puskar Stadium after a hard-fought 21-18 victory … in Blacksburg.
That set off a raucous celebration in Morgantown that went all night long.
“There were some great battles, great TV matchups over the years,” Luck commented. “This was probably a game that needed a break.”
The two athletic directors toyed with creating a neutral-site game out of the rivalry, mentioning that was most likely as recently as this past May, but could not work it out.
“Neutral-site games are becoming more popular,” Luck said. “It’s almost like a bowl game to start off the season for almost every team. We talked about a neutral site, but we couldn’t make the dates work because we both want to have at least six home games.”
“With only three non-conference games it gets a lot tougher, especially with the ACC schools which are going through their own gyrations trying to figure out when Notre Dame comes to their place,” Luck said.
Luck had been seeking to find a way to renew this rivalry almost since the day he replaced Ed Pastilong as WVU’s athletic director.
“One of the first things I did when I got the job was to go down to Blacksburg and have lunch with (Virginia Tech AD) Jim Weaver. We were in the Big East then and had no idea about the Big 12. I said, ‘Jim, when you’re ready, I’d love to begin a dialogue about getting back on the schedule.’ It took them a while to come around.”
It was a time of change in college football, of course. WVU jumped to the Big 12 as the Big East crumbled, the ACC expanded again, bringing in Pitt among others, and setting up a deal with Notre Dame similar to the one the Irish had in the Big East.
That made it difficult for WVU and Tech to work out anything on the schedule, but it made too much sense to be ignored.
“My strategy with our non-conference is to keep it as regional as I can, driving distance for Mountaineer fans. There’s plenty of good, regional rivals. People may even pine for the days we play Cincinnati again, so maybe we’ll get them back.”
Former WVU football coach Don Nehlen lauded the return of the series that played every year of his Hall of Fame career at WVU.
“We played them every year that I was here, and it was just a great rivalry. It didn’t matter if we were 5-0 or 0-5 and vice versa because the place was filled up all the time. It’s a great game for our fans,” Nehlen said.
“I always felt we needed to play Virginia Tech. When Virginia Tech left I really felt bad about that,” he added.
Virginia Tech was always the biggest game of the year, including even the Pitt game, for the fans from the southern part of the state.
“Every time I go south of Route 60 all I hear from people is, ‘Let’s get Tech back on the schedule,’” Luck said.
“I was at The Greenbrier yesterday and I stopped on the way back at Ruppert to get some gas and there’s a gentleman tanking up with a Virginia Tech hat on and you don’t see that in Morgantown, Fairmont or Clarksburg. But you see it down there a lot,” he added.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.