The Streak Stood at 1
By Carmen Shirkey
"You can only cheat 29 times" was the Pep-Band-painted taunt on Beta Bridge on a tense September football game day in 1990. Students and alumni alike were hoping that the number 30 would be a charm for the University of Virginia Cavaliers.
The 46,800 fans (at that time a record) were out in full orange force to watch the Hoos take on the Clemson Tigers – a team which had dangled the elusive win in front of the Cavaliers’ faces like a carrot on a stick, but had never allowed them to take a bite. Clemson’s 29-game winning streak – begun in 1955 - was the fourth longest in NCAA history for one team over another. UVA had come close only two seasons before, but saw its hopes for a mark in the "W" column dwindling along with a 28-0 lead to loose by only one point.
There was nervous talk of Clemson’s “streak” among fans. Could this be the work of some superstitious ritual? Could the Tigers’ tradition of touching their sacred rock in Death Valley be like sticking pins in some Cavalier voodoo doll?
I remember the day clearly. I was a first-year student with only one or two games under my belt – barely only enough time to learn the "Good Old Song." Even so, it wasn’t hard to realize the significance of the day.
I remember the scoreboard reading 20-7 as the seconds ticked off. I remember my RA needing stitches because the sacrificial goal post had come down on her head as hoards of fans descended onto the field. But I’m not the only one. The Cavaliers’ first win over Clemson is a defining moment in Virginia football history, and a "where-were-you-when" moment for fans and alumni alike.
For Laurie and Tom Felton, CLAS 1992, it was significant enough for them to use references to the game in some of their computer passwords – 16 years later.
“That was the first important game in the season and the first game against a credible foe (in my football memory) where we were not only able to obtain a lead, but also keep the lead and win,” Tom Felton remembered. "It was the first - we had finally arrived."
"The game was early in the season and going in we knew that we'd lost the previous 29 so there were many jokes about it," Laurie Felton said. "I remember that it was really good football. Some of the best I'd ever seen up to that point - and even since. As the game went on and it looked like we would win it, the energy in the stadium was amazing."
UVA’s breaking of the streak was monumental not only for the record books, but also because it was one of the events in a timeline that had the Cavaliers sitting undisputed at the top of both the AP and the Coach’s polls at number one that year for three consecutive weeks – though the fans didn’t know or care about that at the time.
It was a close game – Clemson led 7-6 at halftime. A powerhouse defense was key for Virginia in the first half, with Chris Slade contributing a key sack of Clemson’s quarterback, which effectively separated him from the ball and allowed UVA to score a field goal just before heading into the locker rooms for halftime.
The Cavaliers took charge after halftime and scored 14 points in the third quarter, while holding Clemson to only 28 yards. The first possession of the second half saw UVA drive 80 yards, capped by a 4-yard run into the end zone by Terry Kirby.
As the seconds ticked away, and UVA’s 213 rushing yards began to add up, the fans started to taste Tiger blood and began circling the field. Security tried hard to restrain them, and the fans tried hard to restrain themselves until the game officially ended. But once the clock hit 00:00, there was no stopping the flood of blazer-and-dress-wearing fans from celebrating, and engaging in a little friendly dismantling of an expensive field goal post.
Cindy Huang-Combs, CLAS ‘94 was one of those fans.
"I remember running down the seats in the student section with some of the people I'd come to the game with, jumping down onto the field from the wall - in my skirt - and running onto the field with everyone else. I remember jumping in front of one of the TV cameras along with many, many others," Huang-Combs said. "I didn't bring down the goal posts, but I was under one of them when it fell and I touched one of them as it was being carted off the field."
The game itself was so intense, as was the euphoria that followed, many fans remember only the energy of the game, not specifics, and tend to remember more about the devastating losses that came after – most specifically the game against Georgia Tech later that year where the "Golden Foot" of Scott Sisson ended UVA’s number 1 ranking in the last seconds.
"I don't remember as much about the Clemson game specifically," Tom Felton said. "I remember the Number 1 ranking we achieved later than year, and the excruciating losses to Georgia Tech and Tennessee in the Sugar Bowl."
Monica Murphy, CLAS 1994 can recall the "Moore to Moore" signs in the stadium (Shawn Moore and Herman Moore that is), and the celebrations after the game, but was in awe during the event itself.
"I do remember that there was much screaming, Murphy said. "But other than that, I could probably tell you a lot more about the times we lost that year."
"After all these years, I mostly remember the specifics and the significance of that win, but it then gets overshadowed by what I remember of those other games that we should have won," Huang Combs agreed.
Whether they remember each play or not, the fans all remember what it felt like to be caught up in the revelry of having broken a streak that had stood for much too long.
Tom Felton still has a memento of the game which helps him remember – the classic UVA t-shirt from Mincer’s, screen-printed with the slogan "The Streak Stands at 1."