Recalling the 2000 Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech lightning game

Lane Stadium’s lights illuminated the August night. A packed house roared, its hunger for football to be sated finally. Referee Dan Blum raised his arm to begin play. Joe Burns waited to receive the kickoff to open Georgia Tech’s 2000 season.

Whatever happens when Virginia Tech and Georgia Tech meet Monday night in Blacksburg, Va. in the season opener for both teams, nothing – or hopefully nothing – can match the singular manner that the rest of that night played out, 12 years ago Monday.

“Just to be that close to receiving the kickoff and then have everything change, that was a bad feeling,” Burns said.

In short, lightning struck moments before the ball was to be kicked off, leading Blum to wave both teams off the field. As both teams and some 56,000 fans waited out the downpour, the field was flooded and rendered unplayable. After a summer’s buildup for the BCA Classic, between the Yellow Jackets and the No. 10 Hokies and Michael Vick, the game was postponed and ultimately canceled. The Georgia Tech media guide lists no other canceled game in the team’s 119-year history.

And Lee Corso’s car got fried by a lightning bolt.

Like the Jackets this season, the prospect of opening against the Hokies on national television fueled their summer workouts. Safety Jeremy Muyres remembered pushing through extra work with his fellow defensive backs, motivated by the thought of taking on Vick. In fall camp, the defense honed its open-field tackling to be ready for Vick’s speed and quickness. A game plan that included a “spy” to mirror and contain Vick was readied. Tech, which had gone 8-4 in Joe Hamilton’s senior season in 1999 and now would debut George Godsey, was ready to test itself.

Coach George O’Leary’s staff, which included future head coaches Ralph Friedgen, Ted Roof and Bill O’Brien, worked the Jackets into a froth.

“I remember how hype the sideline was,” said Muyres, now a physical education teacher and assistant football coach at Norcross High. “You just know on the sideline in pregame warm-ups, everybody’s moving a little bit quicker and screaming a little bit louder, and it was one of those games.”

From his perch in the press box, Tech play-by-play man Wes Durham saw a purple cloud off in the distance. Durham, who got his start at nearby Radford University, turned to his color man, Kim King, and said, “I’ve lived here for three years. I don’t like our chances.” Sure enough, lightning creased the sky just before kickoff.

“I definitely remember it,” Burns said. “It was behind me, but it was so loud.”

Both teams got off the field as sheets of rain fell. On ESPN, the announcers killed time. Lee Corso, who had delighted Virginia Tech fans before the 1999 season by correctly predicting that the Hokies would reach the national championship game, did an about-face. He picked Florida State and Kansas State to meet for the 2000 title. Just a couple minutes later, a lightning bolt struck a parking lot outside the stadium. Off stage, Corso pieced together that his rental car had been hit.

Said Corso, “I ran back on the stage and I said, ‘I don’t know what a Hokie is, but God is one of them. Go, Virginia Tech!’”

A long wait ended with the decision that no game would be played that night. Jackets players lobbied O’Leary, pleading for more time. He told them it was out of his hands. The team packed up, got on the bus and then sat in a traffic jam for two hours. The disappointment over opportunity lost was palpable.

Said Burns, who now runs a high school all-star game and recruiting guidance program, “I’ll never forget that feeling.”

The quagmire that was drowning the Lane Stadium field compared favorably with the one that promoter Rick Giles was wading through. Contractual issues with both schools and ESPN had to be sorted out. Giles’ company, the Gazelle Group, refunded the tickets, so his office was besieged with soggy ticket stubs for weeks – including tickets sent by fans that were either counterfeit or from other games.

Giles said Monday that officials from both schools verbally agreed that night to play the game that December, but both backed out in coming days.

With no revenue from ticket sales on top of legal fees and promotional expenses, Giles took a literal and figurative bath.

“I don’t want to quote any figures,” Giles said. “It’s so long ago, that part about it, I think I’ve conveniently forgotten.”

Giles returned to his office from Blacksburg to find a recent copy of Sports Illustrated lying on his desk. The cover shot featured Vick, titled “Mr. Electric.” Right next to Vick’s left foot, foreshadowing about 1 billion volts of SI cover jinx, was a special-effects lightning bolt.

The cover and a photo of the lightning bolt striking outside Lane Stadium are framed together in his office.

Said Giles, “It was a mess.”

Giles said he hoped the storm would pass. "It almost lingered right over the top of the stadium." Photo courtesy of Giles.

Giles said he hoped the storm would pass. "It almost lingered right over the top of the stadium." Photo courtesy of Giles.

In case you missed it…

Ready or not, Jabari Hunt-Days to start vs. Hokies

Quayshawn Nealy buying in to Tech defense

Jeremy Moore’s opportunity arrives

Orwin Smith setting bar high

Days to play ’somewhere’ for Tech

David Scully wins kicking job

Thanks for reading.

Ken Sugiura, Georgia Tech blog

31 comments Add your comment

[...] Recalling the 2000 Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech lightning game [...]

BigTimeTECHFan

August 27th, 2012
10:15 pm

I remember, I was so hyped, then after waiting hours, no game

NCJacket

August 27th, 2012
10:31 pm

Funny that a non game can bring back a great memory. My family and I had a great time that weekend. We were so excited about the game only to be grateful to be under the stands when the storms started. When they called the game..I didn’t understand. After getting back to the hotel with not one raindrop, I understood. It was one storm after another until 3 in the morning. Best part was Corso’s car.

Tom

August 27th, 2012
10:43 pm

I remember rushing my family home from a shopping trip at North Pointe mall. I got in the house, turned on the TV and the teams were on the field. The announcer said “we will be right back after these messageswith the kick-off”. I was so excited. We had made it home in time for the kickoff!….what a bummer!

GTfan2012

August 27th, 2012
11:06 pm

I was there. Got soaked. Then went back to the place I was staying and saw the highlights of Lee Corso’s car getting struck by lightening.

GTfan2012

August 27th, 2012
11:07 pm

Ok, so I saw footage of the lightening bolt they CLAIM struck Corso’s car. Espn probably just used stock footage of one of the lightening bolts on that one.

Ken Sugiura

August 27th, 2012
11:21 pm

it is a pretty incredible story, but i talked to corso the other day. he stands by the story.

230gr Full Metal Jacket

August 28th, 2012
1:46 am

I remember that night well. What is freaking me out though is that was TWELVE YEARS AGO!!!!!!! If you had asked me when that was, I would have probably said 2005 or something like that.Time just seems to get faster the older you get. But getting older sure beats the hell out of the only alternative!!!

NCJacket

August 28th, 2012
2:24 am

dammit NCJacket, i still need to come up with another name….

NCJacket

August 28th, 2012
2:26 am

to the “other” NCJacket that is

reebok

August 28th, 2012
8:28 am

I’m pretty sure the Corso-Car-Struck-by-Lightning story is true.

old tech grad

August 28th, 2012
8:51 am

I was there as my daughter was a student of VT at the time. We walked around campus, it was a perfect fall day. We got into the stands and a big cloud starting comming up and then all heck broke loose. The thing I most remember was standing in the rain in the stands with many lightning bolts comming down in fear for our lives. People went under cover and filled the area under the stands and there was no place to go. Finally after the rain stopped and we were able to file out, I remember wading thru knee deep water leaving the stadium.

I was also bummed about it. I thought Tech had a good chance.

Robert

August 28th, 2012
8:58 am

I was there, and I had virtually the same view as the Photo in the story. We were stranded on the upper part of the stands while the lightning buzzed over our head. Finally, people moved further under the stands , so that we could get to shelter too. I really thought I was going to die that night. It took hours to get out of Blacksburg that night.

Brave Hokie

August 28th, 2012
9:08 am

My memories: seeing the deluge thru one of the Lane Stadium East portals and it dawning on me the game ain’t happening.

Then later eating delivery pizza with Mike Gottfried in the lobby of the B’burg AmeriSuites.

I know all five of you die hard delusional Jacket fans will say you had a chance, but MV was ready to posterize y’all that nite.

& then the 6.5 hour ride back to ATL the next day w/zero game resolution ~ that sucked.

GTechster

August 28th, 2012
9:48 am

My memories: Great day of tailgating. Getting in the stands, ready for battle, only to have Mother Nature dash our hopes. We went back to our hotel, the AmeriSuites in Blacksburg. I split a pizza with Mike Gottfried. The delivery guy had on a VT cap and t-shirt.

Not Disappointed!

August 28th, 2012
10:53 am

I recall that night like yesterday!

www

August 28th, 2012
12:28 pm

glad to have “brave hokie” aboard the GT bandwagon on the GT ajc blog.

Born2Buzz

August 28th, 2012
12:42 pm

I also was there, fortunate in the fact that at least I brought a great rain jacket. The whole thing was just surreal, with the teams lined up ready to go, the ref with his hand up ready to start the game, then….boom! Also fortunate that my VT friends had stocked us well with little bottles of Wild Turkey. When it finally was announced that the game was cancelled we found our VT friends for some more pre-game in the parking lot, then sat for hours in traffic going back to the hotel. I swore then that I would never go to Bleaksburg again.

And Brave Hokie, we might not have won but it was going to be a good game. Both teams were pretty good and we were thinking playing in rain and a sloppy field could only help against Vick.

Oh well. Let’s hope Monday night is not the same, but Monday’s forecast calls for scattered thunderstorms. Oh no!

East Cobb Hokie

August 28th, 2012
12:57 pm

Weather all depends on what happens to this hurricane after it makes land. Some models have it going North and dying. Some have it working back toward the coast over the weekend and Monday.

Mr. Magoo

August 28th, 2012
3:48 pm

I remember that night just like it was yesterday. I had to work. Delivering pizzas!! Weather and traffic was terrible. I was pissed that some guy named Mike Gottfired ordered 20 pizzas at the AmeriSuites in B’burg so I spit on every singe one of them!!

Ken Sugiura

August 28th, 2012
9:53 pm

great stories. thanks for sharing.

[...] Recalling the 2000 Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech lightning game [...]

joe

August 29th, 2012
6:18 am

RIP Dan Fabio- truly a great friend. I miss you brother!
7-23-2000

I’m sure he would have jumped into the stadium! VT Skydiving Club

joe

August 29th, 2012
6:30 am

It was a tough trip back to VT.

[...] Recalling the 2000 Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech lightning game [...]

LT

August 29th, 2012
10:32 pm

I was there as a student manager. I drove up Friday night after class because I wasn’t on the flight that week, got to Blacksburg at like 2 in the morning,but the team was staying in Roanoke. I conveniently found a door to the coliseum, which is where the visiting team locker room was located at the time, left open so I went in to try to find a place to crash. I tried the same push code on the baseball locker room as my fraternity house and it worked! I slept on a couch until the team got there the next morning.

What killed the chances of the game taking place was that a drain in the corner was covered so that whole corner of the field flooded. But even after they unplugged it, there was steady lightning literally for like 5 hours so there was no way they could have gotten it in. Surreal day/night and crappy soaked ride home.

Native Atlantan

August 29th, 2012
11:48 pm

the only time i’ll ever drive from ATL to Blacksburg to ATL in 24 hours….that was horrible…the traffic…the lightning never stopped as storms lined I-85 virtually back to ATL. What a nightmare.

And that stadium was so loud, both teams and every fan there dancing around…the whole place really was electric even without the storm.

The visiting fans were in the metal bleachers in the endzone, so once that bolt hit, we hightailed it outta there. The fact that we were, on the whole, pretty dry, made the drive home easier, compared to our friends who stayed out in the deluge and got soaked to the core.

I’ll never go there again.

[...] Recalling the 2000 Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech lightning game [...]

[...] Recalling the 2000 Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech lightning game [...]

[...] Recalling the 2000 Georgia Tech-Virginia Tech lightning game [...]

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