Because of how badly the 1993 season ended, it's easy to forget that the Hoosiers flirted with a really special season. After a 3-0 start, including a comfortable win over a bowl-bound Kentucky team, IU lost 27-15 to eventual Rose Bowl team Wisconsin. The Hoosiers then won four in a row and entered November 7-1 with road trips to Penn State and Ohio State (plus a hme game against Purdue) remaining. IU erased two 14 point deficits but fell at Penn State 38-31. In Columbus, Chris Dittoe threw what would have been the game winning touchdown pass just beyond the fingertips of Thomas Lewis, and IU lost 23-17. Had the Hoosiers won just one of those games, a trip to the Holiday Bowl or Citrus Bowl would have been in the works. As it stood, the Big Ten's four automatic bids went to Wisconsin, Penn State, Ohio State, and Michigan, and the Hoosiers were on the open market, and received a bid to what then was known as the Poulan-Weedeater Independence Bowl. Had we known what the next 14 years would hold, we would have been more grateful, I suppose.
I was a member of the Marching Hundred, so my interest in the Hoosiers season was two-fold. Of course, I wanted the Hoosiers to do as well as possible, but I also had some interest in the nature of our free vacation. I still recall picking up the Indiana Daily Student and reading that IU would play Virginia Tech in Shreveport, Louisiana. My first reaction, which says something about what VT has accomplished in the last 15 years, was "who the hell is Virginia Tech?" The Big East was only in its second year of existence, so even though I had grown up as a big football fan, this long-time eastern independent just wasn't in my bank of knowledge. The 1993 Independence Bowl was Frank Beamer's first bowl game at VT. The other thing that I noticed, of course, was "Shreveport." I figured a city in Louisiana with "port" in its name must be on the Gulf of Mexico, right? Nah. As soon as I looked at a map, I realized that essentially, we were going to a bowl game in Arkansas.
I could say a lot about Shreveport, but read this column by Orson Swindle of EDSBS, who says all that needs to be said. Read the whole thing, but this is the key:
The GMAC, the Motor City, the Meineke Car Care Bowl ... they all owe a debt of gratitude to the Independence Bowl, which came along in 1976 and innovated the bowl scene by removing the requirement of being "a destination city" from the criteria.
If there was a nice part of Shreveport, we didn't see it. We were warehoused in a Super 8 out near the interstate within walking distance of a Denny's and not much else. I remember practicing on a 35 degree day on a field of dead yellow grass and thinking, "yes, this is exactly how I pictured a bowl game."
Oh, and the game! Well, here's the box score (click for full size):
IU struck first, with a 77 yard touchdown pass to Thomas Lewis. VT scored two TDs to pull ahead 14-7, but Bill Manolopoulos kicked two field goals in the second quarter to pull the Hoosiers to within a point, at 14-13. IU had the ball late in the second quarter, looking for a halftime lead. If you remember this game and can't stomach the highlights, I don't blame you, but some VT fans has created Youtube videos of the game with all but the action edited out. Here's the first half:
And the second half.
IU had the ball with around 30 seconds left and was at the VT 49 when quarterback John Paci fumbled under pressure. The box score reflects a 20 yard fumble return, but that's because the ball bounced around for a while before the VT player scooped and scored. 20-13. Not good, but not the end of the world. IU returned VT's kickoff to inside the 45 yard line, competed a pass, and called timeout with one second on the clock, just in time to kick a half-ending field goal. Again, at the time no one outside of Blacksburg knew what "Beamerball" was, but as has become VT's trademark, the Hokies blocked the kick and returned it for a touchdown as the half ended. With 35 seconds left in the second quarter, IU trailed 14-13 with the ball in VT territory. At halftime, IU trailed 28-13. One could argue that it has taken IU's program 14 years to recover from that sequence. In any event, in 48 hours, whatever happens against Oklahoma State, the Independence Bowl will no longer be IU's last bowl appearance. That's a good thing.