BLACKSBURG — Forty years ago, Virginia Tech absorbed an historic 77-6 beating from Alabama. Bear Bryant, his wishbone and houndstooth hat no longer define the program, but the Crimson Tide is no less formidable and iconic entering the teams' season-opener Saturday in Atlanta.
In fact, Frank Beamer said Tuesday that this Alabama crowd is the best he's encountered in 27 seasons as the Hokies' coach.
"And that counts all those Miami teams, Florida State teams and (the) Southern Cal team when they won the (national) championship," Beamer said at his weekly news conference. "When you look at this team overall, I think they're the best we've ever played."
Over-the-top praise — Lou Holtz would approve — for a squad that's yet to play a game. And equally over-the-top from a coach who's faced eventual unbeaten national champions such as Florida State 1999, Miami 2001, Southern California 2004 and Alabama 2009.
Beamer's comments on the Tide's dynasty — three consensus national titles in four years — are more on point.
"I never thought there would be a team as dominating for as many years," Beamer said. "I never thought that would happen again in college football. … What they've done, I think, is really special."
No doubt. The last program to win three consensus championships in four years was Notre Dame from 1946-49.
But it's fair to wonder how effusive Beamer would be about Alabama were his roster better stocked. As Beamer mentioned twice Tuesday, the Hokies are young and sustained several key injuries during training camp.
Oh, and there's that 7-6 record from last season.
"We need to make sure we're good when we start conference play," Beamer said.
This is Beamer's third clash against the Crimson Tide and feels nothing like the others.
Alabama was an unranked Southeastern Conference also-ran (4-4 league record) when Tech dominated the Tide 38-7 in the 1998 Music City Bowl. Afterward, Alabama coach Mike DuBose said his program was striving for the level of Beamer's.
Suffice to say, that didn't fly in Tuscaloosa.
Fast forward to the 2009 opener in Atlanta, where both teams were ranked among the top 10 and talking national title. Tech led 17-16 entering the fourth quarter before losing 34-24.
Alabama finished the season 14-0 to claim the national championship, its first under Nick Saban. Moreover, running back Mark Ingram became the school's first Heisman Trophy winner.
Four years later, with a Heisman-caliber quarterback in senior AJ McCarron, the preseason-No. 1 Crimson Tide is aiming for an unprecedented third consecutive Bowl Championship Series title. Combine those credentials with the Hokies' uncharacteristic 2012, and you get Grim Reaper forecasts for Beamer's bunch Saturday.
Not 77-6, mind you. That game established modern-era records for a Tech opponent that may stand longer than Burruss Hall: points, margin of victory, total offense (833 yards), rushing yards (748) and rushing touchdowns (nine) to name a few.
For context: The Hokies' lock-down defense of 1999 allowed five running touchdowns combined in 11 regular-season games, and only 835 yards rushing.
But 77-6 came against a 2-9 Hokies team that ended Charlie Coffey's coaching tenure. Besides, for all of Saban's ruthlessness, his Alabama teams rarely crack 50. The Tide scored 62 against Duke in 2010 and 52 versus Arkansas last year and Ole Miss in 2011, opponents that finished a combined 9-27.
"Obviously a little bit of the pressure is taken off us," Tech quarterback Logan Thomas said. "We're the ones expected to get beat by 21 or whatever it is. Makes it a little easier in that aspect."
Thomas and linebacker Jack Tyler looked and sounded far more confident than their head coach.
"We can be as good as we want to be," Thomas said. "We've got the athletes, we've got the talent and we've got the want-to. It's just a matter of if we do it."
Tyler: "I don't think I really see intimidation in anyone's eyes. I think I see a dog that's ready to pounce and win a game."
What type of dog?
"I was going to say a small dog," Tyler said, perhaps envisioning a relentless rat terrier, "but I didn't want to make us sound too weak."
Beamer finally showed a spark when Justin Feldcamp, a reporter for Lynchburg's WSET television, asked whether his acclaim of Alabama sent the wrong message to his players.
"We're not conceding anything now," Beamer said. "We're not going down that path."