How Tech Ticks

The fire dance

The logistics of football game fireworks

by Jesse Tuel

Photos by Tricia Lombardi

by Jesse Tuel

Photos by Tricia Lombardi

by Jesse Tuel

Photos by Tricia Lombardi

At a night game in Lane Stadium, football isn't the only game in town.

Apart from the Sept. 7 Ohio State vs. Virginia Tech contest, a range of entertainment—most notably, fireworks—was cued up for you and 66,000 of your closest friends (minus that noisy corner of Buckeye fans, of course).

Up on the press box's seventh floor, the athletic department's Grant Duncan (marketing management '10) choreographed the timing of the fireworks, cheerleaders, band performances, on-field promotions, and more. "We can't control what happens between the lines, between the whistles, but we try to control everything else," Duncan said. "And our job is to make that as entertaining as possible."

July 19


A team from fireworks company Pyrotecnico visits.

Aug. 9


The crew returns to gauge light-tower dimensions, cable distances, and more before using aerial images to sketch out the eventual displays.

Aug. 19


The fire marshal and the crew assess safety.

Sept. 4


From 2-11:30 p.m., the Pyrotecnico crew of eight installs everything but the live fireworks at 27 positions: 22 on the lights above the press box (11 positions equidistant apart on each tower), four on the platforms behind the south stands, and one on the practice field.

Sept. 7

Game day

9:00 a.m. We're live

Hundreds of live fireworks are spread out across the firing locations. Around 6 p.m., the crew is fully ready.

7:55 p.m. "And the rocket's red glare"

During the national anthem, a barrage from the south-side platforms is let loose. At the anthem's end, Duncan cues Pyrotecnico's Mike Shook, sitting at the top of the south stands, who sets off the light-tower fireworks. As the 48-millimeter shells ignite in succession, Shook radios pyrotechnician Stephen Patterson (computer science '91), positioned on the practice field behind the scoreboard, who flips switches 1 through 6 (out of 36 at his disposal), launching 1.2-inch-diameter shells about 125 feet into the air.

8:00 p.m. "Enter Sandman"

As the light-tower fireworks go off, Patterson flicks nine more switches.

8:56 p.m. Juke

Dodging a defender, fullback Sam Rogers trots into the end zone, welcomed by fireworks. Well behind Patterson on the practice field, the other firecracker on site—the beloved cannon Skipper—thunders its approval.

9:11 p.m. 3-for-3

Three volleys mark a 46-yard field goal.

9:31 p.m. Almost there

Two volleys celebrate a first-and-goal.

9:34 p.m. Take that

With a 1-yard touchdown pass, the Hokies go up 17-14.

9:52 p.m. Crescendo

Fireworks complement the Marching Virginians' halftime show.

11:23 p.m. Fizzle

No celebration is sent skyward for a late touchdown that concludes the scoring, 42-24, in the Buckeyes' favor.

Post-game: Packing up

Extra incendiaries—for a high-scoring game and a victory—were at the ready. But take heart, Hokie Nation; there'll be more fireworks for the next game.

ESPN skycam footage of the team entrances for the Virginia Tech vs. Ohio State game ©2015 ESPN

Features Fall 2015