ATLANTA — Mike London hopes his Virginia players learn it's more fun to play in a bowl game than to watch one on TV.
London's Virginia team held its first Georgia Dome practice Tuesday for Saturday night's Chick-fil-A Bowl game against Auburn. Virginia is making its first bowl trip since the 2007 season.
"It's a feeling that once you've gotten here after spending last year at home, then you never want to spend another Christmas or another holiday season or postseason at home," London said.
No player on Virginia's team has appeared in a bowl game. A few fifth-year seniors were on the 2007 team that went to the Gator Bowl, but they didn't play in the game.
Virginia (8-4) finished 4-8 last year in London's first season.
"We talked about it every year and fell short the last two or three years," said senior defensive end Cam Johnson. "We knew going in this was our last shot at it. Everybody did their part."
Johnson said it was "frustrating" sitting at home watching other teams play in bowl games the last three years.
"It definitely hurt to be home around Christmas time," he said.
Offensive guard Luke Bowanko said he and his father watched other bowl games last year "just because of our love of the game."
"It's a bitter feeling watching when you could have been playing," Bowanko said. "It's good this year to be able to sit and watch another bowl game from here instead of at home on the couch."
Last year, Auburn (7-5) was preparing to beat Oregon in the national championship game. Its path to the championship included a win in the Southeastern Conference championship game at the Georgia Dome.
While Auburn was enjoying college football's top reward, Virginia players craved the chance to play in any bowl. London has been quick to remind his players of Auburn's success.
"Until somebody else is crowned national champions, they are it," London said of the Tigers.
That recent success makes Auburn a target for the success-starved Virginia team.
"They're going to be gunning for us," Auburn tight end Philip Lutzenkirchen said Tuesday. "I know they want to knock off the defending national champions and continue building their program."
Johnson agreed Virginia is "a hungry team."
"Our goal has been to turn the program around," Johnson said. "We're on track right now to do that. I don't think we want to let that slip away."
London and the Cavaliers say the trip to Atlanta is an important step for the program and an important lesson for the players.
"This is a great bowl game, and the opportunity to experience it will only be forged through offseason workouts and summer workouts," London said. "You don't get there during the season. You get there for all the hard work you put in beforehand. I think a lot of these guys understand the journey is long. It's hard, but if you want to have anything positive come out of it, you have to pay your dues early. That's what we want to have happen, and that's what we want to continue doing going forward."
Virginia's season included a home win over Georgia Tech and wins at Florida State and Miami.
"The whole season our main thing was to bring Virginia back to respectability in the ACC and also in the nation," linebacker LaRoy Reynolds said. "I feel like we've done that by going to certain places and winning."
Now Virginia has a chance to show off in front of a national TV audience.
"It's an opportunity to showcase where we are as far as our progression and to showcase our ability and talents," Reynolds said.
NOTES: London moved Tuesday's practice from Georgia Tech to the Georgia Dome due to heavy rain in the Atlanta area Monday night. Georgia Tech has a new indoor practice facility but Virginia also would have needed the school's outdoor field. London said he may practice at Georgia Tech on Wednesday.