The first game I ever attended in Lane Stadium was the 1998 UVa game where Aaron Brooks led a miraculous comeback to beat the Hokies. I've tried to erase the game from my memory, but as you can see, that has been fruitless. It was pretty depressing. I attended the game with my sister, brother in law, Chris, and my father, a Hokie graduate. Dad was a Hokie when only cadets were Hokies. He had been through more than a few years when Tech being completely irrelevant to college football. He remembered the games against VMI in Roanoke; I can still remember him telling the stories of how heavy his wool jacket would get during games in the rain.
The entire trip down to the game, and the duration of the game, the ride home from the game, we assessed the state of the Hokies. The team was pretty good with Al Clark at the helm, but he was no Jim Druckenmiller. Dad kept reciting the phrase, "This Vick kid they have is supposed to be pretty incredible." It almost became laughable. We all rolled our eyes as none of us had heard of 'this Vick kid' and figured he would probably never see the field in a Tech uniform. The recital just kept on keeping on.
In March of 1999, my father passed away with the cause being a heart attack. Needless to say, my family and I were devastated. To his credit, my brother in law did all he could to step in and fill a part of the role my father had left behind. One of the first things I can remember him doing was buying a couple of tickets to the Tech season opener the following season. Tech played James Madison (I know, I know), the school where he and my sister met and later graduated. We bought what felt like every newspaper from the state of Virginia. We would go over the different pregame write ups and talk about what we thought about our expectations for the game and the team (Chris was rooting for Tech and hoping JMU would gain something from the experience, much like he was a few weeks ago when we went to the game. Ugh.).
Everytime we would look through the roster and the schedule, we came to the same conclusion. Tech had an experienced and talented team, maybe the best all around team we'd seen. The question would be the Redshirt Freshman quarterback, the very same 'Vick kid' that Dad had gone on and on about. All the write ups reiterated our concern. Could this kid lead a rather experienced team to a successful season? What should we expect from such an unknown quantity? (In retrospect, if Vick had been the quarterback today, there would be a million recruiting descriptions and it would be more about him filling potential than being an unknown quantity)
Our questions were soon answered. On one of, if not the first play from scrimmage he broke a long scramble. He ended up flipping into the end zone later in the game furthering his highlight reel on his first day on the job. It wasn't about the opponent, it was all about him. From the first snap he took, it was obvious that he was a transcendent athlete. He was special in every possible way. We traveled to Morgantownand watched his electrifying run that went ten yards further than it should have as he put our National Championship hopes on his back. We traveled to Lane to see him lead Tech to 43 unanswered as they pummeled the U. We watched from home as he dazzled in the Sugar Bowl. He was our guy.
When Vick was drafted by Atlanta, I was proud. I was proud that he was a Hokie. I was proud that Dad had seen it coming. I was just so damn proud. Although he didn't play for my team I was ecstatic to watch him play and do so well for himself. The best athlete in the NFL went to Virginia Tech. I saw his first game! And my Dad knew about him before any of us. (It's important to note that my Dad was not one to research what Tech was doing in the offseason. I never heard him talk about any other recruit than Vick. Never.)
As early as I can remember I have been a fan of two teams. The Hokies and the Philadelphia Eagles. My Mom is from southeastern Pennsylvania, and for every birthday, Christmas, or whatever, her side of the family drowned me in kelly green. Before I knew it, I was a full fledged Eagles fan. I remember my first Hutch NFL jersey and helmet set was Randall Cunningham's. I even had a Randall Cunningham wrestling doll. I identified myself as an Eagles fan, first and foremost. My blood was, and still is, green.
When the Eagles chased Vick all over the field in the 2004 NFC Championship game, I wasn't torn. I wanted the birds to pummel Vick. I didn't care. After three years of losing in that stupid game, I wanted to win. We won, he lost. Good for us. But, afterwards, I couldn't help but be proud again. Like the year before when the birds beat him up in the Vet one week after his Houdini act in Lambeau, I was still proud of the guy. He just never came before my beloved Iggles.
Now to the dog fighting. I was extremely saddened. I felt terrible for Michael, that he had made such a terrible decision.I was disappointed and frustrated. My whole family was disappointed and frustrated. Michael Vick was the only thing besides rooting against Dook in basketball that my family always kept tabs on. He was special to us, not just because of ability, but because of what he represented emotionally. It sounds funny, but it was like the last and truest connection to Dad. There are many connections of course, but to me it felt that way. It was such a unique connection that it was impossible to ignore. I knew deep down there was a possibility that it would make Michael a better man in the long run. I knew he could redeem himself if he did the right things. I didn't necessarily think he would, but I thought it was possible.
Once he was released, I just wanted to see him in a position to succeed. Whether he played in the CFL, AFL or NFL, I only wanted him to do well. When I heard the news he signed with the Eagles, it was probably one of the happiest times in my life. It was the ultimate love connection. My favorite athlete as a child was joining the team that means the most to me. Wow. My head was spinning.
I never clamored for Vick to play. I knew he wasn't what he once was and there was no reason to throw aside rationality just because I had a soft spot for him. McNabb was the quarterback and rightfully so. Kolb became the quarterback and he went down. It was Michael's time. I was almost afraid to watch.
The thing about Vick that astonishes me is that he is still almost impossible to corral. He took basically three years off of football between prison and not playing much last season, and he's still as electrifying as he was in that first game against JMU. His athleticism is beyond anything I've ever seen on a football field and the fact that he looks like the same now still just makes me grin. When he was given the starting job this week, I was surprisingly calm. I was excited, but in reality, he had earned the job. He was again an unknown quantity when he signed in Philadelphia and the same was true when he entered the Green Bay game. After forgetting how special 'this Vick kid' was supposed to be, he reminded me again.
Somewhere, Dad's getting a kick out of those scrambles and 60 yard passes with the flick of the wrist.
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