When it was announced Virginia Tech and Michigan have agreed to a home-and-home series in 2020 and 2021, the Twitterverse blew up with the hashtag, "It was a catch!"
VT-Michigan have met once in football. You might remember the overtime Sugar Bowl matchup in January of 2012? #wasitacatch?— Andy Bitter (@AndyBitterVT) May 9, 2013
I don't know if Andy Bitter was being serious or if he was trolling, knowing fully well that the infamous Danny Coale touchdown catch in the Sugar Bowl was overturned by the replay review official still stings to this day, and the response was nearly universal, "It was a catch!"
If the former Governor of Virginia, now a United States Senator, Mark Warner said on graduation day at Virginia Tech, "Danny Coale, it doesn't matter what the officials say, you caught that ball," then by God, Danny Coale caught that ball.
But, I don't want to end this column with a rant about the Sugar Bowl. I want to remember what he was like in the maroon and orange uniform. He wore #19. He came to Blacksburg as a two-star recruit, according to Rivals' recruiting database, and left Blacksburg as a Hokies Legend. He was not even rated on ESPN at the state and regional level. In that case, it's fair to say Virginia Tech landed a steal, a diamond in the rough who shone the brightest whenever the team needed him.
He may not the fastest player on the team, but gosh could he work. Teammates praised him for his work ethnic. Coale never complained. One universal thread I found in researching his scouting profile was that he was one of the best at running routes. I seem to recall some scouts comparing Coale to Wes Welker, and that is a solid comparison.
His biggest night was against Florida State in the ACC Championship Game where he was simply on fire. Whatever ball Tyrod Taylor, then the Tech quarterback, threw to Coale, he snagged it and made huge gains time and again. Coale, on one particular play, ran a simple drag route. Taylor found him, and it turned into a touchdown after the catch.
When Logan Thomas became the starter, Danny Coale and Jarret Boykin teamed up to form one of the most devastating receiving tandems, both setting Tech records. One of my favorite things about Coale was volunteering to be the punter. Fans didn't take him seriously to the point where Coale famously said, "Do I need to wear a single bar and punter shoe to prove I am serious about it?" In the spring game in 2011, he drilled a 52-yard punt, and I personally said that I would petition for Coale to be the starting punter from day one.
Alas, Beamer didn't see it that way until special teams floundered, and reluctantly inserted Coale as the punter. It was clear what a world of a difference Coale made.
Coale became the stuff of legend one afternoon in Blacksburg when Virginia Tech was down by 6 against Nebraska. Tyrod Taylor found Coale streaking up the sideline and fired a bomb to Coale. Coale single-handedly saved the game for the Hokies that afternoon.
One of the most touching moments I can remember came before the 2011 battle for the Commonwealth Cup. Coale made a surprising visit to a little boy with luekmeia, one of his big fans, and he showed up on the doorstep in a full Hokies' uniform. That afternoon in Charlottesville, Coale gave the most fiery speech he ever gave to the team, and it led to a 38-0 victory over Virginia.
That night just over a month later in the Louisiana Superdome, on the biggest stage of his career, against Michigan, he snagged the football delivered from Logan Thomas in overtime. It was his most career-defining moment in maroon and orange uniform, and he was robbed of the most spectacular catch he ever made that could have won the game.
Nonetheless, I still believe it was a catch, but ever graceful, Coale said to Mike Barber of the Richmond Times-Dispatch, "I think ‘avenging’ is a dangerous thing in sports."
Danny Coale is currently on the Dallas Cowboys' practice squad, and someday, his hard work and drive will land him a spot on the 53-man roster. When he does, may he continue to excel in the Cowboys' uniform the same way he did in Blacksburg during his glorious four year run.
We miss you Danny, and you will forever be in the Hokies' hearts and in Tech lore.