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Yeah, I Hated It. But I'll Be Back This Week For More...

Maybe it’s because it’s Columbus Day. Or maybe it’s because last week, just to refresh my memory, I went back and watched the entire first season of The Sopranos.

But in seeing a lot of different reactions to Virginia Tech’s 32-29 loss to Notre Dame Saturday night, I find myself coming back to the same expression in regards to the football program.

It’s the life we’ve chosen.

I’m not going to stand here and try to make you believe all is well in Blacksburg. There were plenty of things I questioned in watching the game, not the least of which is why this coaching staff can’t figure out how to put a decent goal-line offense together. After getting embarrassed against West Virginia with more trips inside the 10 than the entire sports media made trips through the buffet line in the press box, you’d think they’d make that a priority, given how few points they scored after those trips.

Good teams score when they get inside the 5-yard line. They have packages ranging from every tight end on the roster on the field, to maybe a running specialist in a wildcat format, or special plays they only run when get close to the endzone. The team takes pride in being able to impose their will on an opponent in such scenarios, and they practice these situations over and over again because they believe their effectiveness when called upon can make the difference between winning and losing.

I mean, the Hokies had a first and goal at the 1-yard line early in the second quarter, and three plays later, they were still there, having to settle for a 19-yard-line field goal by John Parker Romo with 10:35 left in the first half. If my math is correct, a touchdown and extra point gets you 4 more points, which is not an insignificant amount when you end up losing by 3 points.

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It's Hard To Believe It Was Only Two Years Ago...

As major league baseball begins its playoffs tonight, I can’t help but feel a pang of sadness.

It was only two years ago we were all on top of the world. We all knew the Washington Nationals weren’t that great a team, as they got off to a 19-31 the old-fashioned way – they earned it – but they somehow found lightning in a bottle. A cast of characters melded into a band of miracle workers who found a way to hit timely run-scoring hits at the most opportune times, and when you finally thought “this is the end”, you opened your eyes and it wasn’t.

They never really fixed their problems, but they somehow always found a workaround. Their bullpen was like a bad placekicker in football, where you held your breath every time they were employed, only when the playoffs came, they just went for two every time, using starters out of the bullpen.

It worked. They won. And none of us knew it at the time, but we were given the chance to enjoy paradise before the storm hit.

The celebration of winning Oct. 31 spilled over into Thanksgiving, and led to a lot of Nationals merchandise under the Christmas tree. Nationals hats, golf shirts, polar fleece jackets, coffee mugs…if you could put a World Series logo on it, somebody sold it. And I – like many of you – bought just about all of it.

But when you make it to the top, tucked inside all this euphoria is the implied knowledge that you’re going to at least have some time to enjoy this beyond a 90-day window. As we’ve seen with the professional football team in DC back in the glory days, it usually goes like this: Unless you’ve created a dynasty (which the Nationals clearly had not done), there’s a gradual slide back to the norm.

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Maybe There's A Reason 2 Experienced QBs Left Last Year

While many are beating a dead horse about offensive play calls after Virginia Tech’s semi-disappointing 21-10 win over Richmond Saturday, I find myself focusing on two plays that occurred in the second quarter.

(Photo Courtesy Of Virginia Tech)

They involved Knox Kadum, a backup quarterback who had enjoyed a good week of practice, was firmly holding on to No. 2 on the depth chart at QB, and was told he’d see some action against the FCS Spiders. Midway through the second quarter with the Hokies up 7-0, he got the call to go in.

But that call was like your boss telling you go make a presentation to the board on 5 minutes notice.

You were doomed to fail.

Having not played any significant minutes when the game was on the line, Kadum was asked to go in when the ball was on the Hokies’ 6-yard line. While he probably ran sections of the playbook in practice all week, he now was thrown into a situation where half the playbook went out the window. Pinned that deep, everyone knew the first play would be a run, and sure enough Raheem Blackshear was stuffed at the line.

Now it’s 2nd and 10. Everyone also knows that the most effective defense against an inexperienced QB is pressure, and Richmond's defense came running - as Lawrence Taylor once said - like a bunch of crazed dogs. Kadum scrambled around his end zone looking for somebody open, then hoped for the best as he launched a pass downfield.

The pass was intercepted and returned to the 16. One play later Richmond scored to tie the score at 7-7. Kadum was taken from the game, never to play another down.

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There Was More Than One Miracle Going On That Day...

With Virginia Tech preparing to play at West Virginia Saturday, many a memory from the 1999 “Miracle in Morgantown” game has been revived, which has really been cool.

But there was actually a second miracle that occurred that day. And those two miracles probably led to a third a few years later.

That the Hokies gave up a touchdown in the final 1:15, then Michael Vick got them down the field just in time for Shayne Graham to nail a 44-yard field goal at the final gun is well known. The videos of that drive with 1:06 left have been shown a gazillion times. That it put Virginia Tech in the national championship game against Florida State is also universally recognized.

But allow me to take you back to the beginning of that season. Driving up for the James Madison game, I’d say there were two other universally held beliefs I and many other Hokies had come to accept. The first was that Virginia Tech would never play for a national championship in football. That was no judgment on where the program was going, but getting into the game involved too much politics and luck.

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Saturday's Game With West Virginia Should Be Revealing

There are games in the course of any football season that you look back on and realize it ended up defining who you really are.

I can't help but think that for Virginia Tech, one of those games is coming up Saturday.

It’s not that West Virginia is some awesome super power in the mold of an Alabama or Ohio State. The Mountaineers just happen to be the next game on the schedule where the Hokies are going to have to battle a confluence of factors that usually try one’s soul.

(Photo Courtesy Of Virginia Tech)

Today’s news that James Mitchell is out for the season is just one more factor. He statistically hasn’t been that important to the Hokie offense in the first two games, but that’s badly misleading. He is a strong presence on the field that draws a defense’s attention so when not individually making plays, the double coverage he draws opens up an opportunity somewhere else on the field.

He’s also the guy you don’t notice when a running back makes a great run, blocking the downfield safety who might have come across the field and made a touchdown-saving tackle.

Then there is presence as a leader in the locker room. If you’ve ever played with someone like that, he’s the guy that shows you how to be a complete player by example, makes you smile when you get down on yourself, and is always talking in terms of “when” the team succeeds, not “if.”

He’s also the guy who stares at you in the huddle when you’re thinking about coasting on a play, and his eyes simply communicate to you the message “don’t.” His absence in some ways changes the entire chemistry of Virginia Tech's offense.

This comes at a time when I really couldn’t tell you how good the Hokies are. Their offense showed in the second half they can make big plays, but they have yet to show me they can do it consistently. The defense is much better than I hoped, from their coverage to their tackling, but they have not faced a high-powered offense like West Virginia showed in its loss to Maryland. For that matter, both West Virginia and Maryland played non-major teams Saturday, and West Virginia scored 66 while Maryland scored 62.

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Once Again, Preseason Hype Didn't Match Season Opener

I watched my first Washington Redskins game on television when I was 8, fell in love with the team, and have never missed a season-opener since.

So losing the first game of a season is no big deal. Winning the first one isn’t either, as there were times like when Sonny Jurgensen threw 4 touchdown passes against the Bears – including a 99-yarder out his end zone to Gerry Allen – that made you think that first game portended a great season. Then you looked back in December and realized it was only a moment in time, as the team ended the season with a 5-9 record.

Heck, this team won its season-opener last year, then proceeded to lose 7 of its next 8 to the point they were nearly unwatchable. Yet despite playing like a third-rate Indoor Football League franchise at times, they got it turned around in a season where the rest of their NFC teammates did not, managing to make the playoffs despite not even having a winning record at 7-9.

So anything can happen, no matter what you do in September.

But there was something about today’s loss that was annoying. Over my 57 years as a fan of the team, I’ve watched the relationship with the pro football team in Washington go from a feeling of deep trust and I can’t live without you, to the edge of separation, divorce and a feeling of I don’t even know who you are.

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It Wasn't Perfect, But It Was Just What Hokies Needed

It’s not often you can say that the key play of a game was the halftime interview.

But that may have been the case in Virginia Tech’s spread-covering 35-14 win over Middle Tennessee State today at Lane Stadium.

Despite last week’s impressive win over probably over-rated North Carolina, the Hokies did not come out for today’s first half with a fireball of emotion. While the defense continued to look sharp, the maddening offensive game plan used in the second half last week where the unit crawled into its shell to protect a lead was again on full display.

It was good enough to take a 14-7 lead at the half, as Braxton Burmeister threw a 6-yard fade pattern to the left corner of the end zone that Tayvion Robinson caught for one score, then new crowd favorite and designated wildcat quarterback Connor Blumrick scored from 2 yards out for the 14 Hokie points.

But it was also at times a ball of confusion when it came to the passing game. On some plays, Burmeister seemed as if he couldn’t find anyone open when he looked downfield, leading one to wonder if the Hokie wide receivers just couldn’t get any separation, or if Braxton wasn’t making the right reads and looking for completions in all the wrong places.

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20 Years Ago, In A Parking Garage At Tyson's Corner...

It’s a moment in time I don’t think I’ll ever forget.

Twenty years ago at this exact moment, I was pulling into the company parking garage and had no earthly idea how the world was about to change in just the next few hours.

We had just moved to Ashburn 18 months prior, and my new office was in Tyson’s Corner, overlooking the Galleria Mall. Most of that time wasn’t spent in that office, but was instead used flying back and forth to Los Angeles to oversee a division my company had in Carson. Half those flights were on American Airlines, the other half on United, as I usually left on a Monday or Tuesday if there were meetings scheduled on Mondays at our offices, I used those two because they were the only direct flights out of Dulles to LAX.

I was sitting in my office on a phone call that morning when someone walked down the hall and said a plane had hit the Twin Towers. My first instinct was they were describing a small private plane that had gone off course and collided with the building, so after my call, I walked down to the conference room where a television was on to see what was going on. It seemed like half our staff was watching.

I arrived just in time to see the second plane hit the World Trade Center.

Stunned would not adequately describe my reaction. This was like Hollywood movie special effects I was watching, but it was playing out in real life. What in the world was happening, we all thought.

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If You've Ever Wondered How Seriously We Take Security

If you like a tale with a happy ending, allow me to entertain you.

Back in 2012, I encountered a personal tragedy. A close personal friend had taken his own life, and he and I were sports fans who used to broadcast local high school sports. In the course of it, I started this site in 2006, and with his passing, I didn’t feel much like continuing.

So I left the site up, but I didn’t write anything for over a year. During that year I did no maintenance or updates on the site, and as a result, somebody in Russia exploited a security flaw that would have been stopped by regular updates. This earned the site a place on blacklists and all sorts of other warning places, and I quickly addressed it. I rebuilt the site from scratch and uploaded it, contacted Google, Norton and a bunch of other places to ask for a review, and the site was taken off all those lists.

But in the last 9 years I’d occasionally get a message saying the site still wasn’t safe. My host provider would assure me it was fine, and just about everyone I knew when I’d ask would say there was no problem.

During basketball season, however, it happened again. A few posters on Techsideline.com’s basketball board mentioned this, and I was getting tired of it. I went back to my host and we again scanned every file on the server. Everything was declared clean and safe, but I rebuilt the site again from scratch. There was no earthly way in my mind there could be an issue.

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Nobody's Saying Justin Hamilton Is Too Young Any More

There have been some great stories coming out of Virginia Tech after the Hokies claimed a season-opening win over a ranked team.

But the one that makes me smile the most regards defensive coordinator Justin Hamilton.

When he was named to the position, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him. From everything I’ve heard from folks in Blacksburg, he’s very good. Great teacher, great communicator, patient, a Hokie through and through. He’s the kind of person you rebuild the foundation of a program with.

But he’s also young, and this was his first coordinator job with a major program. Youth can be both a strength and a weakness in such situations, because on one hand you have the potential for longevity that is a huge bonus in the long run.

But in the short run with an impatient fan base, you are not given a margin of error to make mistakes. Plus, as I learned in the business world, you may think you are ready to run the show, but for most, it takes a little time to get into the proper mindset of running things.

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Hokies No. 19 In AP Rankings, 21 In Latest Coach's Poll

For the first time since the week of October 18th last year, Virginia Tech’s football team is nationally ranked.

The Hokies – on the strength of a 17-10 win over then No. 10-ranked North Carolina – are ranked No. 19 in the AP poll, and 21 in this week’s coaches poll. In the writers poll, UNC fell to 24th, while Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Texas A&M comprise the top 5. Clemson is the ACC’s top-ranked team, falling to No. 6.

In the coach’s poll,  North Carolina fell to No. 22, while Alabama, Georgia, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Texas A&M comprise the top 5, which is identical to the AP rankings. Just like the writer’s poll, Clemson is the ACC’s top-ranked team, falling to No. 6.

Last year the Hokies were ranked No. 20 in the pre-season poll, and were ranked as high as 19 until a week 5 23-16 loss to Wake Forest bounced them from the top 25 list. The Hokies would beat Louisville in week 6, but then lost 4 straight to make their disappearance from the polls in 2020 permanent.

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