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You'd Be Proud, Pops. Happy Father's Day...

My Dad has been gone 15 years in August, but on this Father’s Day, I still see his presence in who I turned out to be.

I’d like to tell you we had this Ward Cleaver-like father-son relationship, but we didn’t. He only saw me play sports once in his life, never came to any events I was involved in, and pretty much viewed his role growing up as providing a roof over our head, food on the table, and making sure I went to college.

Like all Dads of that generation, he was similar to the way Brett Favre described his father the night he learned he had passed away: Never said he loved you, never gave you a lot of credit for what you did, always scoffed when you asked him for money, but was always there. We could watch entire sporting events together and never talk about anything other than "that was a great play." Same was true playing golf together. We would talk during those times without actually saying anything.

It’s a stark contrast to how I acted when I became a Dad, and I’ll be honest, there were times I struggled with that. It wasn’t until he was in his 70s he decided he wanted to be friends and we talked about this sort of thing. The more we talked, the more I understood.

Like many of us, he learned how to be a father from watching his own father, an Italian immigrant who came to America in 1917, married, had 8 children, but then lost his wife (my grandmother) when my Dad was only 18. Because of that, my grandfather was angry at life and took it out on his sons, who as soon as they could, joined the military to get away from all of that. I got to talk to my last surviving uncle last week, and at 91, he still confirms growing up in that house wasn’t a lot of fun.

But despite all that, my Dad – like every Dad whether he wants to or not – taught me how to be a father by his actions. Yeah, he talked about the Depression way too often – you learned not ask for money from him lest you wanted to hear stories of only having dirt to eat for dinner and being thankful you had even that – but there was another message he communicated I have only recently understood.

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After 15 Months, We Finally Crossed The Finish Line...

I still clearly remember the moment it all began: It was March 12, 2020, the Washington Nationals were playing an exhibition game with the New York Yankees, and at 1:05, my new dog Maggie and I sat in my favorite chair and turned on the television.

By the time the game ended at 4 PM, every other team in every other sport had shut down their seasons. Soon everything would be under some sort of shutdown, restriction or other regulation to execute a strategy called “two weeks to flatten the curve."

We all know how that turned out.

But today…without warning or fanfare…it is now officially over, at least the way I look at it. It would be over, I thought, when the day came where I could leave the house, drive to a stadium of my choice, and go see one of my favorite teams without any sort of capacity restriction.

With Virginia Tech announcing today that there would be no such restrictions this year, and Lane Stadium was free to be 100 percent full of orange and maroon-clad fans, bouncing up and down while singing every verse of “Enter Sandman” as fireworks went off overhead and football players tapped hokiestone with their hands at the end of a tunnel leading to Worsham Field, the last domino has fallen.

It’s over. As a Southwest Airlines commercial once noted, you are now free to move about the country.

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There Are Some Events In History I'm Never Going To Forget

EDITOR'S NOTE: Every year, I run a version of this story as a tribute to the men who died fighting on D-Day, including one scared young man who kept his head down, survived the worst days of his life, then came home to one day become my father in law. Rest in peace, Hank. 

To some, today is a footnote in history. A day on the beaches of Normandy 77 years ago when an event codenamed Operation Overlord was launched, beginning what many say was the beginning of the end of World War II.

D-Day.

It will always be more than history to me, because in that first wave was a 21-year-old Private First Class from Henry County, VA by the name of Allen Homer Sink. He would survive that initial wave, participate in battle until it ended in August, then come home to marry and raise a family of four, including two daughters after the war ended.

He would also become my father-in-law until his death in 2006.

His nickname for some reason was “Hank” and when I asked him how he got it, he said some guy in the Army said he “looked like a Hank.” From the time I first met him, he was a salt-of-the-earth man who was never afraid of anything. He was a carpenter by trade, and he’d stand up on the tallest roofs, grab bumblebees with his bare hands when they tried to persuade him to move elsewhere, and never be bothered by anything.

His hands were tough and leathery, but he was a softie. He spoiled his children, complained when my mother-in-law would gripe about something involving one of his alleged misdeeds, and always thought he was fooling everybody when he snuck around the back of the house and lit a cigarette, a habit everyone opposed but he could never part himself from.

He could talk your ear off for hours at a time, and I always suggested he become a greeter at Wal-Mart when he retired because then he could talk all day to strangers and none of them would – like his wife and daughters often did – tell him to be quiet for a few moments. Yet for all his love of talking, there was one subject he just wouldn’t discuss.

June 6, 1944. Omaha Beach.

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It's Been 12 Years, And I'll Still Never Forget...

Every Memorial Day, for the last 12 years, I dig up an old copy of a story I wrote on Memorial Day in 2009. It involves a young man I had never met, and who would forever be a total stranger to me.

He was a hero. A husband. A Dad. And an example of the true meaning of Memorial Day that I will never, ever, forget.

Here’s the story:

On this Memorial Day, I find myself thinking of a Marine I never met. And never will.

His name was James. R. McIlvaine. He grew up in Olney, Md., and his mother lives in Purcellville. He was killed in Iraq on April 30 while saving the life of another. He was 26 years old, and the father of two children.

Unfortunately, most of us see news like this every day in the newspaper. We pause, read the details, feel for the family, then turn the page and move on. We don’t dwell on it for too long, because it is inevitable that another face, another name, and another set of circumstances regarding a battlefield casualty will be in the paper in a few more days.

This one was different, because not long afterward my phone rang. McIlvaine had a rather large immediate family, including three sets of grandparents, and the local VFW wanted to make the trip from Purcellville to Arlington Cemetery as comfortable as possible under the circumstances. Four SUVs had been secured (two donated for the day by Ray Glembot at Star Pontiac GMC in Leesburg) and a police escort would be provided.

What they needed was one more driver. Could I spare the day, I was asked, to drive one of the vehicles?

The answer, obviously, was “of course.”

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They Never Wanted To Talk About It, But We Should

Everyone has their Memorial Day routines, and they usually involve the grilling of a hamburger or a hot dog, the watching of a sporting event or two, or a late afternoon executive nap. Mine is no different.

But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve found the Sunday morning of the weekend brings back memories. I usually get up before everyone, the house is quiet other than a large dog laying on my lap occasionally snoring, and I find myself remembering the people in my life that Memorial Day is all about.

I’ve never served a day in the military. Never been asked to, never had to, never wanted to. At the age of 18, I had become what my Dad use to sneeringly describe as one of those “know-it-all college kids.” When he was my age, such people went to college. He and his high school classmates went off to war.

The military was all around me, as our house was on Dominion Avenue in Norfolk, only a few miles from Gate 4 of the Amphibious Base. We spent a lot of time on that base, and knew well to stop and stand when you heard the National Anthem; learned when you saw some poor young man doing pushups under the intense stare of another that one was an officer and one was a poor enlisted man; and you  appreciated Naval history.

Yes, you remembered all sorts of sports trivia as a youngster. But in my world, you also knew all about Pearl Harbor, Midway, Iwo Jima and other battles of the Pacific. I learned about them because I knew my Dad had a birds eye view of it all aboard a destroyer or two he served on during that time. I had to learn the details, however, from books at the library at the base.

That’s because my Dad would never talk about it.

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In 100 Days, You Can Watch Hokies' 1st Game Against UNC

Seems like since the mask mandates in Virginia were dropped a week and a half ago, I’m finding more and more experiences closer to the normal ones I enjoyed every day before words like pandemic and COVID became mainstays of everyone’s vocabulary.

One simple pleasure always occurred around Memorial Day. While I follow all sports, I’m first and foremost a football guy. I played it as a kid, I understand it, and I look forward to football season every year. Doesn’t mean I don’t care about the Nationals, Capitals, basketball or racing, but if I can only watch one sport, football is going to be the pick.

My wife has even asked many times over our 40-year marriage how many days there were until football season, because she knows the odds of me going anywhere on a Saturday or Sunday is pretty close to zero. I’m going to be parked back in my office, where I have a setup of more television screens than any sane man would have, and I watch every game I can. Since there are snacks, Maggie the WonderBeagle joins me, usually sleeping on my lap.

So every Memorial Day, to be prepared for such a question, I pull out a spreadsheet that is designed to provide an answer. It has three columns, and you can see it in the upper right part of this post. It tracks six events that are important to me: The first NFL exhibition game (the Hall Of Fame Game), the first NFL regular-season game, the first college football game, the first Virginia Tech game and the first WFT exhibition and regular-season games.

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I'd Be Willing To Bet Juan Soto Will Never Do THAT Again

A few items from the weekend…

There’s never been much doubt about Juan Soto’s greatness as a baseball player, but yesterday he did something that I found impressive and further convinced me he will one day finish his career – barring injury – as one of the best of all time.

I’m not talking about the boneheaded play he made, standing at home plate staring up at a towering foul ball he had just hit as if it were a UFO getting ready to land on South Capital Street. He thought it was going to end up in the stands, and when the wind blew it back into the field of play, the surprised Soto then took off for first, was thrown out, and a run that would have scored had he run from the first second he made contact, ended up not being added to the Nats run total.

But while social media was blistering him for his mistake (I even said it was a Bryce Harper moment on Twitter), I couldn’t help but notice Soto’s reaction to the play. No coach could have beat up on Soto more than Soto was beating himself up. He was angry and disappointed with himself, and it was not a simple “well, crap” kind of moment. It went on for a while, and a coach stopped and told him to let it go and make it a learning experience.

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I Dare Not Even Think This, But Holy Crap....

If you’ve been a Hokie fan for over 50 years like I have, you know the drill.

We all carry it like the 1.500-pound gorilla on our back it is: Virginia Tech has never won a national championship in any NCAA team sport. In fact, I can only think of two instances where the possibility even crossed my mind.

One was a warm September afternoon in Blacksburg where a redshirt freshman name Michael Vick flicked a ball 70 yards on a line for a touchdown, then came back a few minutes later and ran 60 yards up the middle for another score.

I eloquently turned to my wife and said “holy crap, this is the guy we’ve waited our whole lives for. Maybe he can get us over the top.”

He came close on another warm night in New Orleans, but didn’t. Since then, I haven’t thought there was a serious possibility of it happening again.

Well, until tonight.

I was watching the Virginia Tech women’s softball team take on Brigham Young in Tempe, AZ, much as I do every Hokie team that makes it to the postseason. But for the second time in my life, I uttered another “holy crap” and tried to suppress my imagination.

They’re that good, folks. They could win it all.

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Kind Of Feels Like Deja Vu All Over Again, Doesn't It?

One year ago, we all had just watched the final episode of “The Last Dance,” a self-authored series by Michael Jordan on Michael Jordan to show how great Michael Jordan was and that there will be no other like Michael Jordan.

It aired May 17, 2020.

None of us cared about the “I love me some me” treatment Jordan gave himself. It was sports. We had something to tweet about besides a strange disease we didn’t understand and feared. It almost felt like, well, fun.

Everything else was cancelled and none of us knew when we’d see live games. Even when we did, it wasn’t the same...it was more of a series of sterile exercises in front of empty arenas and stadiums. As sports fans, we were used to steak, but these games, played at odd times of the year that did not coincide with their normal places on the calendar, were more like rice cakes.

We were one miserable lot.

Looking back at the baggage created over the past year serves no useful purpose, but I can’t help but be struck by the contrasts this week. If you went on Twitter, the conversations were about whether there would even be a football season. I found myself stopping my daily walks because of apprehension over the dangers of even being outside. I went to grocery stores at 6 AM to avoid people, and wore not only a mask, but gloves.

Joy wasn’t seeing your team win. It was finding a package of Clorox Wipes still on the shelf at the store.

This week, Twitter is full of college football stories signaling not only games will be played, but will be played before full stadiums. Fans are back. There is something to look forward to, events to add to your calendars, and a feeling this will not end up being Lucy pulling the football away at the last second, like the Big Ten and several “woke” national sportswriters attempted to do last year.

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Hokies Add Another Big With Clemson Transfer Lynn Kidd

Yesterday, Virginia Tech needed an associate head coach, and they got one in Mike Jones.

Today, Virginia Tech was in need of another big man. They got that too.

After earlier in the week entering the transfer portal, 6-10, 230-pound Lynn Kidd has decided to move from Clemson to Virginia Tech. He was a true freshman last season, meaning he has four more years of eligibility.

When signing with Clemson, ESPN had him ranked as the No. 77 prospect in the country. At the time of his signing, he chose Clemson over Virginia Tech, Miami, Wake Forest, Auburn and Florida, but was seldom used last season by the Tigers.

He appeared in only 7 games last season and played only 33 minutes. He only scored 8 points and grabbed 7 rebounds.

But he was also ranked as a 4-star and at 230 pounds, has room to grow. He didn’t get much of a chance to show what he could do at Clemson, but has a big upside, as in high school he was a consistent scorer and rebounder. He may not be done growing yet either, as in researching this, I found high school stories of him as a senior at IMG Academy in Bradenton, FL, listing his size at 6-9 and 220.

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The Man Who Probably Made It All Happen? Oliver Purnell

While Hokies fans are sitting back and celebrating their good fortune in the hiring of DeMatha Coach Mike Jones as associate head coach at Virginia Tech, perhaps we should all pause and raise a glass to the person who probably made all this happen.

To your good health, Oliver Purnell.

If the connection isn’t clear, let’s take a look at the career of one Oliver Purnell. He started as a player at Old Dominion so long ago, I cheered for him while in high school. When he finished as a player in Norfolk in 1975, he was a graduate assistant at ODU for two years. He moved up to being an assistant at ODU from 1977 to 1985, then became an assistant under Lefty Driesell at Maryland for 3 years before getting his first head coaching job.

The position was at Radford, and when he assembled his staff in 1988, one of his assistants was a local guy named Mike Young. The two would work together during the 1988-89 season before Young would leave for Wofford.

Purnell would leave Radford too, heading back to be the head coach at Old Dominion from 1991 to 1994. One of his best players on those ODU teams was….Mike Jones.

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