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Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter! Enjoy That Chocolate Bunny...

First of all, Buona Pasqua! Happy Easter!

Today is perhaps my favorite holiday of the year. If you are a person of faith as I am, it is the day of the resurrection. The day HE IS RISEN has particular significance. One of the two days just about everybody goes to church (known as the Christmas and Easter crowd, thank you very much) and a day of food, faith and family. Even if these are not your beliefs, the message of redemption, peace and a new start are cool notions all of themselves.

I judge a holiday by the memories in creates. No offense to the days off commemorating Presidents Day or Memorial Day, but I doubt you can tell me what you did on those days as a kid. Christmas and Easter dominate those memories, and Easter is particularly rich in such. From the time you were a kid hunting for Easter eggs, to the time you stayed up late, dyed a bunch of eggs as if they were going to be on display one day at the Louvre, then hid them in the front yard before turning your own children loose. All while trying to capture video of the event while your spouse played the role of the director.

Those rich memories also include Easter sunrise services, because they provided some particularly peaceful moments. But they are for the young, as I have found them to be a survival of the fittest contest. As the name suggests, the services start at sunrise, and unless you are blessed with natural beauty, this involves getting up a few hours before sunrise to get dressed and be there. In my younger days, I worked in the newspaper business where you didn’t get home until 2 AM after putting together the last edition of the Sunday paper. Since you’d be getting up at 4 AM anyway, I’d just stay up, power through everything, then after a hearty Easter meal go search for an unoccupied sofa to “meditate.”

But the greatest non-religious aspect of the Easter tradition is the chocolate Easter bunny. Back when I was a kid, there was an arms race with these bunnies, as you had to show your kid how much you thought of them by buying the biggest one there was (now you just buy them a $1,000 Iphone). There wer of course the eggs, jelly beans and other assorted items in the Easter basket, but the centerpiece was the chocolate bunny, roughly akin to the turkey on the Thanksgiving table. It had to be good.

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The Window Is Open, So Let's Enjoy It While We Can

Yesterday after the Nationals’ Opening Day win, I went to Twitter to read everyone’s takes on the game, and saw one from a friend named Jen. She’s a huge Nats fans and has raised her kids to know a slider from a curve since they were old enough to walk. Her kids were celebrating the Opening Day win, and as we all did when we were little, they were projecting the future based on this one game. In their minds, the Nats looked so good, they were going to go 162-0.

Being the realist (my daughter would say “killjoy”) I am, I pointed out that the first year they will ever be able to remember things as they grow older will be around 2012. Starting with that year, winning in general and winning on Opening Day became the norm for the Nats. Only once during the span of then to now has the team lost a game to start the season (those pesky Mets won 3-1 in 2015) and the days of 100-loss seasons were long gone. Every year since, the Nats were supposed to win the division, and many years they did.

Part of me thought “these kids are really lucky” because they’ve known nothing but winners, seen no-hitters, and have only faced disappointment when the team went to the playoffs. The other more cynical side thought “they have no idea that sometime in the future, being a fan is probably going to be tough.”

That’s because in my 50-plus years of following sports, I’ve found your favorite teams have more years when they disappoint versus winning it all. All seasons have happy endings, but they are not necessarily your happy ending, as someone has to win and someone has to lose. Odds are, if you talk to most fans outside of New England these days, it’s their team that seems to have to lose.

It’s as if some higher authority doles out the winning so that everyone has a window of happiness. I grew up in Norfolk, where in the days before cable television (and cell phones, computers, the internet, etc.) the area received the games of either Baltimore or Washington. My Dad liked the Baltimore teams, so as nature designed in the not so complicated father-son dynamic, I rebelled and pulled for Washington. It wasn’t a wise choice, as the Colts and the Orioles seemed to win all the time, while the Redskins, Senators and Bullets got me comfortable at a young age with pulling for a team that would underperform.

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In Analyzing Yesterday's News, A Few McChicken Nuggets...

There is no love lost between Virginia Tech and Michigan when it comes to football, and yesterday’s decision by Michigan to opt out of games with the Hokies in 2020 and 2021 will only add to the rancor. After all, the folks in Blacksburg have long had a nickname for the Wolverines: “McChicken”.

This all started many years ago when Virginia Tech started climbing the mountain of gaining national respect in football. Back-to-back appearances in the Sugar Bowl and Orange Bowl in 1995-96 certainly helped, then a quarterback by the name of Vick pushed them over the top when the Hokies played in the National Championship game.

But during that time, Virginia Tech tried to schedule bigger names, as they have (and still do to a degree) been accused of playing weak non-conference opponents. One team they tried to schedule, and according to various reports repeatedly said they weren’t interested, was Michigan. They WOULD schedule Virginia, but not Virginia Tech. Thus the “McChicken” nickname.

The animosity got worse in 2012 when the teams played in the Sugar Bowl. A late pass to Hokie WR Danny Coale that would have won the game was ruled incomplete despite just about every replay angle showing he caught it (my seats in the Superdome were right in front of the play and I thought the game was over). “Danny Coale caugh the ball” is now a rallying cry for the Hokies; I had the misfortune of flying home after the game seated next to a Michigan fan who was far from gracious, regaling me with stories of just how superior Michigan was to the world.

So Michigan is not exactly on the Virginia Tech Christmas Card list. Mine, either.

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Doesn't Seem Like 13 Years Ago, Brad Wilkerson Was At Bat

April 4, 2005. Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia. 3:07 PM. A sunny day, 59 degrees, brisk wind.

And so it began.

I will admit I am not the baseball purist some of my other friends are. They will watch baseball if it’s between two teams on the other side of the country that they have no interest in, just because it’s baseball. I am, however, a shameless homer; I grew up in Norfolk, and no matter where I lived afterward, I pulled for any team that had WASHINGTON across its jersey, as the games of DC were the ones we got in Tidewater.

My closet over the years became overflowing with jerseys for the Redskins, Wizards and Caps. Baseball was a tough one; I tried to like the Orioles, and when I moved up here in 2000, made a point of going to Camden yards several times a year. It was a nice experience, Boog’s barbecue was tasty, but it wasn’t our team. It was someone else’s.

Then after decades of Major League Baseball using Washington as leverage for every other team in the universe to get a new stadium deal, the Expos moved here and we had a team. That first game, I took a vacation day to watch it at home on television, because if you’ve waited that long to have a team to call your own, you’re NOT going to miss the first one.

And so at 3:07 PM when the Phillies Jon Lieber threw the first pitch to Brad Wilkerson (and Wilkerson would get the team’s first hit on the game’s fifth pitch), my addiction to the Washington Nationals began. Over the last 13 years – thanks to modern technology that allows you to watch something on television anywhere – I doubt I’ve missed more than a handful of games no matter how terrible they were. That first season will always be among the most memorable of all of them because that team truly overachieved.

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It's Still The Most Iconic Washington Nationals Moment Ever

The season hasn’t even started, and the Washington Nationals have already made their first error.

Scrolling through Twitter, it appears the Nats have removed the mural of Jayson Werth jumping for joy and crossing home plate after hitting the game-winning home run of Game 4 of the National League Divisional Series played on October 11, 2012. I am going to assume since this is the first season Werth is no longer playing for the team, that’s the reason it is being replaced.

Well, Nats….um, no. E-marketing.

The play still represents the most iconic moment the team has ever had. Ask any Nationals fan to rank their most memorable moments since the franchise came to Washington, and No. 1 by a landslide is Jayson Werth hitting that home run. It isn’t close. It’s the high point of the decade-plus the team has been here. Werth doesn’t play here any more? Well, Stan Musial isn’t getting a lot of bats in St. Louis either and they have a statue out front. Iconic moments are iconic moments. Want to replace the mural? Come up with a better moment.

Even the radio call is historic. This is the transcript of Dave Jageler and Charlie Slowes calling that last at-bat:

DJ: This is an epic battle

CS: Remember the bat after the rain delay, Dave?

DJ: I do.

CS: Remember what happened, culminating that at bat?

DJ: I do.

CS: Wouldn't that be nice?

DJ: I hope you're the summoner.

CS: I hope I can steal a little summoning from you Dave.

CS: 3 balls, 2 strikes, the pitch...SWING AND A LONG DRIVE...DEEP LEFT FIELD...GOING..GOING..IT's GOOOOOOOOONE..GOODBYE...GAME OVER...IT'S A LONG, LONG GAME-WINNING, SEASON-SAVING HOME RUN FOR JAYSON WERTH..AND THE NATIONALS HAVE WON THE GAME 2-1...UNBELIEVEABLE!

I didn’t even have to post the audio, did I? You could hear Dave and Charlie screaming this in your head because you’ve heard it a dozen times and it STILL gives you goosebumps, doesn’t it?

Moments like that don’t come around often. For some teams they don’t come along at all. Forget whether the key player involved is still with the team. It’s a timeless, happy, miraculous memory that we will all still be talking about 20 years from now. 

Which is exactly the reason it should never come down.

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Coming Face To Face With Facebook

Have you ever known something was going on, you knew it wasn’t good, but you just didn’t want to know? Like calling to get the results of your physical when you knew you’d been eating like every day was Fat Tuesday? Or going online to see just how big the balance on your American Express was a few days after Christmas?

Well, that’s sort of been my deal with Facebook. I strongly suspected that they weren’t exactly being on the up and up with most of us in terms of what they were doing with our information. But I didn’t really push because I knew if I did it wouldn’t be good. But last night during a break between basketball games in the NCAA Tournament, I did.

Facebook allows you to download the information they apparently are selling all over the world like an ice cream vendor on a hot day at Myrtle Beach, which I did. At first, I didn’t think it was such a big deal. There were folders and folders of pictures I had posted since 2009, and it was sort of nice to have them all in one big place if I ever wanted to find one. Over time, thanks to the advances in cameras on our phones, I’ve accumulated a lot of great pics and they are spread all over multiple computers and devices in my home. The good ones, I thought, are in this Facebook folder.

But then I started looking at the folder marked “html” and clicked on “ad.htm”. There were about 35 ad categories Facebook determined I should be part of. There was a history of every ad I’d ever clicked on. There were advertisers who were sold my contact info, many of whom I had never done business with and never will do business with.

Click on your profile info, and it’s the same as you’d see online. Click on contact info, however, it’s the email addresses of every person in your personal contacts. I must have early in my Facebook history approved an app that accessed my contacts and they are all there, probably sold to other companies.

The comes the histories. Every post, every pic, every video, every direct message, everyone you’ve friended, everyone you have unfriended…it’s all there with dates and times. Every time you logged into Facebook? It’s there too with date, time, IP address, the ID number of your device, the browser you used…everything.

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I Can't Say Thanks Enough For What Frank Beamer Has Done

To truly appreciate what Frank Beamer has done for Virginia Tech, allow me to share some of my earliest memories of being a Hokie.

The year was 1973, my senior year of high school. The check was in the mail to the admissions office, and I was going to be spending the next 4 years in Blacksburg. I picked up the Sunday Virginian Pilot in Norfolk (my hometown) and there was a story on Virginia Tech losing to Alabama in Tuscaloosa. By a score of 77-6.

That’s no typo. 77-6. Laughingstock wasn’t a strong enough word for how the Hokie football program looked back then.

My four years at Virginia Tech would be the four years of Jimmy Sharpe. The wishbone worked in the second year, as the Hokies won 8 games, but didn’t get a bowl bid. Things then fell apart as the team would go 6-5 and then 3-7-1. Sharpe would be fired. A football player would die in the dorms the day after a game in 1977, and Virginia Tech was in the national news for all the wrong reasons.

Meanwhile, teams in the Atlantic Coast Conference were the envy of all of us. "Why not Virginia Tech?" many of us thought, but the perception was simply we were not good enough. In 1977, an expansion committee actually sent a group to Blacksburg to examine the possibility, but they stayed all of about 45 minutes. Their minds were made up before they ever got there.

The Hokies were small potatoes.

Bill Dooley improved things slightly as the next coach, but he did it with a clock in his window that was a replica of a UNC football helmet. He didn’t particularly like Virginia Tech traditions, he wasn’t a Hokie, he was never going to be a Hokie, and he sure wasn’t going to stay around for a long time. Then he too was asked to leave.

Enter Frank. He was a Hokie and a gentleman. He showed respect to everyone, whether it was the press, fans who stopped him at the airport, donors or somebody out in the hall way. He was humble Fancy Gap Frank, and he set out to fix what was wrong. His only major failing was his loyalty to friends, and after a number of disappointing seasons, then athletic director Dave Braine essentially told him to fire some of his friends and bring in better coaches, or he would be shown the door. Frank did what needed to be done.

The next year, the bowl streak started, which was a big deal for those of us who had a couple of Peach Bowls to show for the last 20 years of being a fan. In 1995, Jim Druckenmiller and company made it all the way to the Sugar Bowl, but ESPN’s Lee Corso consistently said the Hokies had no chance against Texas. We weren’t a brand name and had no place in even being in the bowl. Texas fans bemoaned the notion they had to play a no-name like Virginia Tech. The game had the worst slot of all the major bowl games: New Year’s Eve at 8 PM.

Then, after trailing 10-0, Frank and the Hokies beat Texas 28-10. Corso even had to apologize the next day and admit the Hokies were for real. My daughter was 8 months old, and I thought how cool it would be if she one day went to Virginia Tech when they were considered a big-time program.

Back then you couldn’t buy Virginia Tech merchandise such as jackets, coats, etc. in regular stores. The Hokies were not a brand name, so you could buy Oklahoma, Nebraska..even UVA stuff at sporting goods stores. But anything VT was either in the bookstore or nowhere. When the Hokies came back and made the Orange Bowl the next year, jackets by Starter with the unique “square root of 1” VT logo started showing up. Maybe, many of us thought, we’re about to belong.

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Here Is How I Hope The Frank Beamer Story Ends...

One week from today, I hope to be hearing of a press conference in Blacksburg, where Frank Beamer announces his retirement at the end of the season.

It’s not that I don’t like Frank. Quite the opposite, I think Frank is a legend who has taken Virginia Tech football to heights unimaginable. The two images I will always have when I think of Frank are the Sports Illustrated cover that said “We Belong” and standing on Bourbon Street the night before the 2000 National Championship game in New Orleans watching 40,000 Hokies adorned in maroon and orange.

Those two images showed the Virginia Tech program I have watched since the early 70s had mushroomed into college football royalty. In our wildest dreams, none of us thought that could ever happen. And it’s all because of Frank.

As such, I have looked forward to the day I could stand, cheer and give ovation after ovation at the final home game Frank coaches. He deserves to hear the love, support and respect he’s earned for what he’s done. Unfortunately in sports, that rarely happens as the decision to no longer coach – either due to health or performance – comes after that final season and there is no adequate way to say thank you.

Frank’s farewell has been coming for some time. The program is in a 4-year skid, sliding from playing in the national title game and being a regular occupant of the top 10, to a barely ranked team, to a team not ranked at all fighting to just have a winning record and keep the streak of making a bowl every year since 1993 alive.

That streak will end this year as the team is 3-5 and will not win its remaining 4 games. The Hokies play this week at Boston College, a venue they have historically struggled at; go to Atlanta to play a Georgia Tech team that is sky high after an upset of Florida State Saturday; come back home for 6-1 UNC, then finish on the road at UVA. Going 2-2 would be a best-case scenario, 1-3 is more likely, and 0-4 is certainly possible.

Nothing good lasts forever, and it has been the hope – and fear – that things do not end badly when it is time for Frank to retire. To quote an old movie line, however, “things usually do end badly…or they wouldn’t end.”

More importantly, Frank – who just turned 69 – doesn’t look or sound good health-wise. He couldn’t be on the sidelines for last year’s bowl game because of a medical procedure and if you listen to his postgame interviews on the radio, he just doesn’t sound 100 percent healthy. I’m no doctor, but I’ve heard Frank for decades, and something isn’t quite right.

All this reminds me of Bear Bryant in his final year at Alabama, and illustrates exactly what my biggest fear is. Bryant – who turned 69 in September of that year (Frank turned 69 in October) – decided toward the end of the 1982 season that the sixth-place finish in the SEC wasn’t good enough. He was quoted as saying, "This is my school, my alma mater. I love it and I love my players. But in my opinion, they deserved better coaching than they have been getting from me this year."

Bryant too had health issues, having suffered through a mini-stroke and heart problems the previous year that affected him to the point he occasionally slurred his speech when being interviewed. Only four weeks after he coached his final game in the Liberty Bowl, Bryant died.

I don’t want to see that happen to Frank. I want to see a full crowd in Lane Stadium for the game against North Carolina with the sidelines packed with all of his old players. I want to see him carried off the field by all of them win, lose or draw. I want to be there for if nothing else, to say thank you for the memories of a lifetime. Then I want to enjoy seeing pictures of him living the good life with his grandchildren while being a great ambassador for the university in any way he chooses.

In a way, I wish Frank had done this last season. He had beaten the eventual national champion, beaten in-state rival UVA in the final game of the regular season to make a bowl, then won that bowl game against a pretty good Cincinnati team. All despite struggling all year to barely have a winning record.

In any event, I have two tickets on the 30 for the Nov. 21 game with UNC in Blacksburg. I will be there to cheer on Frank one more time, because whether any of us know it officially or not, it probably will be his last game in Lane Stadium as head coach.

It would just be great if an announcement could be made beforehand so we could all celebrate the moment. And say thanks…for some great, great football memories.

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Charlie Was Right; This Kid McSorley Could Be A Good One...

It was a hot August night in 2010 when Briar Woods took the field. Starting at quarterback was a young man who barely looked bigger than the large number 7 on the front of his jersey. He was listed at 5-foot-10, 150 pounds, but that looked only to be true if he were weighed in his uniform and had just finished eating a couple of triples from Wendy’s.

(Photo Courtesy Of Marianne Thiede)
Briar Woods QB Trace McSorley

Then on the first play of the game, the horse Briar Woods expected to ride all season – star running back Michael Brownlee – went down with a leg injury and would be lost until the final games of the season.

Things, as they say, just got real for freshman starting quarterback Trace McSorley.

It’s probably safe to say at that moment no one on the planet expected to one day see McSorley have 105 touchdown passes and three state championships to his credit, plus be only two games away from setting a record that can never be broken: being a starting QB on 4 straight state championship teams. But the seeds of all that success were planted that night.

At the time, he wasn’t even Briar Woods’ sole quarterback, alternating with Mark Leith. But with 2:37 left, the ball at his own 9 and trailing 8-7, McSorley was under center. Long passes to Alex Carter (now at Stanford) and Cam Serigne (now at Wake Forest) moved the ball to midfield. On a key 4th down, McSorley stayed cool and found Scott Rolin (now at Virginia Tech) for a 29-yard gain. The plays would set up David Clements’ winning field goal.

“Trace was never a very loud person nor was I; we let Brownlee do all that stuff,” Rolin remembered of that night. “But you could just tell Trace had a calming effect and ice in his veins.”

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