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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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A Perfect Picture Of Broad Run's State Championship Season

(Photo Courtesy John McDonnell of The Washington Post)

It is a picture, I believe, that embodies the reasons Broad Run captured its first football state title in school history Saturday.

Captured by Washington Post photographer John McDonnell, the picture (shown above) shows Broad Run coach Mike Burnett and linebacker Kenny McAdow celebrating seconds after the game ended. One is smiling. The other appears to have a tear in his eye.

I first met Burnett a couple of years ago when Comcast was broadcasting a Broad Run game against Potomac Falls. Burnett was in his first season as the Spartans coach, and he was trying to turn around a team that had gone 1-9 the previous season. He seemed like a nice enough fellow, but his team looked like one struggling to adapt to a new coach, committing literally dozens of penalties while losing to the Panthers. Broad Run, though, was improving, finishing the year at 5-5.

The next season was different. Broad Run won its first five games, and after another broadcast, I had the chance to talk a little with Burnett and McAdow. You could tell that the team was no longer struggling to adapt to its new coach, and with this newfound belief, results were clearly visible.

The more I talked with Burnett, the more it became evident that he was anything but a typical football coach. He was a former attorney whose eyes sparkled not only when he spoke of football, but developing young men, building a team, and caring. He was, in short, a leader.

For over 20 years, I’ve had the chance to manage other people, and there are certain undeniable truths when it comes to motivating and managing them. One is that you can’t fake caring: Either you do or you don’t. If people believe you do care about them and are not just using them to win games or get a bigger bonus, they are more likely to listen to you, more likely to work together, and if you have a game plan that makes sense, more likely to succeed. Burnett sincerely cared about this group.

But to really get things done, you need key people to buy in early to what you’re selling. McAdow, you could see last season, was emotionally “all in.” He talked of hard work, believing in his teammates, and getting to the next level. His excitement for getting out on the field, working hard in the weight room, and dealing with his teammates was barely containable. He seemed to be the kind of teammate who would come looking for you if you missed a workout. And if you declined his invitation, he’d just drag you back to the gym any way.

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"I Am Truly Sorry To Say That You Were Right"

Last Friday, my good friend Paul Draisey and I were talking about a former co-worker at a local radio station we both worked at. The co-worker, who I’ll call Mike, hadn’t been heard from since losing his job a little over a month ago.

Our concern was real. Paul had known him for decades, while I only knew him the year I worked with him. But we both knew he had a drinking problem. Everyone did. As his boss, I had many conversations with him about it. And in the process, I learned a lot about the demons that haunt those afflicted with alcoholism.

When I was growing up, getting drunk was seen as harmless recreation. It’s what you did on Friday and Saturday nights to blow off steam. When I was going to Virginia Tech in the 70s, you were somehow less of a man if you didn’t drink until you passed out. Frats had “hairy buffalo” parties, where some sort of hay or straw was put on the floor. You drank until you couldn’t walk, then rolled around on the floor like a “hairy buffalo.”

Beer consumption was measured in six-packs, not cans. Hung over? Hair of the dog will get you back in the game. Mess with drugs? That will get you kicked out of school. But alcohol? No problem.

I could never handle it. The more I drank, the sicker I was the next morning. And thanks to youth and peer pressure, I kept at it. As the years passed on after college, however, I noticed it became easier to say “no thanks, I don’t feel like throwing up for hours tomorrow morning.” And after one flight too many where I found myself praying “Dear God, make this a smooth flight or just kill me right now,” I realized I didn’t want to drink any more.

If I'm at a party and not drinking makes someone uncomfortable, I'll nurse one for an entire evening. But as most of my friends will tell you, Diet Pepsi is my beverage of choice, and has been for many years. Offer me a bottle of scotch or a big piece of chocolate, and I’ll take the chocolate every time.

Folks like Mike never got to that fork in the road. They just kept on going. Sober, Mike was a good guy. On Mondays, however, when I’d guess he’d had a weekend to imbibe, he could be a terror. In the year I worked with him, he must have turned in his resignation a dozen times. Something would set him off, he’d blow up, and he’d quit. Hours later, he’d come back, hat in hand, and say he was ready to go to work again. I’d say fine, and we’d go on.

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