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When It Comes To Virginia Tech Sports, It's A Small World

If you’ve been a sportswriter AND a sales guy in your life, you’ve told thousands of stories.

I know I have, and I’ve never written about the one I’m about to tell. But it is by far my favorite, plus the next time someone says “it’s a small world,” this will now be the standard you’ll have to compare it to.

It’s no secret I’m a big Virginia Tech sports fan. I was a student there in the 70s and worked my way through school covering Tech sports for a small weekly called the Blacksburg Sun (they went to Wednesday and Sunday editions when I was there and gave us shirts that said “Blacksburg Sun: Now Doing It Twice A Week.”)

It was there I got to meet many people, but my favorite was basketball coach Charlie Moir. He answered all my questions, gave me all the access I could ever want, and even invited me along with the writers from much bigger papers for dinner when we were on the road.

Big stuff for a 20-year-old.

To get any access in college sports back then, the main gatekeeper was the head coach’s secretary. Charlie’s was a very nice lady named Jean Farmer, and I was extremely lucky she liked me. If she liked you, you could call just about any time and she’d find Charlie. If she didn’t, odds are you’d hear about him being in a meeting.

Over the next few years between the Blacksburg Sun, Roanoke Times and newspapers in Martinsville and Lynchburg, I would deal with Jean quite a bit. Her, Charlie, many of the players and Sports Information people Wendy Weisend and Dave Smith are among my warmest memories of that time in my life. 

Fast forward about 20 years.

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Guest — Patsy N. Spurrier

great story; love watching Cin...

Great stories; love watching Cindy on Fox8. Patsy
Friday, 15 January 2021 18:35
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A Simple Act Of Kindness I Will Never Forget

Because the patio on the back of my house seems to perpetually be covered in shade, I’ve just finished an hour or two of doing exactly what my wife, doctor and friends have all told me not to do: chipping and shoveling away all the ice.

I mean, I could wait until it melts in late June. But there’s a WonderBeagle who enjoys seeing just how far she can get me moving on the ice, and I don’t wish to fall down out there between now and late spring.

In the course of wrestling this frozen bear, I had to take breaks because – as everyone seems to very much enjoy reminding me of – I’m an old man. It was during one of these breaks I found myself scrolling through Twitter, and two posts caught my eye. One was the fact today is Giving Day at Virginia Tech, and as the name suggests, they want you to give something to the University.

The other involved a younger journalist with a small newspaper here in Virginia. He was mentioning he was using a gift card to buy himself lunch instead of making one because he was too tired from all his long hours at work.

It hit me right in the feels.

I have a complex relationship with journalism these days, because many of the larger publications have turned the profession from a search for the truth to a search for ways to repeat the narrative. Not surprisingly, there are many out there who rank the profession’s popularity right up there with used car salesmen and telemarketers who somewhere during the call say “but wait, there’s more.”

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Your Greatest Source Of History May Be On Old Devices

I think when we all started becoming aware of the internet in the late 1990s, there were three things we believed: It was a safe place to go surfing (it wasn’t), when we deleted something it was gone (it wasn't, as the internet is in pen, not pencil) and that researching stuff that happened in the past was going to be a lot easier.

Search engines, we believed, would find everything ever posted on the internet. As I used to tell my friends, the answer to all of life is on the internet. The hard part was figuring out how to phrase the question.

Two weeks ago I realized even that’s not true. I’m not talking about censorship or anything similar (although in the future, that’s probably going to be an issue too). But while writing about the anniversary of the tragedy at Virginia Tech back in 2007, I mentioned on social media that a lot of college football teams wore Virginia Tech decals on their helmets for their spring games.

To illustrate this, I posted pics from Ohio State and Penn State’s spring games, and got several comments from people saying “I never knew that.” My reaction was that there were many more who did similar things, so I went to Google to find examples.

My search to do so failed.

After trying all sorts of phrases, the only two I came up with were the two I had posted myself on social media. Those same two were also in a story Virginia Tech did concerning the April 16 anniversary, and they showed up as well. But the rest that I distinctively remembered couldn’t be found.

Some of that made sense because in the early days of the internet, there were millions of items to be indexed, but now over 20 years later, that number was probably hundreds of billions. To search that many – despite how much Wizard of Oz gibberish the Einsteins of Silicon Valley utter about algorithms and magic potions –  would probably still mean the farther you go back, the longer it’s going to take. Which means the search engines are going to return more recent data rather than let you sit there for 10 minutes waiting for results.

It then dawned on me that the next best source for such history was sitting in my own house.

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On An Easter Sunday 46 Years Ago....

Since today is Easter, I find myself thinking of another Easter Sunday I experienced 46 years ago in the spring of 1975.

I honestly can’t remember a lot of the details to it. But I was a freshman at Virginia Tech and did not have a car. This meant on holidays if you wanted to go home, you needed to hitch a ride with someone, because there was no cost-effective way to go from Blacksburg to Norfolk. Easter fell outside the spring break that year, so it was really just a 3-day weekend, and I decided to remain on campus.

Whether it was Blacksburg, Norfolk or New York City didn’t really matter in terms of what to do that Sunday morning. It was still Easter, so I got up and went with a friend to a local church. Not surprisingly, it was crowded the way Christmas and Easter always are, and being college kids, we dutifully pursued and found seats just about as far in the back as possible. No need getting too far up front and risk having people you’d never met come up to you and try to start a conversation.

But as the service concluded, that strategy failed. A nice woman asked the two of us what we were doing for Easter lunch, and rather than say “going back to the dorm, eating mystery meat at the dining hall and then taking a 3-hour nap” I just said “I’m not sure.”

She, however, WAS sure about what we would be doing.

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Rest In Peace, Coach Schnellenberger

If you follow sports for a long enough time, you end up with 4 or 5 moments that seem to stay permanently etched in your memory. Some are due to last-second heroics, while others are just the confluence of several interesting people at a particular point in time.

The passing this morning of legendary football coach Howard Schnellenberger brought back one of those for me. At the time, Schnellenberger was at the University of Miami before it was “The U”, and he was in the process of creating that transition for the Hurricanes.

He took over Miami in 1979, and in year 2 got his team to a bowl game, beating this group of upstarts from Virginia Tech in the Peach Bowl to finish 9-3. Three years later, “The U” was born, as Miami and Schnellenberger went 11-1 and won a national title by beating Nebraska.

The year before winning the national title, Miami faced Virginia Tech for the second time in three years in Blacksburg. It was a warm September afternoon, and Miami was favored due to a high-powered offense led by quarterback Jim Kelly. The Hokies were a typical Bill Dooley team, with a strong running attack led by players like Tony Paige and Cyrus Lawrence, and a stout defense with the likes of Bruce Smith and Padro Phillips.

Miami did win that day, 14-8. But some things also happened I doubt anyone expected.

The moment I remember took place shortly after the game. Back then, there were no formal press conferences or restrictions on who you could talk with after a game. If you wanted to ask a question of a player, you went in the locker room and asked.

For Miami, the visitor’s locker room was just under the East stands down near the corner of the South end zone. The question of the day regarded an injury to Kelly, who was sacked midway through the game by the Virginia Tech defense and had to leave the game. Since he didn’t return, we all wanted to know how bad the injury was.

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Guest — Johnny Hurst

Memories

I was at that game and I'm 63 and can't remember if I ate breakfast or not but remember the sack. Some of my favorite memories of ... Read More
Monday, 29 March 2021 12:24
Dave Scarangella

Always amazes me too

I can remember that moment in 1982 clearly. But don't ask me what I did last week ... Read More
Monday, 29 March 2021 12:51
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50 Years After Meeting, She's Still A Big Fan Of Bruce Arians

Geraldine Barber had no problem rooting for Tampa Bay to win the Super Bowl and not just because one of her twin sons had played 16 seasons for the Buccaneers.

Her connection with the Bucs' head coach, Bruce Arians, goes back to their college days at Virginia Tech in the early 1970's.

"This whole week is about Bruce," she said in a phone interview from her Maryland home. "I don't want to do anything to take anything from the focus on him because he is so deserving."

Arians' wife, Christine, is another Tech alumna.

"Chris reminded me last year, when we were together at a game, that it has been 50 years since we met each other," said Geraldine, who now goes by Barber-Hale.  

"Bruce was already [at Tech]. I believe this was right after Chris and Bruce had gotten married because they were long-time sweethearts. Before they had gotten married, Bruce and Tiki and Ronde's daddy, [J.B. Barber] were roommates and the first inter-racial teammates to be football roommates there.

"They got to be real good friends and then, when J.B. and I got married, I was taken into that friendship. Bruce and Chris were always there for me. When Tiki and Ronde were infants and were having problems with seizures, I could always count on Chris."

Geraldine later divorced from J.B.  Barber and moved to Roanoke, where she raised her sons as a single mom. 

"I didn't see them for years," Geraldine said of Bruce and Chris Arians. "We kept in touch but I didn't spend any time with them until I was at a [New York] Giants game and I think, at the time, Bruce was coaching with the Indianapolis Colts and they came to Giants Stadium.

"I was coming down to the back of the stadium with parents and guests and Bruce was headed to the visitors' dressing room and I heard somebody say 'G-e-r-a-l-d-i-n-e,' and I turned around and it was him. It was like seeing your long-lost brother.

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World Now Finding Out What Hokies Have Known For Years

The first real newspaper I worked for was a twice-a-week newspaper called the Blacksburg Sun. Being the low man on the totem pole back in 1976, I got the assignments nobody wanted, so my first story was about a high school football game between Christiansburg and Floyd.

The game was at Floyd, in fog and rain. If you’ve never driven uber-curvy Route 8 in those kinds of conditions at night in Southwest Virginia, you just don’t appreciate what gripping the steering wheel tight really means. Plus if on the way back home you misread the signs and ended up on 221 instead of 8, you got the bonus experience of driving some of the most deserted backwoods stretches of pavement in the region before arriving at Bent Mountain and eventually Roanoke an hour later.

If you were a 20-year-old kid like me, this meant instead of getting home at 10 to write that story, you instead arrived home at 1 AM. The story got finished at 3 AM. Then you had to get up at 7 to turn the story in and get ready to cover your first Virginia Tech game.

Access was different back then for media, as if you wanted to write a story on someone, you made a phone call and were usually told “when can you be here?” An interview was set up by the paper for me to sit in the coach’s box instead of the press box, and I was to watch a graduate assistant handle his duties from there. Then I’d write a story about it.

The GA was friendly and helpful. He pointed out things that were being done and explained them fully. He also pointed out things I should avoid, as they were taking black and white polaroids of formations of both teams, marking them, and sending them down to the field in an envelope attached to a string that ran down to the bench. Some, he said, were OK. Some, he admitted, were not.

The game ended and I wrote a very forgettable story. I was new to all this, so I just regurgitated every quote I had written down, then forgot about it all. I had survived the weekend, filed my story, and was well on my way to earning the $1.90 an hour I was being paid that would come to me in a check that Friday.

I never thought much about that story until coming across it in an old box of worn, yellowed newsprint from 40 years ago. I read the story, thought it sucked even worse than when I wrote it, but saw the name of the GA.

His name was Bruce Arians.

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A Memory Of When You Could Disagree And Still Get Along

One of the reasons it’s now been a month since I’ve dropped all participation in social media is how the world has changed. Everything is absolute: You’re either a good guy (if you believe as we believe) or a  bad guy (if you believe as those OTHER people do).

There is no in-between.

Truth be told, by whatever standard you measure, some of the most successful people I’ve met have a little bit of both angel and devil in them. I know personally, I am capable of doing wonderful and generous things for others, but as my wife will freely tell you, I’m also capable of biting somebody’s head off in certain situations.

I think all of us, to a certain degree, are that way.

This reminds me of a story I wrote several years ago about a very successful person named Mitchell Gold. We both illustrated these traits, didn’t get along, yet respected each other. I’m not sure that would happen now, but since it was a really good story I think you’d enjoy, and even involves me getting an autograph from a dog, I’m going to rerun it.

Here is a tale of two hard-headed people, a furniture-signing dog, and kindness:

One of the great things about having a child is realizing they have no idea what you’ve done in life. It’s as if they think you’ve never left the house, and if you did, you certainly didn’t meet anyone interesting.

Such was the case Sunday when my daughter was reading The Washington Post Magazine. The cover story was about a businessman and gay activist by the name of Mitchell Gold, and I mentioned I’d like to read it to see how he was doing.

“You KNOW him?” my daughter asked, as if I had just grown a second head.

“Of course I do,” I replied, as apparently my daughter didn’t notice I had left the house for 25 years and worked in the furniture industry, allowing me to meet a lot of interesting people, including one Mitchell Gold. “He and I never got along, but he’s a good guy. He even built a piece of furniture for us that he customized just for you.”

Since she was 5 at the time, I suppose it was fair she didn’t totally recall all of that. So I began telling her the story of Mitchell Gold, and it immediately bought to mind how different times are from way back then. These days, you couldn’t disagree with someone the way Mitchell and I did back in 2000 and survive.

That’s because according to the rules of social media today, it seems that if you disagree with someone, they have to die. You have to destroy them. There is no middle ground. They need to lose their job, lose their career and be branded with a scarlet letter if you have a different view. Disliking them and respecting them at the same time is not allowed.

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Rest In Peace, Hank; The Spiral Notebook Has Finally Been Closed

I think for everyone, there comes a time when you are very young, and you first notice Major League baseball. Usually, you are nudged toward the game by a parent or a friend, and in the course of sampling it, you eventually find a favorite player you really like.

It is at that point, you truly become a baseball fan.

For me, that player was Hank Aaron.

They say heroes get remembered, legends never die, but today, the greatest baseball legend of my life passed away. Hank was 86.

I can’t tell you why I was drawn to Hank, other than it was a completely different dynamic when I was growing up in the 1960s. You got to watch baseball only once every week on NBC’s Saturday Game Of The Week, and your view of the majors was filtered by whatever team was good at the time. In the mid to late 1960s, that meant you saw a lot of the St. Louis Cardinals, as they made the World Series in 1967 and 1968, so you got to watch them and listen to Curt Gowdy drone on about something during the contest.

They became my favorite team, but in the course of following them, I became aware of this outfielder playing for the newly-minted Atlanta Braves in 1967. The team had just moved a year or two ago from Milwaukee, and as a sophisticated 11-year-old, I’d roll my eyes every time my Dad referred to them as the Milwaukee Braves.

”C’mon Dad,” I would say. “Nobody calls them that any more.”

Hank Aaron just looked cool. He’d come to the plate, look loose and relaxed, and then launch a pitch 400 feet over an outfield fence. He wasn’t just a slugger either, as he batted for average and got on base a lot. But it was the home runs that became a magnet for me with Hank.

A few years later, MLB would have a promotion that said “Chicks dig the long ball.” In the 60s, us 11-year-olds thought they were really cool too.

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In The Blink Of An Eye...

I suppose this morning I could write about Virginia Tech’s still improving basketball team. Or the NFL playoffs. Or even the Washington Capitals running out of gas in a shootout with the always hated Penguins.

But I can’t get the text I received during halftime of the Virginia Tech-Wake Forest game off my mind. It was from my old friend Rick, who I’ve known since junior high in Norfolk, played dozens of rounds of golf with, and text back and forth snide remarks about local sports teams with when the Hokies or a Washington team is playing.

“Since you are not on Facebook you probably don't know I had a heart attack Thursday,” the text starts out, with all the matter-of-fact tone as if he was going to finish the text with “and then I drove to the store and got a gallon of milk.”

Um, what?

Rick is one of those friends I’ve known just about all my life that I was mentioning yesterday in this story, and to say it was a shock is an understatement. He’s a golf superintendent, so he logs more miles walking before 9 AM than I will all week. He has no family history of heart issues, and while he still eats like a college kid at times, he’s in relatively good shape for a guy whose age starts with a “6.”

We were just texting during the national championship college football game Monday. When the weather is decent, we have a standing appointment to play golf at his course as often as possible. Rick calls it “cheaper than a shrink,” because when you’ve known a person for that long, a 4-hour conversation in a golf cart can be a rich oil capable of soothing the soul no matter what life’s current situation.

You start the round exchanging pleasantries, go back in time to remembering being on the Stumpy Lake Golf Course out in Virginia Beach as 16-year-olds, then talk about sports, marriages, raising kids, even how our classmate Wendy Rieger on Channel 4 is the same age as both of us, yet still looks younger. Lies are told, triumphs re-lived, current life situations are vented.

Many a time the expression “I don’t remember it quite that way” is said, (there’s also a phrase similar to bovine waste products used) and attacks are made on each other’s memory, manhood and ability to play. By the end of the round, you’ve solved nothing, but you feel better because you’ve talked about things, you realize you’re not the only person in the world to struggle with an issue, and you go on until next week’s discussion of a brand new set of problems.

This is what old guys with old friends do.

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We Dug Coal Together, And I'm Glad We Did

I know I’ve been hammering this “small world” theme the last couple of days, but I experienced something yesterday morning that is on my mind, and makes me want to talk about it one more day.

I had dropped by a bulletin board for a website called Techsideline.com. I used to be a regular there for a couple of years, but lost interest two years ago. I had written this story Thursday, and since Cindy and Jean Farmer were probably well known to many there, I thought I would post the story for all to see.

There were replies to the story, which brought back more memories, which sparked more replies from me, which brought back more memories. After an hour or two, I realized I was having conversations with 15 to 20 people who I’d never met, whose real names I’ll never know, yet people who shared mutual friends with people I’ve known all my life. They even shared memories of some of the very things I remember warmly, and even one mentioned I was the Resident Advisor in his dorm.

Small world, indeed.

It kind of reminded me of the television show “Justified” (no, we didn’t shoot each other) that was based on a short story by Elmore Leonard two decades ago called “Fire In The Hole.” If you haven’t watched the series, it went on for years and was very enjoyable. It chronicled the exploits of Raylan Givens (the good guy) and Boyd Crowder (the bad guy).

The short story’s first sentence is “they had dug coal together as young men…” and the book launches into a fast-paced adventure where each tries to kill the other. Despite that, they still sort of remained friends, something that boggled the minds of every other character in the story and television show.

On the book’s last page, one character asks Raylan why that is. He answers with the final words of the story: “I thought I explained it to you. Boyd and I dug coal together.”

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Bob Martin

Another Coal Digger

We shared the same employer, attended VT at the same time although I lived further upstream in O'Shag, lived in SW VA specifically... Read More
Thursday, 21 January 2021 16:01
Dave Scarangella

Couldn't Have Said It Better, ...

Not to mention you seemed to be sitting right next to me in the Superdome on an early January night back in 2000... ... Read More
Thursday, 21 January 2021 16:11
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