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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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Hokie Offense Is Going To Need To Take More Deep Shots

It’s now the Tuesday after Labor Day. Everybody’s back at work. The first full weekend of college football is over. So it’s time to empty the notebook about things seen this weekend before moving on to week 2.

Which Version Of Braxton Are We Going To See Saturday?

Oh, I know his name will be Braxton Burmeister, but Friday night we really saw two different players. First-half Braxton was smooth and cool, completed 7 of 8 passes with the only incompletion a dropped pass by Tre Turner in the end zone, and his team ate up huge chunks of time in running to a 14-0 halftime lead.

Second-half Braxton wasn’t quite so cool. He only completed 5 of 11 passes for 43 yards, threw an interception, and missed some wide-open people on what should have been easy throws. Some of that was caused by the plays being called, as Justin Fuente and Brad Cornelsen went very conservative in protecting that 14-0 lead.

But while seeing a lot of good things Friday night, it was the consistent lack of the Hokie offense taking deep shots again UNC that bothered me. You don’t have to be the Oakland, er, Los Angeles, er, Las Vegas Raiders and go deep all the time. But if you look at most successful teams over the last two decades, it has been the threat of a deep ball that keeps defensive backs from creeping up close to the line, and thus opens up the running game.

Of course, if you pass all the time, the running backs and offensive line never get in a rhythm and the running game doesn’t realize its potential, so finding that optimum mix is something coaches experiment with all season long. I didn’t think the Hokies really tried to find such a mix Friday, and you’ll notice in the second half that as the passing game stumbled, so too did the running game.

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Exactly Seven Years Ago Today, In Norfolk and Columbus...

When you get to be an old geezer like me, you look back, and at times remember really special occasions you did not expect to end up being so special.

Like what I experienced exactly 7 years ago.

That’s because September 6, 2014 was the date of my 40th high school reunion in Norfolk. That alone should have made the night special enough, because unlike earlier reunions where people try to impress their classmates with their success, 40th reunions don’t have such drama. The number one thing people are impressed with is that we all survived and are still standing. Nothing else really much matters.

But while I was reeling in the years hearing story after story from my friends, something else was going on. Virginia Tech was in the Horseshoe in Columbus playing Ohio State, and as anyone who knows me understands, my blood types are Type Orange and Type Maroon. I didn’t have great expectations for the Hokies, so it was being DVR’d back at my house in Ashburn, and I was going to get up early the next morning, drive home, and then watch what I thought would be athletic carnage.

But as I was donating my drink tickets to old friend Wendy Rieger (of NBC 4 fame here in the DC market), my phone started buzzing. Texts from multiple people – who happened to be in Columbus – filled my phone. Whatever I was doing, they all said, I needed to extract myself from what was going on and find a television.

The Hokies were beating the eventual National Champion Buckeyes.

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Rumors Of VT's Demise May Have Been Greatly Exaggerated

In the hierarchy of Hokie football games, there are those you want to win. There are others that you can only hope to win.

But tonight’s 17-10 victory over North Carolina was one Virginia Tech needed to win.

These last few years have seen a crisis of confidence in Hokie Nation. The glory days have drifted away to the point that it wasn’t a year or two since the football program was really good; it was a decade or two. Questions about whether Justin Fuente could coach, recruit, or even just smile in an interview were constantly asked.

Visiting teams no longer feared Lane Stadium and its fans. Even the signature moments of the team coming on the field to Enter Sandman grew great notoriety, but then you remembered when the game actually started, the team lost.

Add in the doldrums created by the pandemic that may never end, and folks during the summer talked in tones of a strange and unusual indifference when it came to the season. They needed to be awakened from this low-energy slumber by things like a huge crowd screaming its guts out so people even inches away from each other couldn’t hear what was being said. They needed a win over a top 10 team like North Carolina to give them hope this could be done more than once in a lifetime.

They needed a reason to believe.

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