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The Final Salute

It was a fitting exclamation point. The longstanding rivalry between Virginia Tech and West Virginia was winding down. Tech was not long from winning this final Coal Bowl and depositing the Black Diamond Trophy in the case at Merryman for a very long time. What had become a very bitter mountain feud needed a punctuation mark. Marcus Vick provided it.

MVToo was on the sideline, having just run out of bounds. The WVU fans that had spent the afternoon taunting him with catcalls and insults were in full voice. Marcus listened for a few seconds to what was not likely to have been witty remarks worthy of the Algonquin Round Table or even the Friday afternoon barbs exchanged between the Hoo Lawyer and I. He observed the spittle flying from between the gaps in the front teeth of the Neer fans and the foam forming in the corners of their mouths. Marcus responded with an extended middle finger. He was gesturing for a lot of Tech fans.

Couches all over Morgantown joined tens of thousands of Hokies in sighs of relief at the cessation of hostilities between these two old rivals. There was no riot, a negative answer to the question, “Is Motown burning?” Instead of erupting in a wild frenzy and rampaging all over town torching anything with seats, the WVU students trudged home losers. Couches were returned to their usual spot on the front porch to await not a fiery end but the photographers from House and Garden. The furniture joined Marcus is expressing their contempt for WVU by extending a middle cushion.

The Tech-WVU series is over. It ended with a workmanlike 34-17 Hokies win. It was a typical Tech win; the Hokies took advantage of an early WVU turnover to grab a lead, kept the Neers at arm’s length for the First Half, then put it away in the Second with a remarkable display of ball control offense. The WVU offense that had found holes in Tech’s vaunted defense found scoring a bit tricky when they could not get their hands on the ball. The game ended with Tech killing both the clock and the rivalry on the West Virginia ten. While I would have given the Cousins something to remember us by adding a little RUTS and hanging another score on the board, Frank Beamer decided enough was enough and had Marcus kneel down. Perhaps there are reasons why Frank is the head coach rather than I.

Of course, the possibility of future Tech-WVU games does exist. Even if Tech accomplishes the unlikely and runs the table, unless somebody catches Southern Cal on a seriously-off day or Mack Brown reverts to form the Hokies will be this year’s Auburn, observing the championship game from the Orange Bowl. The chances are good that somebody will win the Li’l E, probably. Pretty good, anyway.

ESPN executives are no doubt salivating at the ratings potential of a blockbuster Rutgers-Directional Florida Li’l E title tilt that would likely produce numbers on a par with televised Scrabble. ABC honchos would ponder the audience for having what would laughably be referred to as the Li’l E Champion getting splattered by a real power and call their Fox buddies, saying, “They’re your problem now.” BCS officials would mutter, “Not again,” then look on the bright side of how it doesn’t much matter to Tech fans the identity of the opponent and how much long green would be dropped on South Beach by the Hokies. The DORKS stumbling into the BCS would go a long way towards solving the BCS’s ‘Li’l E Problem.’

Despite being the beneficiary of yet another display of rank coaching ineptitude by Pitt’s Dave Wannstedt, proving that he can lose in the college game just as badly as he did in the NFL, I still wouldn’t tab good old RUTSgers as the Li’l E favorite. I would not be surprised at all to watch WVU emerge from that Murderer’s Row of a schedule of Rutgers, Directional Florida, UConn, Cincy and Pitt with the Li’l E championship. Rich Rodriguez is rapidly establishing himself as the best coach in that league.

Despite being outmanned and outgunned at virtually every position, he kept it close for a half. Rich Rod and his staff figured out a way to attack Tech’s vaunted defense, a chore that proved to be beyond the capabilities of Chan Gailey. If the Cousins can knock off Louisville in a couple of weeks in that warm and hospitable Mountaineer Field environment, Tech could very well see WVU again.

Tech’s win over West Virginia was the most complete game played so far by Marcus Vick. The WVU fans did not see just his middle finger; MVToo showed them plenty of his right arm and both legs, too. The MVToo highlight reel included a pinpoint touchdown pass to Eddie Royal that split a good double coverage. Brother Mike could not make that pass at Tech and still can’t in his fifth NFL season.

I flashed back to the amazing accuracy shown by MVToo Sunday while watching MVClassic bounce a pass a foot in front of a wide-open receiver. After seeing that throw my knee started aching too. Five games into his career as the starting quarterback at Virginia Tech, Marcus has not shown the otherworldly running ability that made Mike so famous. So far, he hasn’t needed to.

The ruthless efficiency with which Marcus dissected that 3-3-5 WVU defense that had given Tech so much trouble the last two years was an eye-opener. While Mike could dazzle, Marcus is rapidly maturing into a more complete quarterback who can win with his arm or, if need be, with his feet. He is no longer just Mike Vick’s brother, but a top-notch quarterback in his own right.

Around the rest of the ACC, there was much hilarity to be found in College Park. There seemed to be little wrong with the Maryland program that could not be cured with a home game against the Hoos. As algroh continued to display his road difficulties, those television shots of the facial expressions of the great NFL chess master did not much resemble Boris Spassky preparing for the kill.

There was much entertainment value to be found in algroh’s post-game media conference. The NFL Legend seemed to have a good conversation with his close personal friends Doug Doughty and Jeff White. And they thought Randy King and Mike Harris had it tough trying to pry something of substance out of the mouth of Frank Beamer. At least King gets some golf out of the deal. Just think: thanks to Craig ‘Has Tubby Called Back Yet?’ Littlepage, we get to enjoy five more years of this.

As algroh explained that whether Ahmad the Great played or not was of no concern to anyone, including, it would seem, the Hoo defense, one was reminded of those joyful press conferences when Mr. NFL would blame the media for the Jets quitting on him. Doughty and Mike Lupica have at least something in common.

algroh gave the assembled media types his impression of Marcus Vick, then proceeded to explain that he had decided not to inform them of the pending return of Our Mister Brooks because Nick Saban had told him not to, as he needed to keep the opposition off balance. The Maryland offense was sure taken by surprise by all of those huge holes in the Hoo defensive line. Saban must have also told algroh that the way to really fool the opponent was by giving up forty-five points. Keep watching the NFL Network at 4:30 in the morning while pining for the good old days, algroh.

Down in Chapel Hill, there is a coach who quietly goes about his business without the flash of Chuck Amato or the bragging of algroh. Unlike either of them Carolina’s John Bunting is riding a two-game winning streak after an impressive trouncing of Utah. They seem to be taking notice in Blue Heaven, as only a quarter of Kenan Stadium’s aluminum seats were reflecting the bright October sun, down from the usual third to half. Football Fever is catching in Tar Heelia.

If the Carolina faithful would actually go to the games, they would see in Big John a coach who is slowly but surely laying the foundation for a good program. He still needs an overall talent infusion to compete at the top of the ACC, an ongoing project that is going to take more time than what the immediate gratification and championship loons demand. John Bunting did not create the mess of Torbushian dimensions at Carolina. Instead, he inherited it and is gradually cleaning it up. He is doing it with a style that is the polar opposite of Chuck Amato, but I’ll take substance over style any day.

Clemson bounced back from those two tough overtime losses by not waiting for OT to lose against Wake. That is a loss that is liable to haunt Tommy Bowden when it is time for bowl bids to be extended. Thank goodness for long contract extensions, eh, Tommy?

The ACC’s two Florida schools demonstrated why the ACC was so eager to agree to all of those OOC games with the Li’l E. Syracuse is now 0-2 in the ACC, 0-1 in their own league. What might have been ,Orange. Instead of close losses to West Virginia, you could have had bad ones to look forward to every week. The Canes slapped a heaping dose of reality into the face of Directional Florida. Maybe it’s not the Big Four of Florida just quite yet.

Duke showed that if you are going to schedule a bunch of military schools, it would be wise to stick with the I-AA ones. The Citadel and the Coast Guard Academy probably have some openings and might be easier touches than Navy has proved to be. The good news for Duke is that when they return home in two weeks, it will be time for Midnight Madness. Football season will be officially over.

The first Saturday of October has come and gone, as has Tech’s series with West Virginia. Tech’s final bit of unfinished Big East business has been taken care of. Marcus Vick provided the final salute.

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