Ten Years Ago, Michael Vick and Virginia Tech Lost the National Championship Game but Became a National Force
Monday, August 31, 2009
From inside Merryman Athletic Center, an empty glass case overlooks Virginia Tech's football facility. The intent for the display is made clear by a sign inside of it: "This area is reserved for the national championship trophy."
Ten years ago, the Hokies came close to filling it. A redshirt freshman named Michael Vick and a ferocious defense led Virginia Tech to an undefeated regular season and a berth in the Sugar Bowl, which decided the BCS championship that season. A 46-29 loss to Florida State may have denied the Hokies the title, but it also established the program as a national force, and the university as more than simply an engineering school in the Appalachians.
"I'm not shying away from the fact that I think Virginia Tech can win a national championship," Coach Frank Beamer said.
This season, a talented returning cast has helped spark hope among the Hokies' faithful -- and among the team itself -- that the championship run can be repeated.
The seventh-ranked Hokies can take a big first step toward that title on Saturday night in Atlanta in their opener against No. 5 Alabama. And even though preseason injuries at running back have somewhat dimmed the championship expectations, hopes are still high in Blacksburg.
"I know if you knock on the door enough times, hopefully you knock it in one of these days," Beamer said. "And I think that's where we are."
Just as consecutive ACC championships have set the stage for this season, the 1999 team had been preceded by success on the national level. The 1995 and 1996 teams advanced to the Sugar and Orange bowls, respectively, and in 1998 the Hokies crushed Alabama, 38-7, in the Music City Bowl. Virginia Tech was ranked 13th in the 1999 preseason Associated Press poll.
"In the air, you could sense this was going to be an exciting season," Paul Torgersen, the former Virginia Tech president, said in a recent telephone interview. "And then each game we got through, there was sort of a measure of relief that we won another one."
By October, Virginia Tech commanded attention. ESPN's "College GameDay" show was broadcast from Blacksburg before the fourth-ranked Hokies' 62-0 win over No. 16 Syracuse. In December, wide receiver Andre Davis appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated along with a statement about the Hokies: "They Belong!"
By the end of the season, Virginia Tech led the nation in scoring offense and scoring defense, the first team since Florida State in 1993 to accomplish the feat, and the last team to do so.