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Dec. 12, 1999: Vick humbled by Heisman experience
Finally, a town bigger than Michael Vick. College football's most celebrated freshman since Herschel Walker is larger than life in our fair commonwealth, but not in the city that never sleeps.
Even as Vick, Virginia Tech's extraordinary quarterback, prepared for Saturday night's Heisman Trophy ceremony at the Downtown Athletic Club, life in Manhattan proceeded as usual. Folks waited in line at Radio City Music Hall for tickets to the Christmas Spectacular featuring The Rockettes; they gazed at the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Plaza; they poured into Macy's.
"It's beautiful," Vick said. "All the lights, the fast life."
And amazingly enough, there wasn't a Vick jersey, Tech sweatshirt or Hokie bird in sight. A stroll up 7th Avenue through the Garment District and Times Square, up Broadway ("Death of a Salesman" starring Brian Dennehy is packing them in at the Eugene O'Neill Theater), and across 50th Street to the Avenue of the Americas produced nary an encounter of the Tech kind.
The tabloids touted Patrick Ewing's long-awaited return to the Knicks' lineup and Mayor Rudy Guiliani's latest conflict with municipal employees. The only visible Heisman mention was on the Dow Jones news ticker in Times Square proclaiming Wisconsin senior running back Ron Dayne as the "heavy favorite."
Vick, a Warwick High graduate, agreed. During a casual interview prior to the presentation, he said voting should be weighted toward seniors.
"I think the award is definitely for upperclassmen," Vick said, "guys who have been successful throughout their careers. ... But if they did call my name, I'd be one of the proudest people on the Earth. ... I think those chances are very slim."
Indeed, Dayne, Division I-A's career rushing leader, won the Heisman in a runaway, the 51st senior to win in 65 years. Vick was third, joining Georgia Tech's Clint Castleberry (1942) and Walker (1980) as the only freshmen to finish among the top three.
"I never could have imagined this," Vick said after the ceremony. "I can't describe the feeling."
Walker, the Georgia running back, won the Heisman two years after his third-place finish. Few would be surprised if Vick, the first freshman quarterback to finish among the top 10, follows suit.
In fact, Vick could become the first sophomore to win. He certainly has all the prerequisites - uncommon talent, quality teammates, media buzz - and will be heralded along with Purdue quarterback Drew Brees next season.
But unlike Brees (Outback Bowl-bound), Vick has serious work remaining this season. On Jan. 4, he leads second-ranked Tech against No. 1 Florida State in the Sugar Bowl.
The Hokies' drive to the national championship, relentless television exposure and Vick's own highlight-reel performances made him an instant celebrity, New Yorkers' disinterest notwithstanding. The Tech bandwagon is standing-room only, and Vick is the conductor.
He was unanimously voted Big East Offensive Player of the Year, not to mention the league's top rookie. He was second behind Dayne in the Associated Press' Player of the Year balloting and was named first-team All-American by the Sporting News.
"Things happened very quickly this year," Vick said, "a lot quicker than I expected. Everything was like a surprise, a good surprise."
It's deserved, in many ways. Vick's pass efficiency rating of 180.4 leads the country and is the second-best in Division I-A history. His 12.1 yards per attempt is an NCAA record.
In addition, Vick rushed for 585 yards and eight touchdowns during the Hokies' 11-0 regular season. Five of those touchdowns covered more than 40 yards. He also engineered Tech's last-ditch drive at West Virginia, scrambling for 26 yards to set up Shayne Graham's game-winning, 44-yard field goal at the gun.
But let's not forget: Vick is a 19-year-old redshirt freshman who, due to injury and blowouts, has played the equivalent of nine college games. He's thrown only 152 passes at Tech. Conversely, Heisman finalist Chad Pennington threw 1,688 passes during four seasons at Marshall. Brees has thrown 1,106 in three seasons.
Vick understands. There's growing to do and temptations to resist, temptations such as complacency.
"That's not me, I'm not that type of person" he said, clearly taken by the subject. "You can ask anybody on our football team and they'll tell you when I walk in that locker room every day, I'm the same person. I never change."
The same can't be said of Vick's routine. Following a Friday morning final exam in Black Studies, he raced to the Roanoke airport, only to be delayed two-plus hours in Charlotte. He arrived in New York around 9 p.m., just in time to join the Heisman entourage for a bus tour of the city. The finalists then dined in a private box at the ESPN Zone.
Vick slept until 1 p.m., Saturday before welcoming his mother, Brenda Boddie, and high school coach, Tommy Reamon, both of whom flew in from Newport News.
"Two years ago we were watching the Heisman and I was telling him, 'One day you'll be there,'|" Boddie said. "I didn't know it was going to come true."
"This is probably one of the greatest feelings I've ever had," Reamon said, "to watch a former student, someone I love dearly, in that (Heisman) room with all that history. To be voted third, as young as he is, it kind of tells me our job ... is to keep him humble because this is another level."
Indeed, before departing this morning, Vick got another dose of the next level, joining Heisman runner-up Joe Hamilton of Georgia Tech for an interview with CBS' The NFL Today. Then it was back to Virginia Tech, where Vick faces three exams this week, including a Sociology final Monday on deviant behavior. Oh, and by the way, Sugar Bowl workouts begin Friday.
But Vick relishes the whirlwind.
"Hopefully," he said with a smile, "I'll be back here again."