Florida State Holds Off Vick and Virginia Tech, 46-29, for National Title
It arrived four days late but just as feared, menacing and mindless, tailed by many, touched by few.
It appeared in college football’s national championship game, but it wasn’t so much a player as a virus, rearranging the field, confusing the witnesses, altering the future.
It didn’t win.
But it will.
His name is Michael Vick and he has got next. Take that back. He is next.
A new era in need of new heroes required less than a week to find one, doing so Tuesday night in a national championship game that was happy to accommodate.
He sprinted left when his world went right. He flew when his world ducked low. He left his opponents searching for breath and witnesses--such as this one--gasping for adjectives.
In front of a filled stadium and a fascinated nation, a 19-year-old quarterback emerged from a quiet school in the hills of Virginia to bang on the football world like it was an old washboard.
“Michael Vick already has my vote for next year’s Heisman,” Florida State safety Sean Key said. “Who out there is better than him? Who out there is even close?”
Vick’s team, Virginia Tech, lost in the national championship game to Florida State, 46-29.
Vick’s star was ultimately eclipsed by that of the Seminoles’ Peter Warrick.
But to not stand and applaud the Hokie redshirt freshman louder than all others would be to not realize that college football--struggling with a bad post-season and growing police blotter--desperately needs a shot of oxygen.
This is it.
“There ain’t a darn thing you can do about this guy,” Seminole Coach Bobby Bowden said. “You put four or five guys on him and he runs 50 yards. . . . boy is he something. Better than I thought. I knew he was good. I didn’t know he was this darn good.”
Here’s how good.
He threw for 225 yards and a touchdown.
He scrambled for 97 yards and a touchdown.
He led Virginia Tech back from a 28-7 deficit to take a 29-28 lead, doing nearly all of the work during the comeback after top running back Shyrone Stith limped to the bench with an injury.
But Vick’s best statistic might have been the number of Florida State defenders he literally faked out of the game and on to the injury list, which was one--a rather startling one.
During one of his countless backfield scrambles, while avoiding about a half-dozen Florida State tacklers, he spun linebacker Tommy Polley around so quickly that Polley caught his knee in the turf and crumpled to the ground.
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Key said. “He was actually messing our guys up, taking us out of the game.”
Eventually, Vick may have also taken the Hokies out of the game. He lost a fumble near the end zone in the first quarter, and another one deep in Hokie territory to start the fourth quarter, leading to a Seminole field goal that put the game out of reach.
But, well, this was only his 12th collegiate appearance.
It ended with him walking slowly, aimlessly, along a deserted Hokie sideline. He was still breathing hard. His right elbow was bleeding. The bottom part on his white jersey was dotted red.
Just steps away, the Florida State players were dancing on the field.
From out of their group jogged an older man in a baseball cap. He hugged Vick, the first one to do so, and it was only fitting.
It was Florida State defensive coordinator Mickey Andrews.
“You were great,” he shouted to him, trying to be heard above the celebrating Seminole band. “You were great.”
Then, one by one, the Seminole defenders came over to embrace the guy they could often not tackle.
“Hey Vick!” shouted one, hugging him. “You’re my man!”
“Vick! Vick!” shouted another, grabbing his shoulder pads. “You’re something.”
David Warren, a defensive end who always seemed to hit Vick a second too late, shook his head.
“That man, he is a Peter Warrick at quarterback,” he said. “Yeah, we got him. That’s because we would put five or six guys around him.”
The Florida State players returned to their party, and Vick was hugged by a man who seemed to engulf his 6-foot-1, 212-pound frame.
It was Bruce Smith, the Buffalo Bill defensive end and former Virginia Tech star.
Smith didn’t say anything, he just hugged him.
And what was your favorite Michael Vick play?
Was it the 43-yard run through virtually the entire defense that set up one touchdown?
Was it the 23-yard pass while being flattened that led to another touchdown?
How about one of his last-second pitches to running backs who gained 10 or 15 yards despite their surprise?
“With Michael, you never know what’s going to happen,” running back Andre Kendrick said. “You just have to kind of hang around, and hang around, and see what he’s going to do. Because you know he’s going to do something.”
A surprise a minute, even after all the minutes ran out.
He was asked if he thought the Hokie mistakes helped give the game away.
“No,” he said. “They played better. They deserved it.”
He was asked about disappointment. He actually smiled.
“We lost, but I would not change a thing,” he said. “We showed everybody what we have. We showed we have heart.”
He began pounding on his shoulder pads, again and again, recognizing the accomplishments of today, sounding a warning for tomorrow.
Bill Plaschke can be reached at his e-mail address: firstname.lastname@example.org