Hype is a funny thing. It clouds our judgment and leads to absurd statements and expectations that can’t possibly be fulfilled. It can also obscure the past to the point that when we return to it, the reality isn’t anything like we remembered.
Michael Vick was not those things. He was the real deal.
To quantify his impact on the Virginia Tech football program requires context.
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When Vick arrived on campus in 1998, the BCS was a brand new system for determining a national champion. The Hokies were coming off a then program-record fifth consecutive bowl game. Lane Stadium’s capacity was roughly 52,000 compared to today’s 65,000 and if you showed up after halftime, you could get into games for free.
While Vick redshirted in 1998, the Hokies fought through a 9-3 season that saw safety Nick Sorenson pressed into extended duty at quarterback.
And so, when the Hokies exploded out of the gate in 1999 with a flashy young quarterback faster than any to have previously played the position, Tech fans and the nation at large were taken aback.
The Hokies simply didn’t get players like that back then, and America quickly took notice.
Vick led the nation in passing efficiency as he completed 57.7 percent of his passes for 2,065 yards with 13 touchdowns and five interceptions as a redshirt freshman. He propelled the football seemingly wherever he liked with an effortless flick of his left wrist, but it was his running that truly shocked people.
Quarterbacks didn’t run that much back then unless they ran the option at Nebraska. Vick scrambled for 682 yards and nine touchdowns in his first season of college football and most of it was unplanned. He left countless defenders grasping air and furrowed the brows of every defensive coordinator unlucky enough to be on Tech’s schedule.
As everyone knows, he brought the Hokies to the brink of a national title in the 1999 BCS Championship Game where he ran circles around a Florida State defense loaded with NFL talent. It was a preview of things to come.
Vick was the first African-American quarterback to be selected with the first overall pick, paving the way for JaMarcus Russell, Cam Newton, and Jameis Winston.
His pro career like his life is a bit of a mixed bag. There were brilliant moments like his scramble in overtime to defeat the Vikings, or his efforts while leading the Falcons to a 27-7 upset in the playoffs at Green Bay’s Lambeau Field. He ran for over 1,000 yards as a quarterback in the NFL and set virtually every QB rushing mark that exists.
However, Vick struggled with throwing accuracy posting a career 56.2 percent completion percentage. He had a tendency to toss too many interceptions, and there was always a sense of promise unfulfilled on the professional stage.
That was especially apparent during his resurgence with the Philadelphia Eagles when he briefly showed what was truly possible when his talents were properly harnessed.
Vick’s off-field troubles have been well documented and continue to be divisive among even Tech fans. For all the dreadful actions committed away from the bright lights, there continues to be a prevailing feeling that Vick brought Virginia Tech football into the big time.
The Hokies finished the 1999 regular season on the cover of Sports Illustrated with a headline that boldly declared, “They Belong”. Vick took the spark that Frank Beamer brought to Blacksburg in the late 1980s and fanned it into a bona fide wildfire.
The Michael Vick Experience has finally ended for better or for worse. The Vick legacy will never be simple, but such is the nature of most legacies. Regardless of one’s opinion of the man there is one truth that no one can possibly deny.