Thousands of athletes sport scars from Dr. Frank McCue’s renowned surgical handiwork. Far more indelible are their memories of Doc McCue the gentleman, cowboy and friend.
“He and his wife, Miss Nancy, they treated me like a son. I never forgot that,” said Marques Hagans, a Virginia graduate assistant coach and former Cavaliers quarterback.
“The sheer number of people he helped, it’s hard to comprehend,” former Virginia tight end Chris Luzar said.
Indeed, as the athletic department’s physician from 1961-2003, McCue treated and, most important, bonded with countless young people. And when news of his death broke Sunday, tributes flowed immediately.
Not just from Cavaliers, either. McCue, 82, tended to anyone in need, Hokies included.
“I didn’t know him well,” Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer said. “But I really knew his reputation. He very much loved the University of Virginia, but the other part of it was his reputation as a fantastic doctor and fantastic surgeon. … He was good for (the entire) state of Virginia.”
Among the most memorable Virginia Tech-Virginia battles was in 1995 at Scott Stadium, when Cavaliers trainer Joe Gieck stuck out his leg as Hokies defensive back Antonio Banks raced down the sideline with an interception for the decisive touchdown.
McCue admonished Gieck, his old friend, for feigning to trip one of his patients. Turns out McCue had treated Banks when Banks played at Newport News’ Warwick High.
“I think he operated on everyone in my family and all my (assistant) coaches,” Hampton High coach Mike Smith said with a laugh. “He was a pioneer. Back in the old days, when (an injury) was major, they'd ship them up to Doc McCue. …
“Not just Virginia kids, all the kids. Virginia Tech and Virginia might have been enemies, but not to Doc McCue.”
Dedicated in 1991, the McCue Center houses Virginia’s football and administrative offices. McCue’s office was in the training room, drawing him even closer to the athletes as they arrived for taping and/or treatment.
Hagans, who played for Smith at Hampton, said McCue never failed to ask about his family and his academics. And just last week, the McCues sent Hagans and his wife, Lauren, a gift for their 14-week-old son, Christopher.
Three summers ago, Hagans caught a stray elbow during a pick-up basketball game at Virginia. Blood streaming from above his eye, Hagans knew whom to call.
“He said, ‘Meet me at the McCue Center, and I’ll stitch you up,’” Hagans said.
Keep in mind, McCue was in his late 70s and long retired. Still, he was quick to help.
Hagans said McCue operated on his wife’s broken nose when she was in college, and on his father’s injured hand when he was in high school. But Hagans’ enduring image of McCue is of him on his farm, catching fish and feeding cattle.
“He named one of his champion longhorns after me,” Hagans said. “That was pretty cool.”
Luzar also spent time with McCue and his cattle. So much that after graduation McCue gave him five longhorns.
Those five, and six of their offspring, remain in Luzar’s care at a hunt club near his home in Jacksonville, Fla.
“We kind of became cowboys together,” said Luzar, a graduate of Williamsburg’s Lafayette High who played two seasons with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Luzar sells surgical supplies, and in his post-football career is reminded of what a pioneer McCue was.
“The implants we’re selling for ACL repairs, it’s literally the same exact stuff Doc McCue did every day,” he said. “Doc McCue and a lot of his cohorts were the innovators. He was right there in the mix of what we’re doing today.”
During his time at Virginia, Luzar broke his ankle playing basketball just prior to spring practice.
“I thought Coach (George) Welsh was going to tar and feather me,” Luzar said. “But Doc McCue fixed my ankle up.”
Years later, McCue repaired the injured thumb of another Cavaliers tight end: Luzar’s brother, Kase.
“From the tip of your hand to the tip of your foot, he’d fix you up,” Chris said. “If you so much as got hurt at all, you had a relationship with Doc McCue.”
A Virginia graduate and Lewisburg, W.Va., native, McCue collected Remington bronze sculptures. Luzar majored in sculpture at Virginia, and for a Super Bowl art show featuring the works of current and former NFL players, Luzar created a bronze piece of several players diving for a fumble.
At a subsequent meeting of the McCue Society, comprised of former colleagues, fellows, trainers, students and friends, Luzar presented the sculpture to McCue.
“Just out of appreciation for everything,” Luzar said.
Denbigh High football coach Marcellus Harris remembers McCue as a "genuine" doctor who never forgot a patient.
As a Ferguson High freshman in 1992, Harris broke his left leg in two plays during the Mariners' basketball season opener. Bethel's Tony Rutland, later a starter at Wake Forest, had endured a similar injury and recommended McCue.
"He brought me up there and took care of me," Harris said. "Without him, I probably wouldn't have made it to where I did."
Harris became a wide receiver at East Carolina, and during his career there, the Pirates team doctor encountered McCue at a medical conference. McCue immediately asked how Harris was doing.
Like many current and former Virginia athletes, South Carolina women’s basketball coach Dawn Staley, an All-America guard at UVa, tweeted about McCue on Sunday.
“my dear dr. frank mccue passed away today...he wz the man responsible for makn a way for these old knees to pass the test of time. #luvudoc”
“It’s a sad day, but at the same time, we have to celebrate his life,” Luzar said.
“He was a great man and a great friend as well,” Hagans said. “His name and memory will carry on forever.”
Hours following this post, after midnight, I received a series of 15 text messages from Dr. Bob Franco, a member of the McCue Society practicing in Jacksonville, Fla. I thought his sentiments merited sharing.
I am sorry for not getting back to you sooner. I am out west in Montana.
Dr. McCue was a phenomenal person -- no way that words could describe him. Incredibly talented surgeon and doctor, dedicated, relentless drive to help people. Generosity and loyalty beyond words. Take the above and multiply times 100 and we can start to talk about Doc. …
He knew only one way: to give. On Dr. McCue’s surgical days, on Tuesday and Thursday, he’d start his surgeries at 5:30 a.m., skillfully and meticulously. He’d successfully complete all his surgical cases and then head to football practice. Following practice, he’d go to the McCue Center … and see patients with Joe Gieck and Ethan Saliba.
It was standard care for this tireless physician for postoperative patients to stay at his home, where they received impeccable care by Dr. McCue and his saintly wife, a registered nurse. A few house calls at night were part of the routine.
On office days, especially Monday, Dr. McCue would easily see over 100 patients, probably closer to 120. … Doc was incredibly committed to quality of care, which translated to (seeing) patients injured acutely and in significant pain that day -- not next week or in two weeks.
Doc’s imitable care was observed by his athletic trainers, fellows, residents and medical students. The McCue Society was started by world prominent sports medicine surgeon Dr. James R. Andrews, who completed a sports medicine fellowship under Dr. McCue in 1972. …
On June 8, 2012, Dr. Andrews gave an eloquent and heartfelt keynote speech. At the conclusion of Dr. Andrews’ phenomenal speech, to a standing ovation, he saluted "our chief" and forever friend, Dr. Frank C. McCue.
I am sure it is too late, but I felt compelled to attempt to share with you some information about a man loved by many, including myself.
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