ichael Vick tried. Lordy, how he tried. But not even Vick, impervious, evasive and the darndest freshman quarterback college football has witnessed in eons, could win the national championship for Virginia Tech on Tuesday night in the Sugar Bowl.
And the disgrace in that? None.
Just ask Florida State. The Hokies staggered the Seminoles for much of the second half before succumbing 46-29 in the highest-scoring Sugar Bowl ever.
Remember, this is an NCAA-certified dynasty we're talking about, a program that has finished among the nation's top four teams each of the past 13 seasons. And Tech absolutely belonged, rallying from a 21- point, second-quarter deficit to briefly take the lead at 29-28.
Vick didn't die when the Hokies fell behind. He danced. He turned the most doomed of plays into works of art. He sidestepped and outran defenders.
But Vick was one ace fighting a deck of aces. He absorbed more punishment than in any game this season, and the toll came in mistakes. He fumbled away a scoring chance on the Hokies' opening drive and committed a foolish intentional grounding penalty later in the first quarter.
Then, early in the fourth quarter, after Florida State had regained the lead at 36-29, Vick fumbled again, and Seminoles defensive back Sean Key recovered at Tech's 34-yard line, setting up a Sebastian Janikowski field goal.
At 39-29, there was no way Florida State was going to ruin the first perfect season in Bobby Bowden's hall of fame coaching career. This is Bowden's second national championship and his program's third appearance in the title game in four years.
But these were uncharted waters for Tech.
Think about the greatest sports stories in Virginia history: Richmond native Arthur Ashe winning the 1975 singles title at lily-white Wimbledon; Secretariat in 1973 becoming racing's first Triple Crown champion in 25 years; Sam Snead's remarkable golf career; the rise and fall of the Virginia Squires, the commonwealth's first - and only - major league franchise; the Sampson years at the University of Virginia.
This magical Virginia Tech season ranks among those sagas. We're talking about the state's largest university (approximately 25,000 students) playing the state's most popular sport. We're talking about a homegrown coach from Fancy Gap (Frank Beamer) guiding a team of predominantly homegrown talent.
Sixty-five Hokies are from Virginia, and they hail from all points - from Smithfield to Springfield, Ladysmith to Lynchburg, Blackstone to Burke, Roanoke to Richmond, Norfolk to Newport News, Alexandria to Appalachia.
Blanketing the state assures the Hokies loyalists in every nook and cranny, not only from alums and wealthy donors, but also from anonymous Harrys in Hampton and Freds in Fairfax who watch the games on television and want to keep up with the former high school stars from their area.
No, Hokies' football is not as valuable as the university's educational mission and technological advances. And yes, Beamer - like most college football coaches - is grossly overpaid with a minimum $500,000 annual compensation.
But Beamer, who concedes to being overpaid, makes a valid point when he recalls the wild scene that transpired at Lane Stadium on Nov. 26 after Tech defeated Boston College to complete its perfect regular season. Nothing else, Beamer says, could galvanize the university community like this football team has.
And he's right. Sad commentary on our priorities or not, a championship team in a marquee sport touches more folks than the College of Veterinary Medicine's new brucellosis vaccine or the Center for Transportation Research's "Smart Road" project.
Of course, much of this saga's appeal revolves around its novelty. The state has just two Division I-A programs, Virginia and Virginia Tech, and Tuesday was the first national title quest for either.
The novelty also prompted many of us in the media to doubt the Hokies this season. It just seemed incongruous to mention Virginia Tech in the same breath with Florida State, and so we asked questions.
Is the schedule too easy? Is Vick too young? Is the offensive line strong enough? Can Shayne Graham kick a game-winning field goal? Will the Bowl Championship Series computer deny Tech a spot in the Sugar Bowl?
Beamer and the Hokies did their best to ignore the questions and doubters. They prepared the same way each week, whether the opponent was James Madison or Miami.
And each week they won, often by astonishing margins. They avoided the inexplicable defeats to inferior teams that haunted them in past seasons.
They didn't trail in a game until Nov. 6 at West Virginia, and then only for 75 seconds as Graham's 44-yard field goal at the gun rescued them and catapulted Tech into the Sugar Bowl, where they made millions of more fans across the nation.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun