The Vick cloud
Right or wrong, Va. Tech has a new image problem
Posted: Wednesday July 25, 2007 10:15AM; Updated: Wednesday July 25, 2007 2:48PM
By now, unless you've spent the past week in Antarctica -- or perhaps had your head buried in that 8,000-page Harry Potter book everyone's so ga-ga about -- you've probably heard a little bit about Michael Vick. Mainly, that he's a very bad guy who, according to a federal indictment, did some very bad things to dogs.
Actually, bad doesn't begin to do the allegations justice. Disgusting. Barbaric. Repulsive. Those are just a few of the words being tossed about in regards to the once-revered QB.
Seeing as Vick is an NFL quarterback, the coverage thus far has understandably revolved around NFL ramifications: What will the Falcons do? Will the league levy a suspension? Will Vick even play this season? But for fans of a certain school, or for those of us who still remember Vick primarily for his college exploits, No. 7's sudden fall from grace carries with it other ramifications.
With everything that happened at Virginia Tech this past year, I understand how some are claiming the Hokies as "America's team" this year. My question is this: Do you think the fact that VT's most famous alum is Michael Vick will affect some people's opinion of the program?
Am I too loyal a fan to care what an athlete does after his time in college is done? Granted, Vick is a chump, but does that really reflect poorly on the Hokies? I am glad to see Vick getting the negative attention he deserves, but will it affect VT?
Before addressing the Vick situation, let me make it perfectly clear I believe the Hokies' return to the field in September will be a heartwarming story no matter what. Considering how deeply the Tech tragedy touched this country, a lot of people who would not normally pay attention to college football will probably be cheering on Frank Beamer's team in its opener, and if they want to stay on board the rest of the way, all the better.
Strictly within the football universe, however, Vick's troubles certainly raise a thorny issue for the school.
On the one hand, you would think the off-field transgressions of a player nearly seven years removed from his college career would have very few consequences for his alma mater. Lots of athletes get in trouble every year without anyone bothering to bring up their college careers. Heck, two of the NFL's most notorious outlaws right now, Chris Henry and Pacman Jones, are both recent West Virginia Mountaineers, but you don't hear too many people coming down on Rich Rodriguez's program because of it.
But this particular situation is unique. I would contend no major program in the country is more synonymous with a single player than Virginia Tech is with Michael Vick. Schools that have been powerhouses for decades, such as Ohio State and Oklahoma, have churned out so many stars over the years that it's not like one reigns supreme over the others. One could say that Texas and Vince Young are now forever joined at the hip, and that's true, but the Longhorns were a national commodity decades before Young or Mack Brown ever came to Austin.
Vick, however, singlehandedly put Virginia Tech on the map. While Beamer is obviously the architect of the program, and has maintained its success ever since, Vick is the reason the Hokies became relevant in the first place. He's the reason Virginia Tech is on TV so often. His electrifying Sugar Bowl performance is the reason everyone remembers the Hokies' lone national title appearance in 2000, even though they lost that game 46-29.
Vick's presence hovers over that program. His retired jersey hangs in Lane Stadium. The Hokies' football complex includes a section called Michael Vick Hall. And how many times have we seen Erin Andrews conduct that sideline interview with him during a Thursday-night game (especially during his brother's ill-fated career)?
If you're Virginia Tech, if you're Beamer, if you're a diehard Hokie, what do you do now that your program's most recognizable ambassador is now nationally recognized for a brutal, illegal hobby? How do you formally recognize his accomplishments without glamorizing a man who allegedly executed dogs?
The Virginian-Pilot ran an interesting article recently posing this very question. At least based on the sample the paper interviewed, it's clear Vick's hero status in Blacksburg is quickly evaporating. "It's painful, because as a parent you never want to believe your child is capable of doing anything bad," 2000 grad Marion Devoe told the paper. "Michael Vick was Virginia Tech's favorite son. But you can only be in denial for so long."
I would hope the rest of the country does not view Vick's alleged transgressions as a reflection on Virginia Tech. Virginia Tech had nothing to do with it. However, because Beamer took a lot of heat for babying the similarly troubled Marcus Vick during his stint there, I imagine there will be many who lump the two together as an indictment against the program.
The good news is, Virginia Tech will have a chance this fall to supplant that image. Despite all the great teams and marquee names (Kevin Jones, DeAngelo Hall, et al.) who have come through the program since, the Hokies' defining image to this date remains that of Vick running circles around Florida State's defense that night in New Orleans.
But if Tech were to go on a national-title run this fall and truly deliver a Hollywood-like story, the program would finally take on a new identity sans-Vick.