The Day I Met Michael Vick
“Heroes. It’s an old-fashioned notion.”
If you’re a fan of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, you’ve probably heard Director of S.H.I.E.L.D. Nick Fury utter that famous phrase.
I think Director Fury is right. Heroes are indeed an old-fashioned notion. I would also say that nearly every human being has at least one hero in some capacity or another.
Heroes can take many shapes and can be fictional or non-fictional characters. They can be authors, poets, directors, movie stars, inventors, decorated generals, old crooners, and supermodels. They can also be parents, grandparents, a favorite uncle, a brother or a sister.
Throughout my life, I’ve had many different kinds of heroes. I’ve had individuals that I look up to for their character, people that I admire greatly for their commitment to excellence in a particular craft, or people whose swagger and confidence I often try to emulate.
I think back to some of the first memories in my life – memories that I can still see in my head to this day. There aren’t many that are vivid prior to the age of five years old, which makes me sad in a way. I guess it means I’m getting older. However, I do remember my first true hero.
Like many others before me, my first hero played for my favorite sports team.
Now I’ve said it a hundred times and I will continue to say it just so that anyone reading this article understands: I was born to be a Hokie. There was no other way about it. And if you’re confused as to what that means, let me break it down for you:
My old man is a Hokie.
My mom is a Hokie.
My old man’s old man is a Hokie.
My mom’s old man was a Hokie.
My old man’s brother is a Hokie.
My mom’s brother and sister are Hokies.
Too many cousins to count are Hokies.
My little brother is a Hokie.
When I say on the podcast that I’m a third generation Hokie, I’m not kidding. You draw my blood, and you’ll notice it’s a dark shade of maroon.
Because I’m a man with maroon blood and orange veins, some of my first vivid memories in my life are of being in Lane Stadium watching the Hokies play. I’m talking old school Lane Stadium, too. This was pre-press box overhaul. This was before the south end zone expansion. Yes, it was even before the time-honored tradition of jumping to Enter Sandman right before kickoff.
The first game of the 1999 Virginia Tech football season, the Hokies played James Madison University (JMU) in what would be a strapping young redshirt freshman quarterback’s first game under center. Of course, at this point in my life, I was a month shy of four years old. How could I possibly remember anything from that game (or anything from that season, no less)?
To be honest with you, I have no idea. I don’t remember it like any other football season. However, I remember taking the Ironto exit and puking into a cup because of how winding the road was. I remember my Hokie Kid’s Club t-shirt I wore multiple times throughout that season. I remember that my family sat in Section 14 on the west side of Lane Stadium. I even remember staying in the Econo Lodge in Christiansburg next to the Waffle House.
I mean sure - it’s all very patchy and the reception on the proverbial television inside of my head is poor when I think about it. But make no mistake, I absolutely remember that game against James Madison on Sept. 4, 1999, and it’s because of a young quarterback named Michael Vick.
That JMU game is the first official memory I have of watching Virginia Tech football in my life. Not a bad memory to have, I suppose. I’ll never forget watching Michael Vick take off on his first ever touchdown run in a Virginia Tech uniform. And boy, did he run faster than everyone else on the field that day.
Michael was electric. A one of a kind talent. Every time he escaped the pocket, it looked like a lead ball being shot out of a cannon. As The Rock would say, he single-handedly “layeth-ed the smacketh down” on the Duke Dogs.
Out of all the memories I have from that game (and there aren’t many), the following is the most vivid. I remember Michael snapping the ball on 3rd and 6, hesitating in the pocket looking for an open receiver, taking off running straight toward two defenders, hurling himself into the air, somersaulting over the both of them, and landing awkwardly on his heels – in the endzone.
Fun fact: the flip into the endzone actually took Michael out of the game because of how awkwardly he landed on his feet. You can see that exact play below.
To be honest, I’m not even sure I knew what a touchdown was at the time, but my Dad cheered and clapped whenever a touchdown was scored, so that meant I did the same. It didn’t take long for me to become Michael Vick’s #1 fan. After #7 made that famous trip to the endzone that day, I wanted to know where he was on the field at all times.
I would look for him whenever the Hokies were on offense. I used to ask my old man,
“Daddy, where is Michael Vick?”
For any game I attended throughout that 1999 season and the next, Dad would always find him, point him out to me, and always made sure I knew where my favorite player was.
I wasn’t the only one taking notice of the young quarterback from Newport News, either. The hosts of an up and coming television program called College Game Day were big fans of the kid, too. In fact, they liked watching MV7 and the Hokies dominate their opponent so much, that they showed up to Blacksburg twice in the same season!
Broadcaster Bill Roth once described Michael Vick as “the magician,” and that 1999 season sure was magical. Michael Vick led the Hokies to a perfect 11-0 regular season, which meant that all of Blacksburg would be headed to the Big Easy to ring in the new millennium at the 2000 Nokia Sugar Bowl National Championship game.
Unfortunately, Virginia Tech’s only perfect season in history didn’t have the perfect ending. The Florida State Seminoles were led by future Heisman Trophy winning quarterback Chris Weinke and the elusive Sugar Bowl MVP wideout Peter Warrick. Head Coach Bobby Bowden and the ‘Noles had gotten the best of the national stage newcomers.
The following season saw similar success. Many people thought the Hokies would make another run at the national title with Vick under center. However, Miami ended those hopes and dreams prematurely on Nov. 4, 2000. In fact, Michael Vick was injured in that game against Miami, and did not return to the field after it happened. As a result, the Hurricanes beat the Hokies 41-21. You know, that same Miami team with soon to be NFL legends Ed Reed, Santana Moss, and Jeremy Shockey? I guess if the Hokies had to lose, I’m glad it was against a team of that caliber.
The Hokies ended that season with a record of 11-1 and a huge win over the Clemson Tigers in the Toyota Gator Bowl. It would also be the final game Michael Vick would ever play in a Virginia Tech uniform.
At this point in his career, Vick had achieved a level of superstardom that was extremely rare in the college football world at the time. He had completely revolutionized the quarterback position with his ability to scramble like Barry Sanders, while also being able to throw the ball like Tom Brady. With all signs pointing to him being the first pick in the 2001 NFL Draft, the young quarterback out of Newport News had to leave Blacksburg behind. I can’t really say I blame him for that decision.
Most Americans know the story of how Vick’s National Football League (NFL) career went. He became an immediate star for the Atlanta Falcons after they selected him first overall – just as predicted. Vick took the league by storm and had a phenomenal rookie season. At one point, Michael became the highest paid player in the NFL. I think even he would tell you that did him more harm than good. His ego inflated tremendously, he became harsh and crass towards the media, he developed disciplinary issues on and off the field, and eventually went to federal prison for his involvement in an illegal dog fighting ring run out of a home he owned in Virginia.
He had become a household name for every wrong reason imaginable.
In 2007 when Vick was arrested and prosecuted, I was in the 6th grade. My friends in my neighborhood knew I had his Atlanta Falcons jersey. I would wear it every time we played backyard football. What was once one of my favorite Christmas presents ever now made me an outcast. My hero had become public enemy number one all over the world, and I did not handle it well. Not one bit.
I felt that Michael Vick had betrayed not only myself, but every single person who supported him in Blacksburg. Heck, I’d say he let anyone who had ever supported him down. It also didn’t help that his brother had recently been in hot water with both Virginia Tech and the national media, so being a Hokie fan AND a Michael Vick fan was a tricky predicament.
As time has gone on, I can honestly say this: If Michael Vick had never been a Hokie, I would still feel the same way about him that I do now. What he did was wrong, and he will never be able to erase it from his legacy. There will also be those who will never forgive him for it, and he has to live with that every night when his head hits the pillow.
But at the end of the day, Michael Vick served his time in a federal penitentiary for his wrongdoing, and I think that has to count for something.
By the fall of 2017, I had been lucky enough to meet pretty much every Virginia Tech football player and coach I’d ever admired. Whether it was Frank Beamer, Bud Foster, Kevin Jones, Andre Davis, Macho Harris, Tyrod Taylor, Kam Chancellor, or DeAngelo Hall – I’d had the honor and priveledge of speaking with the men who helped bring my beloved Virginia Tech Hokies to national prominence.
All except one.
I always wondered when it would happen. I hoped that eventually the time would come where I would have the opportunity to shake my hero’s hand in person. To tell him thank you. To tell him I would always love and appreciate him for what he did for VPI. That day finally came.
Being a third generation Hokie (and a member of the Hokie Club) has its perks. On Sept. 22nd, 2017, Michael Vick was to be inducted into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame. My old man (the same person who pointed Vick out to me on the field many years prior) told me that the entire family was going to see it happen in person.
My blood ran ice cold with excitement at that news. It was as if all roads had led to this moment. The prodigal Son of Saturday would return home to Blacksburg for his hall of fame induction, and I would be there to see it happen.
Eventually the day came and my family attended the ceremony. Michael Vick was the last person to speak about his time in Blacksburg and the opportunities Virginia Tech had provided him. He was noticeably nervous because there were protestors outside, and it seemed as though he didn’t feel worthy of being there. As he gave his beautiful, eloquent speech, he wiped away sweat from his brow using his pocket square, thanked everyone in attendance, and made his way off the stage.
This was it. I had to move, and I had to move fast. I knew my window of time to catch him was small, because everyone else would be trying to do the same thing. This was quite literally the first time I ever wanted to beat fellow Hokies out for anything. All I cared about was my personal one-on-one conversation with my hero.
I was wearing khakis, dress shoes and a blazer. I probably looked like a fool sprinting to catch him as he headed towards the exit. Unfortunately, an enormous crowd had already formed around him. People were attempting to take selfies, dapping him up, and trying to get a glimpse of the best athlete to ever put on a Virginia Tech uniform. Michael kept toward the exit to escape the large crowd.
As I aggressively weaseled my way through, I realized that he wasn’t going to stop moving. So I thought, I guess I’ll have to settle for a quick dap-up. I was able to dap Michael up, but there were so many people around, he wasn’t even looking at me when it happened. As my hero disappeared out of the Beamer Barn exit door, I felt as though I had lost. Completely disappointed and distraught, I left the shifting crowd and walked back to my family with my heart in my stomach. Meeting my hero didn’t go at all how I imagined it.
But fate had different plans for me that evening. For whatever reason, my family and I were slow leaving the Beamer Barn that night. We stuck around and exchanged pleasantries with other families we knew also in attendance for the event. My little brother Hampton and I went and spoke with Andre Davis and a few other Legends of Lane present to support their former teammate.
As my family was about to leave, I saw my mother talking to a woman by our table. Hampton and I came up and introduced ourselves, and this woman introduced herself to us as “Aunt Tina.”
Mom said to Hampton and me, “Boys, this is Tina Vick. She’s here with Michael tonight for his induction.”
Aunt Tina was an absolute gem to my family that evening. I told her about how Michael was my hero, and how I hoped I could talk to him one day. She looked confused, turned her head and said, “Well why don’t you? He’s right over there.”
My eyes shifted focus. Through the remaining stragglers of the evening, I saw Michael Vick talking to Coach Frank Beamer. How could this be?! I saw him walk out not twenty minutes earlier? Aunt Tina explained to my mother, brother and me that it was Michael’s plan all along to come back out of the green room to mingle once the crowd had died down, and that’s exactly what he did.
Mom looked at me and said, “Go on, baby doll. Go talk to Mike.”
As I hastily walked in his direction, I tried to maintain composure. I thought of what I was going to say and how I was going to say it. Keep in mind, I’m someone who RARELY gets star struck. Working in the entertainment industry, you come to realize that famous people are just regular human beings like everyone else. But this was different. It’s like Charlie Murphy once said about Rick James: “His aura or whatever? I seen it.”
Seriously. It looked like he was glowing.
Michael was finishing taking pictures with a small family, talked to them for a second, and then moved onto anyone who wanted a piece of his time. He was very gracious and didn’t seem in a rush whatsoever. Finally, at long last, it was my turn.
I was shaking like a leaf on a tree, but I got his attention, made eye contact, and said,
“What’s going on Michael?”
He responded with something along the lines of
“Not much man, just livin’ life!”
I was freaking out. I tried to not fanboy or lose my cool. And at long last, I was able to tell him what I had always wanted to tell him.
These words aren’t verbatim, but they’re pretty darn close to what I said:
“Michael, I just want you to know how much you have meant to me throughout my life. I’m a lifelong Hokie, and my first memories are of watching you play. I remember watching you flip into the endzone against JMU. Any time I played pick up football with my friends, I pretended I was you. I just wanted to thank you for all that you have done for this institution, and we will always love you here in Blacksburg.”
I could tell what I said meant a lot to him. He thanked me and dapped me up again. It was at this moment my mother showed up beside me and grabbed Michael’s arm.
She said to him, “You have no idea what you have meant to my boys, Michael. Grayson used to always ask his Dad where you were on the field. Ever since he was a little boy, you’ve always been his Hokie hero.”
Michael responded, “Well look at your boys now, Mom! They’re fully grown!”
He then dapped up my little brother and me after saying that to my mother, and we posed for a quick photograph (below). After we said goodbye, I remember jumping up and down with excitement. I could have run through a brick wall I was so jacked up. The Michael Vick box had finally been checked at long last.
It’s funny how things come full circle.
Think what you want to about Michael Vick, but Hokie Nation gave him a second chance when society didn’t allow for it. After his release from prison, Michael Vick played six more seasons in the NFL before his official retirement as an Atlanta Falcon in 2017. Since that time, Vick has led an exemplary life as a loving husband, father, and spokesperson for animal rights. He is now an analyst for Fox Sports, where he breaks down game film and conducts interviews alongside the likes of Colin Cowherd.
So when people ask me why I wear Michael Vick’s jersey on gamedays, I tell them that it’s because Michael Vick is my hero, and I forgive him for the actions and wrongdoings of his past. I tell them that it’s because my first memories of watching the Hokies play with my Dad were watching him do flips into the endzone. I tell them that it’s because Michael Vick reminds me of the greatness of the teams he played on, and how I long for the Hokies’ second perfect season.
And I tell them that whenever that next perfect season comes, I’ll be there at the national championship game with Vick’s name on my back to watch us finish the job.