Among Our Rivals, a Friend for Whom We Grieve

by Will Stewart,, 9/13/01

"Turn on the TV. Dick Daniels just said that a plane hit the World Trade Center."

It was shortly after nine o'clock in the morning on Tuesday, September 11, when my wife spoke those words to me over our house's intercom system. She was in the nursery, getting our youngest son, Ronan, out of bed and changing his diaper. She likes to turn the radio on to Q99 in Roanoke when she's in Ronan's room, and Dick Daniels is the morning DJ on Q99.

I had just finished posting a Hokie Hotline notes update with an update time of 9:10 a.m. When I heard my wife call through the intercom about the plane crash, I turned on the TV that sits next to my computer, in time to see a video replay of a plane hitting the second of the Twin Towers.

Subject: Did I just hear that a plane hit the World Trade Center in NY??? **
Posted by: Culpeper Hokie on Tue Sep 11 2001 9:04:06 AM

Of the 2,460 posts that would appear on the Football message board this day, this was the first that would reference the terrorist attacks on the U.S. I don't think any of us had any idea at 9:00 what was about to unfold.

One of the responses to Culpeper Hokie's post came from "The Cane of NY," one of our favorite regular Miami Hurricane posters:

Subject: Horrible stuff! Please pray for the best. **
Posted by: The Cane of NY on Tue Sep 11 2001 9:22:15 AM

"The Cane of NY" is a man named Michael Mott. When I look him up in my message board database, I see that he registered for the TSL message boards on January 5, 2001, and since then, he has posted on the TSL boards 1,339 times. In that time, Michael has shown himself to be a man of class and character who transcends the rivalry between the Miami Hurricanes and Virginia Tech Hokies.

Since the Hurricanes annihilated the Hokies 41-21 in the Orange Bowl last November 4th, the once-bitter rivalry has turned almost gentlemanly, at least as I see it expressed on Internet message boards. Message board posters from the two schools, who once went at each other tooth and nail, have been oddly respectful of each other during the past offseason, something I never thought I would see. The fan bases of the two programs seem to have reached common ground based in the appreciation of having a formidable foe with whom to duke it out on a regular basis.

We are defined in large part by our rivals, and on some level, the fans of each school have grown to understand that each program benefits from the strength of the other. Together, the Hokies and Canes carry the flag for the Big East football conference, and we find that much to our surprise, we are rooting for one another and taking pride in each other's victories … as long as we're not playing each other.

Michael Mott is the poster child for this new détente. Intelligent, humorous, humble in victory, and respectful in defeat, he is everything you would wish your rival to be. Because of it, he is universally liked on the TSL message boards, a rarity for a fan of an opposing school. I was stunned to see that he has posted over 1300 times on our message boards. Usually, a fan of an opposing school who posts that much is up to no good and gets run off long before his post count gets up that high.

But that's just Michael. Despite his Cane affiliation, he likes and respects Virginia Tech. His roots are in the state of Virginia, and his father is a Hokie fan. Michael gave his Hokie father, whom he calls his "pops," a gift subscription to the TSL Extra, making him an even rarer bird: a fan from another school who supports the web site.

But on Tuesday, September 11th, 2001, Michael Mott's life changed forever.

From the time he responded to Culpeper Hokie's initial post to the time he posted again on our board, nearly 24 hours elapsed. And when he returned, the news was not good. It was tragic, in fact:

Subject: I need some prayers please...
Posted by: The Cane of NY on Wed Sep 12 2001 8:35:04 AM
Message: I usually don't do this but I have to ask for some divine intervention. I know I don't know most of you but I hope you understand my plea. My Wife is in critical condition at St. Vincents and I am tired and hopelessly shocked. Say a prayer for not only my Wife but for the countless hundreds I saw brought in as well.

I just can't believe what I saw... God bless.

I'll be back sometime in the future.

When I saw Michael's post, a sick knot developed in the pit of my stomach. Throughout the crisis on Tuesday, many of our posters' personal fears had been for naught. Hokie CPA's best friend in the world (as he put it) worked on the 74th floor of one of the World Trade Center towers, but thankfully, his friend was late for work that morning and was not caught in the devastation. DisneyNole's sister works in Manhattan, but she was safe and sound. And of all our posters in New York and Northern Virginia (many of whom worked close to the Pentagon), not one had been caught in the attacks.

But Michael's wife had. And I had a bad feeling about her chances.

Eight hours later, shortly after four o'clock in the afternoon, someone asked about Michael's wife. And "King of Hokies," a regular poster on the boards and a friend of mine since 1984, posted in response, "Tragically, she didn't survive."

I immediately sent an email to King of Hokies, asking him how he knew. I discovered that King of Hokies was one of about eight message board posters who had emailed Michael in response to his post of the morning, and Michael had responded to all of them with an afternoon email. King of Hokies forwarded the email that he had received from Michael just minutes before.

From: Michael Mott
Sent: Wednesday, September 12, 2001 4:32 PM
Subject: Thank you for your kind responses...

I woke up about 3:30 pm today after an all nighter holding my Wife's hand in a hallway at St. Vincents hospital. Waiting for a room in ICU. While hooked to a respirator and clinging to life she whispered some words to me I'll never forget. I share this with you only because it helps me get through this time and knowing you're praying with me. She said, "Mike, I love you but I'm not going to make it... I feel I have been cheated."

We finally got an ICU room and she went into surgery at 6:20am this morning.

Now I feel cheated. I lost my Wife and best friend at 3:16pm 9/12/01.

Thank you for all of your kindness... don't cry for me though, cry for America and the victims.

If you would like to help donate blood and volunteer services to those in need... those of you who have, I personally thank you again.

(end of email)

Forever Changed

Through television and the Internet, I have witnessed much in the last three days.

I have seen airliners crash into the Twin Towers, I have seen the buildings burn and collapse, and I have seen thousands of people die in the tragedy.

I have seen a woman speak on TV of the phone call she received from her son, who was on board the plane that crashed in Pennsylvania. I watched her bravely look into the TV camera and speak clearly, her voice unwavering, as she said that her son called her in mid-flight and told her the plane had been hijacked. He told her he loved her before he hung up. And she never spoke to him again.

I have seen pictures of people on the upper floors of the Twin Towers who, unable to stand the searing heat of the fire, jumped from the building, to their deaths.

I have seen shell-shocked survivors, covered in soot, their heads bleeding, walking away from the tragedy with blank looks on their faces.

I have seen tears well up in our president's eyes, causing him to cut short an impromptu press conference and leave the room.

But although these things shocked me into silence and disbelief, I was not brought to tears until I read Michael Mott's email. "I feel cheated," he wrote. "I lost my wife and best friend."

His email hit home, because if I were Michael, I would have used the same words.

On December 1st, God willing, we will gather in Lane Stadium to see the Hokie football team play the Miami Hurricanes. The game will probably be for the Big East championship, a BCS bowl bid, and millions of dollars in revenue. And I will be thinking not of these things, but of Michael Mott, The Cane of New York, and how he has been cheated.

As a matter of fact, I wonder if I will ever again be able to look at the Miami Hurricane football team, or think about them, without thinking of Michael Mott. "Perspective" is a horribly overused word, but it is safe to say that my perspective of sports, particularly the rivalry with the Miami Hurricanes, is forever changed. I can never go back to feeling the way I used to.

Godspeed, Michael Mott. May you one day find meaning in the personal tragedy that has befallen you, as we hope that all victims of the terrorist attacks of September 11th, and indeed, everyone in this country, may one day find meaning in the great loss we have suffered.

You are welcome at my tailgate on December 1st, where I hope to embrace you, once my rival, as my friend.


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