Wednesday, July 21, 1999

In Memory of Marques Hampton

Monday, I heard the news that two more people had been killed in a car accident on that death trap known as Interstate 81. That brought the death toll in the last year to about 20 on the stretch of highway that runs between Christiansburg and Lexington. The two victims were not identified, pending notice of their next of kin.

I got back up on one of my favorite soap boxes and railed to my wife about how dangerous that highway is, and I wondered for the hundredth time how high the death toll is going to have to rise before somebody does something. That's a generic complaint I know, with no simple solution, but it's one I voice often.

I wondered idly if the people who were killed were people I knew, or at the very least, knew of.

Late Tuesday, the news broke on the message board that Tech football recruit Marques Hampton had been killed in a car accident. The report was brief and came just before I left work, so I didn't get to learn the details before heading home.

At six o'clock, Channel 10 put together the pieces of the puzzle for me and reported that the two individuals killed in the I-81 accident were Tech football recruit Marques Hampton and his mother. Marques had just attended orientation at Tech, and they were returning home when their car crossed over the median at mile marker 167 and ran head on into a mini-van in the south-bound lane of the Interstate.

Suddenly, "just another fatal accident on Route 81" hit a little closer to home.

N2VTFTBL called me up and said that we had to "do something," had to make some sort of special gesture on HokieCentral. I agreed, and told him to give me a few days to think about it, and that I would come up with something.

I didn't have much time to think about the news about Marques. I fed my son dinner, ate my own dinner with my wife, and spent some time with my family. At about 7:30, we put my son to bed, and I put on some shorts and a T-shirt, grabbed my running shoes, and headed down to Radford University for my evening run.

Alone at the Radford sports complex, I started my run and thought about Marques and tried to figure out what his death meant. I knew I had to say something the next day on HokieCentral, and I was at a loss for words. So many people die on that highway, and I hear about it in the news, and I never really think about them, I just think about how I don't want the same thing to happen to my family or friends, and how every time we drive that dangerous stretch of interstate, we're just playing the odds.

But this time it meant something. Sure, I didn't know Marques, but I knew who he was, and I would have followed his career, and I would have watched him develop, and perhaps I would have even met him someday. But not now. Not ever.

All I can tell you about Marques are the same stats that anyone else can relay to you. A defensive back/linebacker, he was six feet tall and weighed 200 pounds. He was Tidewater player of the year and First Team Group AAA on defense. He had a 3.45 GPA in high school, wanted to study engineering at Virginia Tech, and committed as a recruited walk-on.

But those are just stats. Who was Marques Hampton, and what would he have done at Tech?

It was a hot night, and as I ran and thought about Marques I came to a realization. He would never run again. As I sweated in the mid-July heat, I reflected on how Marques will never sweat in the agony of two-a-day practices in Blacksburg in August.

He'll never go to a single class at Tech. He'll never rub the rock and run out of the tunnel onto Worsham Field. He'll never stand on the sidelines of Lane Stadium in a Tech football uniform, with the sound of over 50,000 fans screaming in his ears.

He'll never have a college girlfriend. He'll never get an A on a tough exam, and he'll never fail one, either. He'll never know the drill field in October, or in the dead of winter when the wind whistles across it, cold enough to chill you right through.

He'll never stand at the War Memorial and ponder those who have gone before us, and the sacrifices they made for their country, and how proud that makes him to be a Hokie.

He'll never participate in a Virginia Tech graduation ceremony, and walk up to the stage and receive his diploma, and have the dean of his college shake his hand and say "congratulations." He'll never tell anyone "I went to Tech."

All these things I take pride in, but also take for granted, Marques will never know. What a waste. As I ran, my breath caught in my throat, and I forced myself to think of something else.

Years in the future, as we go down the list of players who comprise the freshman recruiting class of 1999, we'll read the names and try to assess what impact each of them had. Some of them will be big stars, some of them will only play sparingly. Others may be academic casualties, or suffer career-ending injuries. Some may never even set foot on campus, because of grades.

But Marques's name will always stand out. We'll look at it, and it’s the only name that will come with the mental note "Never played at Tech. Killed in a car accident before his freshman year."

And we'll pause for a moment, and wonder what kind of player - what kind of person - Marques would have been at Tech.

Rest in peace, Marques Hampton, and your mother, as well. I'm sure you were many things to many people, Marques, but to us you were a Hokie, and you died a Hokie. Most of us never even knew you, but we'll never forget you.


Big East to Announce Tie-in With Music City Bowl

The Nashville newspaper The Tennessean reported Tuesday that the Music City Bowl will become the fourth Big East/Notre Dame bowl tie-in:

Big East agrees to send a team - The Tennessean, 7/20/99

(Clever title for an article, isn't it?)

Here's the key quote from that article:

"Music City Bowl Executive Director Scott Ramsey was pleased with the ticket sales and fan support provided by Virginia Tech. Repeated overtures from Big East Commissioner Mike Tranghese led to the two parties agreeing to a contract."

Let me boil that down for you:  Virginia Tech and its fans got this bid for the Big East, period.  Nice piece of work by Mikey T. to close the deal, but Tech killed this rabbit, brought it home, and laid it on the doorstep.

How ironic that the Hokies are responsible for bringing a cool million or so into the Big East coffers, not just last year but for the near future, and our reward is a Big East membership "proposal" that resembles financial rape more than it resembles an all-sports membership invitation.

Forgive me for that one, but after doing the analysis the other day on the financial terms of Big East membership, I'm starting to do a slow burn on the Big East's "proposal" and its rumored terms.  I'm getting a little bit tired of getting kicked around by this excuse of a conference, and I look forward to the day that we're in, and the basketball-only schools come calling to Cassell Coliseum.

Give Virginia Tech and Ricky Stokes four years of basketball recruiting in the Big East, and we'll demonstrate to those basketball-only teams, who are no doubt largely responsible for the terms of the "proposal," how a big-time athletic program is run.


Well, anyway, the MCB tie-in is good news.  It is key to the continued financial health of the league, and keeping its members happy.  Sure, it gives Notre Dame one more bowl to steal from us, but much like last year, I think that if the Big East has the teams, the bids will come, tie-in or no tie-in.  Kudos to Tranghese for pushing the point, and using the positive things that Virginia Tech brings to the table to benefit the league.  Tranghese and the football schools like us and want us in, folks.  It's the basketball-only schools that aren't too thrilled and are making life difficult, and expensive.


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