Inside TSL: The Aftermath of "Goodbye Michael"
by Will Stewart
TSL Extra, Issue #3

I've been doing HokieCentral/TechSideline for a long time now (almost five years, which is an eternity in Internet terms), so I've had the opportunity to write a lot of articles for the web site. And those articles have generated a lot of feedback, most of it positive, some of it decidedly negative.

But no article has generated as much feedback as "Goodbye Michael, We Hardly Knew You." As you know, that article contained my thoughts on Vick's early exit from Tech. I painted his career in quick, broad strokes and tried to sum up how I perceived the whole thing from start to finish.

When I was done with the article, I was pretty proud of it. It was crisp, sharp, and said exactly what I wanted it to say. I had been storing up some thoughts on Michael's unique career for quite a while, and it all spilled out in that one piece. Not bad, I thought.

But I was not prepared for how much you, the TSL readers, would like it.

To say that the article generated a lot of positive feedback would be understating it greatly. I received about 30 emails commending the article, and there were probably another 50 message board posts praising it.

That doesn't sound like much, given the amount of traffic that the web site receives, but it was, without a doubt, the most feedback I had ever gotten on any one article.

It wasn't so much the amount of feedback, as the hyperbole therein. Let me give you some samples (each paragraph is an excerpt from emails that I received):

Email #1: Will, have you ever had any writing classes or any other kind of instruction? Your article "Goodbye Michael, We Hardly Knew You", is one of the best feature articles I've ever read. I'd put it up against anything I've read the past 25 years in Sports Illustrated. It's tight, emotive, and on the money.

Email #2: I have never written a letter in response to any article I have read. Without wasting anymore of your time, I would just like to say you that you have touched every point, emotion, and thought every Hokie fan has felt over this last week. Your article was so well written and thought out I can not put it into words.

Email #3: I think you have outdone yourself in the 1/11 article, Goodbye Michael, We Hardly Knew You. You have hit the nail so squarely on the head that it borders on pure literature. You have expressed my thoughts exactly and I am happy for that perspective - on it all - to be presented for others to appreciate.

Email #4: Just read your article on Michael Vick, and I couldn't pass on the opportunity to compliment you on an outstanding piece of journalism. I'm sure you'll hear it from thousands of other folks, but your article captured my exact thoughts and feelings to the period about this situation, and I found reading it to be a very cathartic and healing experience. You have a rare gift, sir, and you make use of it very well.

Email #5: I've read a lot of stuff the last 2 or 3 days from ESPN to Sporting News, Fox, ABC, NBC CBS, MSNBC, and other outlets, but this is the best I've seen to date - from a home boy that created a wonderful web site dedicated to the Hokies. It's good because you are a Hokie and a fan like all of us and you speak from the heart.

As I mentioned, I have written a ton of articles over the years. Some have been ignored, some have been praised, some have been criticized.

And some of them I've been very proud of. Like my writeups of the 1999 Tech/WVU football game and the 1999 Boston College game; my multi-part series "A Quiet Career" about Andre Ray; the three-part series on the Virginia Tech club lacrosse team; "Destiny's Doorstep," which was written after Frank Beamer almost left for UNC; and "Searching for Answers," a look into the Virginia Tech men's basketball locker room after a humiliating loss to Duquesne.

(In case you want to read any of the referenced articles, the game reports can be found through TSL's Football Page, and the columns mentioned are in the 2000 TSL Columnist archives. Click the TSL Columnists link in the left-hand border of the home page and check out the archive links in the left-hand border of the page that loads.)

They were all fine pieces of work, at least on par with "Goodbye Michael" in terms of their clarity, their content, and in many cases, the potential to bring emotion bubbling to the surface. And even though all of them were well-received, the entire group of them combined didn't generate as much commentary as "Goodbye Michael."

The comments centered around two main themes.

1.) "You wrote exactly what I was feeling."

This comment doesn't surprise me, because you're all Hokie fans, and even though I'm writing as a journalist, at the core I'm a Hokie fan too.

I had an interesting thought. Sure, I said what many of you had been thinking all along, but … I wonder how many of you even knew you felt that way. I'm betting that a lot of you didn't even know that you felt a lot of the thoughts expressed in the article.

Vick's career was different, completely different from that of any Tech football player or athlete before him. And as we all got caught up in the 1999 national championship game and the Vick Heisman hoopla, including the magazine covers, I wonder how many of us even realized how … uncomfortable that made us all.

We loved having Michael Vick on Virginia Tech's football team. We loved to watch him play, and we loved the attention he brought to Virginia Tech. But he was, as I said in the article, never accessible to us. He was never "one of us."

Michael's presence, and his star quality, was different, and it was weird, and even though having him here was a plus overall, I think a lot of you had kidded yourself into thinking that Michael's presence was a good thing in every way.

Well, it wasn't, folks. Vick's mega-star status, which was neither his fault or ours, chipped away at the very foundations of Virginia Tech football. For one thing, while he was here, the hype was all about one player, instead of the team as a whole, and that, my friends, is not what Virginia Tech football is all about.

For God's sake, the guy had a police escort off of the field after every game! How outta hand was that? I used to think it was strange that Beamer had a police escort, and now the quarterback's got one? We Hokies aren't used to that kind of thing.

2.) "I was in tears by the end."

This comment, and the number of you who said something similar, was a surprise. Yes, I've written articles before that were supposed to bring a tear to your eye, but that wasn't the intent of the "Goodbye Michael" article at all.

Why was that? Why had an unassuming story about a sophomore's dash for the cash brought forth such emotion from the fans who read it?

Was it because you were sad you would never get to see him play again? Were you worried about where the Virginia Tech football would go from here? Were you disappointed that Michael had not yet achieved the things you dreamed about -- a Heisman Trophy and a national championship?

Or was it something different? Were you perhaps shedding a tear over the loss of your own innocence as a Virginia Tech football fan? After all, Hokie fans had never had the Heisman hype machine go tearing through their program, elevating a player to icon status, to the point where the NFL came calling with millions of dollars and whisked him away early, even though he wasn’t nearly ready and his Tech career was only half over.

In the sixteen months of Michael's career, a tornado whipped through Blacksburg. It didn't tear the place up, and it left all the building standings, but it swept away a lot of things that are now gone, never to return. We are left behind with a Hokie team that will very much resemble Hokie teams of the past and will be competitive and strong, but nothing else is the same.

Was that why some of you were so emotional about the issue? In just eight short seasons, since Virginia Tech won the 1993 Independence Bowl, the Hokies have scaled ever greater heights and have left very few new plateaus to achieve. As we move onward and upward, there is less and less to get excited about, but much, much more to feel disappointed in and complain about.

These days, for example, a trip to the Independence Bowl would be cause for much wailing and rending of garments, not a call for celebration like it was in 1993. Maybe a lot of you sense the changes that are sweeping over the Tech football program, and although you're excited by the progress, you're a little saddened at the same time, for more obscure reasons.

Corny and melodramatic? Sure. After all, it's only football, not life and death. But we do get wrapped up in it. To the point where an article that wasn't intended to invoke an emotional response somehow does.

Beamer vs. Vick: The Hit Statistics

I don't want to turn "Inside TSL" into a monthly recounting of hit statistics, but I thought you would be interested in hearing what the hit statistics were for Michael's January 11 announcement, versus the hit statistics for the Beamer-to-UNC drama of late November.

Let me preface this presentation by pointing out that the two events were fundamentally different. There was much more uncertainty surrounding Beamer's announcement, up until just a few hours before his press conference. But with Vick, we all pretty much knew what was coming at least a day or two before Vick announced it, maybe earlier.

And while the loss of Vick may cost the Hokies a run at the Rose Bowl and a possible national championship next year, the loss of Beamer would have ripped all four tires off the rims of the Hokie football program, and the Hokie Express would have ended up in a heap in the ditch. Any rational thinker clearly sees that the loss of Beamer and his staff would have been much more destructive than Vick's early exit.

Having said that, let's take a look at page views and message board posts for the three days surrounding the Beamer saga and the three days surrounding the Vick saga.

Date

Page Views

MB Posts

Average Day

120,000

1,000

Sun, 11/26/00

280,141 (2)

1,966

Mon, 11/27/00*

606,637 (1)

4,424

Tues, 11/28/00

215,364 (7)

1,738

Tues, 1/9/01

238,481 (5)

2,167

Wed, 1/10/01

242,118 (4)

2,258

Thurs, 1/11/01**

248,598 (3)

2,294

* Beamer's press conference
** Vick's press conference

The number in parentheses next to the page view statistics tells you where that particular day ranks in the history of HokieCentral.com/TechSideline.com hit statistics. In other words, the six days shown represent six of the top seven traffic days of all time.

To boil it down, the Beamer storyline produced days ranked 1, 2, and 7 in page view traffic. The Vick storyline was responsible for the days ranked 3-5.

But the message board posts do not "track" with the page view statistics, because only one day of the Beamer saga -- Nov. 27th, with a whopping 4,424 message board posts -- had more posts than any given day of the Vick saga. All three days of the Vick story saw more than 2,100 posts, while only one of the days of the Beamer story did.

It appears that while fans were hanging on a thread with regards to the Beamer news, and therefore were hitting the site to get information, more people seemed to have something to say about the Vick news. That's understandable, because the story of a 20-year-old, not-ready-for-the-NFL sophomore having millions dangled in front of him, and subsequently deciding to leave school early, is complex and worthy of debate.

I presented the hit statistics here, and talked about the article here, because I thought you might find it to be of interest. But in the eternal circle of life that is college football, I have noticed that on the message boards, the talk of Vick has already died down, and speculation as to who the next quarterback is going to be is now going strong.

Hokie fans are nothing if not resilient. The current chatter about Grant Noel, Jason Davis, and a host of others who will compete for the starting quarterback job just goes to show that life does indeed go on.

See you next month.

-- Will

 

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