Inside TSL: Hits, Misses, and a Box Full of Huddlers
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com
TSL Extra, Issue #23
Several of you have emailed me asking for a hit statistics update. Here's what's been happening lately.
First of all, as a reminder, I like to talk about "page views," not "hits." Hits are counted every time an image gets served up, or a script is run, or a page is delivered. For every article read once on the TSL web site by one person, up to dozens of "hits" are generated, which totally inflates the traffic figures, I think.
On the other hand, if a person reads an article, or a message board post, or calls up the home page, it generates one "page view." This is similar to reading one article of a magazine, or looking at a one-page advertisement.
So, for example, if a game preview I write generates 10,000 page views, then it has been pulled up on a computer 10,000 times. It could be anywhere from 10,000 different people reading it once to one person clicking "Refresh" 10,000 times on the same article.
What are the trends these days? As you can imagine, traffic is up. After all, the Hokies are 4-0, and people love to hit the site when the Hokies are winning.
When I look at the traffic statistics for fall of 2001, I realize what a double-whammy we were hit with. Traffic built nicely in August, and when coupled with a "TSL Extra Month" promotion that we ran, it created strong sales in TechLocker.com for August, for both merchandise and the TSL Extra.
Then came September 11th, and the bottom fell out. Traffic during the month was fair, but we were hit pretty hard in terms of sales. We had a miserable September 2001. With the national mood in the wake of the terrorist attacks, it was understandable that a lot of people took a step back from luxury and entertainment items like Hokie sports, TSL merchandise, and the TSL Extra.
September turned into October, and things were starting to get back to normal, as much as possible. Then in late October and early November, the Hokies suffered back-to-back losses to Syracuse and Pittsburgh, and things got ugly. Traffic stayed flat, and sales were mediocre.
The spirit of Hokie fans -- along with our traffic and sales -- was restored by the December 1 classic between the Hokies and Canes, the Gator Bowl matchup with Florida State, and football recruiting. In early February of 2002, we recorded the three craziest days in TSL history, when we went over 500,000 page views three days in a row, peaking at 606,691 page views on February 5th.
This football season has been good 'n' busy. We've been hitting 300,000+ page views with regularity, and the strong 2002 out of conference schedule, with the Hokies winning the first four games, has been good all the way around, in terms of national respect, Virginia Tech's ranking, and TSL's page views and sales.
It was three years ago, in early August of 1999, that I took the leap and decided to do this web site full time. Since then, I've had some rough days where I wondered if I made the right decision, and last September and October were two of my worst months ever, filled with the most self-doubt since I made that jump.
But I think we're going to be all right. I no longer wonder if this thing is "going to fly." We've still got a ways to go, and there are a lot of improvements we can make in many areas, but with your continued support, I think TechSideline.com is going to be around for a loooong time … much to the dismay of those who don't care for its existence.
The key, though, is continued growth, not just in traffic, but in the areas of sales, subscriptions, and sponsor support. So keep visiting the web site. If you've never shopped at TechLocker.com, other than to purchase your TSL Extra subscription, then give it a try and be amazed. After all, you get 10% off your purchase. If you've got friends who are thinking of subscribing to the TSLX but are sitting on the fence, push them off and make them sign up. Keep yourself familiar with TSL's sponsors, and if you need their services, give them a shot at getting your business.
If all that continues to happen, then when Frank Beamer retires at the age of 76 in the year 2022, and Bud Foster takes over as head coach, you'll hear about it first here at TechSideline.com.
The Column Heard Round the Virginias
Randy King really stuck his foot in it with his September 13th column, "Herd can't run with these Hokies," that ran in the Roanoke Times. King wrote the column the night of the VT/Marshall game, and it ran the next day. It was his commentary on the game (Aaron McFarling did the actual game recap), and he dragged out some West Virginia stereotypes that got him in trouble.
"The hillbillies of Huntington rolled in here hoping to have their own Hokie hoedown," he wrote. "Little did they know they would take a head-first dive into Lane Stadium's bone-dry cement pond."
Later on: "This thing was over before Granny could get the vittles fixed. The hog jowels [sic] were still cooking, the possum livers still a tad on the short side."
That was it for the duration of the column. King went on to talk football after that.
The outcry was immediate from Herd fans, Hokie fans, and West Virginia journalists. The Roanoke Times got letters of complaint, and on September 16th, Charleston (WV) Gazette writer Doug Smock fired back. "Um, anything you say, Randy. Reading 'possum' barbs from that neck of Virginia is kind of like hearing Roseanne Barr call you a fat slob."
Smock later added, "You’ll need a print copy to read King’s entire masterpiece. Mysteriously, the link on Roanoke.com has been disabled."
On September 20th, King, in his online VT Insider column, apologized. After apologizing, he talked about how it had been the longest week of his 30-year career, and he said, "As of Wednesday night, I had replied to approximately 100 e-mails I had received about my column (70 percent were critical of my effort) that have arrived in my Roanoke Times mailbox."
He added at the end that the Roanoke Times had pulled the plug on his short-lived column-writing career (King started doing columns this season and had written only four). He's still working at the RT, but he won't be doing any columns for a while.
Two days later, on Sunday the 22nd, Managing Editor Rich Martin of the Roanoke Times addressed the column in his own piece, called "Many call flag on column about game." Martin rehashed the whole thing and then issued a company apology, saying, "The newspaper's job is to break down stereotypes, though, not perpetuate them. We apologize for our offense."
What a mess. I know Randy King, and Randy's not a bad guy. He even took a shot at me in his VT Insider column once, but we talked about it later, and, I think, came to an understanding. I think we're different people, and we'll never be golfing and drinking buddies (I drink, but I don’t golf, that's for sure). But we get along okay, as far as I can tell.
The whole episode got me to thinking if there was ever a piece that I really regretted writing. I've stuck my neck out on columns a couple of times; it's rare, but I do it occasionally. And I have received emails of complaint, but never a firestorm, not one that bothered me to the point of making an apology. If I stick my neck out, it's usually over something I feel very strongly about and can back up with facts.
But that doesn't mean I haven't written stuff I wished I could take back.
One piece that I would like to take back is the one I wrote about Ahmad Brooks in last February's TSL Extra, issue #16. Brooks, of course, was the superstar high school linebacker who chose UVa over the Hokies and Tennessee.
In the TSL Extra article, I relayed some stories that my sources, some very good ones, had told me about Brooks' recruiting. I talked about how sources told me that Brooks was telling his friend D.J. Walton, a VT cornerback, that he was coming to Tech, and that he later told Frank Beamer that it was down to VT and Tennessee (with UVa being eliminated).
I passed some other stuff along and then relayed a Brooks quote from the Washington Post the day he committed to UVa, in which he said, "I kind of made my decision [to attend UVa] a couple months ago, I just didn't tell anybody. Everybody asked me where I was going to go, and I just basically told them a different school. I had to take all my visits to know that was really where I wanted to go."
I painted the picture of Brooks as a manipulator who misled people, and then I went after him. I wrote:
I will leave it to you to decide what you think of a young man who strings out his friends and recruiting coaches in that fashion. It's one thing to have your fun with the 15 million dot-commers that cover recruiting, but to lead on one of your best friends, making him look like a fool to everyone he talked to? "D.J. was very hurt," a source told me.
The odd thing is, if Brooks doesn't qualify (he currently doesn't have the SAT score he needs) and winds up at a prep school, it appears that the Tech coaches will recruit him again. "We'll make that call," one VT coach said at the Recruiting Rally at Boomer's on February 9th, indicating that the coaches will contact Brooks and see if he wants Virginia Tech to recruit him.
Fine, coach, just don't believe anything he tells you.
I've thought about that piece many times since then, and in the weeks following it, after watching some TSL message board posters repeatedly carve Brooks up on the TSL boards, I thought about the monster I had created. And I worried, mainly, that my piece had been inaccurate. After all, I wasn't there when Brooks supposedly said the things he said. I had never interviewed the guy myself. But based on what sources had told me, I painted a pretty unflattering picture of him.
I wondered, if I had it to write over again, would I?
But what's done is done, and fortunately, the piece was pay material that was read by about 1300 TSL Extra subscribers (our readership at the time), so it was somewhat insulated and not publicly available. Not like King's column.
Time went on, and then I interviewed Alan Wheeling last summer. Alan, of course, is the Pulaski County defensive back featured in TSL Extra #11, who desperately wanted to go to Tech but was never offered a scholarship and is now at William and Mary, playing football for the Tribe.
Alan played in the VHSCA All-Star game last summer, on the same West team that Brooks played on, so he got to meet Ahmad and spend time with him. And the image he relayed of Brooks was that of a nice, quiet kid who didn't buy into the whole star-football-player image and, if anything, might be a little unsure about what to do.
"He seems like one of those spontaneous guys, he just goes with the flow and he'll make the decision when he has to," Wheeling said.
Wheeling talked openly with me about many of the highly-ranked players who played in the game, some UVa recruits and some VT recruits, who weren't very nice to the more lightly-regarded players like Wheeling. They cut in front of Wheeling in line at meals and generally made asses of themselves, whooping it up and acting up, like they were king of the world.
But Brooks was different. "I think Ahmad was by far one of the best people down there, not only as an athlete, but as a person," Wheeling said sincerely. "Really a lot of people were showing a lot of attitude, but that was one thing Ahmad didn't do. He sat on the bus with me a lot, and we'd talk. He's a cool guy, and he'll talk with anybody. He didn't have anything against anybody. He didn't cut in line, and he didn't really act up."
On reports that Brooks might have misled people during his recruitment, Wheeling said, "I can see that about Ahmad. I don't know if he was really doing it on purpose. That's just his way of doing things. He changes his mind really easy. Maybe he's really vulnerable in that way. He seemed like that kind of guy, to do whatever comes to him."
Wheeling is a good kid, a kid I like and trust to be a good judge of character. He spent time with Ahmad, while I never did. And he drew a favorable conclusion about him. So maybe I was wrong, and if I could take back the things I wrote about Ahmad Brooks, I would.
Fortunately for me, my piece appeared to about 1300 people who were sympathetic not just to Virginia Tech, but to me personally. Not like Randy King's piece, which appeared in tens of thousands of copies of the paper, plus online (until they pulled it). So I didn't catch much heat about it. And really only one person let me know how much they disliked it.
The more cynical among you, the conspiracy-theorist types, might be thinking to yourselves, "Ah-ha! VT is recruiting Brooks, now that he's at Hargrave, and Will's taking back what he said, so he won't hurt VT's chances with Brooks!"
Uh, no. That's not it. As I said, I just watched the whole King debacle, and it set me to thinking if there was anything I wrote that I regretted. And the answer is: yes, that one piece. I'd take it back if I could.
A Box Full of Huddlers
Sometimes, being the TSL webmaster is a really cool job. How would you like to get this email?
Will, I haven't been in contact with you for over 4 years now, so I'm not sure if you even remember me. When you first started gearing up back in the mid to late 90s I helped out on a couple of tailgates, and brought you a bunch of old souvenir VT game drink cups, which were extras I had in storage. Now I have another freebie to offer if you're interested. Your degree of interest would depend on just when you graduated from VT and started saving Hokie Huddlers, I suppose.
When the Hokie Huddlers were first advertised in the mid 80s I subscribed right away. It came out at the end of the school year and Volume I only had one issue (large picture of Bruce Smith). After I got my copy, I liked it so well I decided to give my Dad a subscription also. He never got Vol I, Number I, but rather started at Vol II, number I.
My mother was like me in that she never threw anything away. After he passed away in August 1994 I cancelled his subscription. Since my Mom passed away in Feb 2000, I have been going through massive amounts of junk they managed to accumulate over the years. If I recall correctly, the box of Huddlers in the basement there are complete from 1985 through 1994, or 10 full years (does not include the only issue of Vol I).
Since we have been trying to get things in order, a lot of stuff has been donated to the church yard sales, given to the library or taken to the land fill. My wife asked what in the world I needed with a backup set of Hokie Huddlers, and to avoid just throwing them out I have been telling her I might offer them to you. Time has about run out for holding onto that box of Huddlers. Are you interested in them for reference material? My guess is that you were in high school about the time they came out, so you actually might not have copies of the ones in the 80s.
Wow, a complete run of Hokie Huddlers, from 1985 to 1994! I jumped all over it, arranged to meet my benefactor, and picked up the run of Huddlers from him. They are now neatly arranged, packed, and filed for reference underneath my desk.
They nicely complemented my own set of Hokie Huddlers, which run complete from 1996 through present day. I also have a number of issues from 1995, and sporadic, here-and-there issues from 1985, when I was in school, through present day. I went to Tech from 1983-87, and I kept about 15 "important" issues from the time the Huddler came out when I was in school until I started saving every issue in 1996.
I received the email and the gift of Hokie Huddlers back in April, and one night, I sat down with a vodka and orange juice and started to go through my new collection of Huddlers. I only got about one or two years into them before I quit, and I haven't "gone through them" since then.
I discovered that sometimes, your past shouldn't be relieved in perfect box-score detail. We often view our past in sepia tones, with the glow of nostalgia, and well, maybe it should be left that way.
It was a bit overwhelming to thumb through issue after issue that detailed the football and basketball seasons of my youth in excruciating detail. And it took some of the romance away. People always talk, for example, about how Cassell Coliseum rocked with capacity crowds back in the mid-80's but I discovered, just to pick an instance, that only 3,269 fans showed up for Tech's basketball game against Tennessee State back in 1986.
That takes a little bit of the glow off the memories, but then again, the basketball team did beat North Carolina A&T in 1985 in front of 9,723 fans. Yowza. So there's a lot of truth to that Cassell mythology of huge crowds.
I did enjoy a couple of things about flipping through those early issues. Number one, I enjoyed seeing pictures of and reading about my old friend Phil Williams, who played basketball for Tech from 1983-87. My overall impression of Phil's Tech career is that it was a little disappointing for me, because I expected big things of him, and he never starred for the Hokies. He was a bit player from 1983-86 and then finally started as a senior in the 1986-87 season.
In reviewing old issues of the Huddler, I think I was a little too demanding in my criteria for what constituted a successful career for Phil at Tech. In flipping through Huddlers, I found that during his senior year, he had a double-double in points and rebounds quite a few times. He wound up averaging 8.4 points and 8.0 rebounds his senior year, which wasn't a bad year. He nearly outscored Bimbo Coles (9.7 points per game) that year.
As an underclassman, Phil once scored 7 points and grabbed 7 rebounds in 15 minutes against WVU, and he once iced a road win at South Carolina by making four free throws in the final two minutes of a game. As a freshman, I saw him score the last five points of regulation against Tulane's John "Hot Rod" Williams to send a game into overtime. And in our junior year, he held UVa's Olden Polynice scoreless for almost an entire half in a Tech victory, by, as Phil once told me, "standing on his foot when he set up in the post."
My new collection of Huddlers also contains my favorite picture of Phil in action. It's from Volume 3, Number 17 (Dec. 24, 1985), and on the cover, there's a picture of Phil and Bobby Beecher double-teaming a WVU player who's going in for a layup. Never known as a leaper, Phil is pretty high in the air, coiled like a snake and ready to block the shot. His head is nearly grazing the bottom of the backboard. That's some pretty good hops for a guy who only had one dunk in his entire Tech career.
The second thing I found interesting about those old Huddlers is how much they talked about football and basketball players that the Hokies were recruiting. As an official college sports newspaper, the Huddler -- which these days goes by the awkward name "hokiesports the newspaper" -- is not allowed to talk about recruits until they have signed their letters of intent.
But the early Huddlers talked about unsigned recruits all the time. Some time around 1989, after openly discussing recruits for years on end, the Huddler suddenly stopped doing it.
I asked former Huddler editor Chris Colston last spring, at the Tech spring game, about how they got away with it for so long. Chris smiled broadly and shrugged. "We, uh, didn't know," he said. "Finally, after a long time, somebody came down from Sports Information and said, 'You know, you're not supposed to do that.' So we quit."
He kept grinning. I think Chris sold a lot of Huddlers with that recruiting info.
A sidebar: one basketball recruit those early Huddlers talked about was a Top-50 guard by the name of Delino DeShields. The Hokies eventually lost the recruiting battle for DeShields to Villanova University … where DeShields played baseball. He was drafted by the major leagues in 1987 and has been playing in the majors since 1990, with a career batting average of .268.
My new Huddlers are an awesome reference. They contain gobs of long-forgotten recruiting and player information, as well as more tidbits than I could ever hope to use in ten years of TSL Extra's.
But as a trip down memory lane … well, they're a little too black-and-white for me. I'll stick to the sepia-toned, faint recollections of my own memory. Everything's bigger and better that way.
See you next month.