I remember sitting in my basement room listening to CBS radio announcers Ron Franklin and Mike Gottfried trying to describe what was happening in front of them. They were dazzled by the developing athletic performances from both teams and struggled to depict the plays with due justice.
As a Seminole fan—at the time—I remember yelling, “This guy is killing us!”
Well, “that guy” was a young, redshirt freshman that helped lead a Virginia Tech football team to their first undefeated regular season since 1954 and third overall.
In that National Championship game on Jan. 4, 2000, VA Tech found themselves pitted against a college football giant: Florida State.
Bobby Bowden’s program was notorious for gifted athletes and hard hitters. Besides that, they owned the decade: FSU had the most National Championship appearances and top five finishes in the 1990’s.
But, before this game, there was a season.
A season where the nation was captivated by a young, but composed, quarterback named Michael Vick.
A season where Vick danced all over teams, earning Big East Player of the Year honors, finished as a first team All American player (Sporting News) and joined Herschel Walker and Clint Castleberry as the highest-finishing freshmen in Heisman voting history.
Let’s take a look back at that magical year in Blacksburg—long before the "Bad Newz" Vick would later face.
In his first start, which was Virginia Tech’s 1,000th game, Vick had three spectacular scores, including a play that is simply known as “the Vick flip.”
He sat for the majority of the second half versus JMU due to injury and would miss the next game against UAB.
VT cruised in the win against the two cupcakes 47-0 and 31-10.
Vick’s second start proved to be the only game in the regular season where he showed his youth. However, Tech boasted the nation’s top defense coming into the bout against Clemson.
The unit continued to impress, scoring back-to-back defensive TDs, to seal the game.
Offensively, Vick struggled—throwing three interceptions and only accounting for 129 combined yards.
He bounced back the next week against in-state rival Virginia.
No. 7 opened up the scoring in the Commonwealth Cup by hitting No. 88 Andre Davis on a perfect toss for a 60 yard TD just 5:45 into the first quarter.
He finished the game passing the ball only nine times but completed seven of those passes for 222 yards and the one TD. Vick also added 40 yards on the ground eluding UVA defenders left and right.
Ranked No. 8 nationally, the Hokies took care of the No. 24 Cavaliers by a score of 31-7. The Hokies jumped up to No. 5 in the polls following a Texas A&M and Florida loss and vaulted over Tennessee’s one loss team with the win, improving to 5-0.
Their next opponent was Rutgers and this can be considered Vick’s coming out party.
The freshman got to work early, tossing a 74 yard TD bomb to his favorite deep threat, Davis, on the first play of the game. He continued to go 5-5 for 166 yards and added 20 yards on the ground before his first incompletion.
That incompletion ended up being his only one in the game, as Vick finished 11-12, 248 yards with four TDs and 68 yards plus another score on the ground.
The Syracuse defense was supposed to be the biggest challenge yet for Vick but the Tech defense took center stage. The nation witnessed a gobbling defense holding the No. 16 ranked team to under 120 total yards, while forcing five turnovers resulting in the largest victory ever recorded against an AP poll ranked team.
Vick ended up with 135 yards passing and a TD and didn’t have to play the fourth quarter as Tech squeezed the Orange 62-0.
In the bye week, Nebraska lost to No. 18 Texas propelling the Hokies to No. 3 in the BCS and the AP. Vick and the Hokies were exuding confidence heading to Pittsburgh.
In a rough start to his outing, Vick was sacked and fumbled on their first offensive drive. However, the resilient quarterback responded by taking his option keeper, 46 yards to the house, in their second offensive possession. They jumped out to a 27-0 point lead and coasted to victory, 30-17 with Vick offering 240 yards of total offense.
Not much to say about the rivalry game for the Black Diamond Trophy—I was speechless (don't worry they make the kick.)
Against No. 19 Miami, the freshman was held somewhat in check by the speedy “U” defense that boasted future NFL players Dan Morgan, Nate Webster, Phillip Buchanon, and Ed Reed.
Ed Reed had an exceptional game shadowing Vick, while his ballhawking nature and hard hitting style of play energized the Hurricane defense.
In the third quarter, the fabulous frosh ripped off a jaw-dropping 45 yard scramble: A third and 11 conversion that perhaps broke the defense even though it didn’t lead to any points (Shayne Graham missed 45 yard FG.)
A punt return and a fumble recovery both returned for fourth quarter TDs prevented any threat from the Hurricanes.
In back to back games, Vick showed he was in top form with his dominance versus Temple at the Vet and then shredding BC by tossing for 290 yards and three scores including 69 and 59 yard bombs that both went to Davis for six.
The quarterback also rushed for 118 total yards and a score against the Eagles but was sacked five times reducing him to a net gain of 76 yards.
Going into the matchup against the Seminoles in New Orleans, Vick was playing in a league of his own.
Gaining more points in each subsequent week of balloting, Vick finished third in the voting for the Heisman.
He ended the regular season as the nation’s top rated passer. The freshman completed 90 of 152 passes for 1,840 yards and 12 touchdowns and ran for 585 yards and eight more touchdowns.
The young phenom then shifted his attention from the Downtown Athletic Club in New York to game day in New Orleans.
No. 7 played brilliantly in the FSU game, leading his team from a 21 point deficit to take the lead from the Seminoles 29-28 going into the fourth quarter.
Vick was dancing all over the Superdome’s turf doing his best to shake tackles, juke defenders, and avoid the aggressive pressure the FSU defense put on the outmatched Hokie O-line.
On one Vick scramble, he avoids a certain sack, spins around and breaks loose for a 60 yard gain that still takes everyone’s breath away.
Although he lost one of his favorite receivers prior to the game, Vick had one of the most memorable performances in Sugar Bowl history. Using screen plays, option and draw plays to pull in the fast, aggressive defenders, allowed the quarterback to amass 225 yards passing and 145 yards gained–resulting in a 97 yard net total after the sacks.
It was overshadowed by the only guy in the country that year who could keep up with Vick: Peter Warrick.
Proving to be the difference, Warrick accounted for 20 points himself in the game—a Sugar Bowl record as the ‘Noles went on to win 46-29.
PHOTO: Courtesy SI Vault
Vick offered some of the year’s best highlight reels. However, he contributed more than just the highlights, the records, the stats, the hardware and perfect season—he put Virginia Tech on the map.
He excelled in the quarterback spotlight during this teams’ unprecedented rise to national prominence.
Teammate and All American Senior Corey Moore said it best before the title game, “People are going to want to come here to play with Michael Vick. Heck, I wish I had another year!”
This is why I consider Michael Vick to be the best freshman of all time.
Freshmen have undoubtedly played a huge role in college football over the years. Castleberry, Peacock, Herschel, Dorsett, Faulk, Clarett, Peterson, Crabtree, Bradford, Maclin, Pryor were all phenomenal freshman, but none did more to lift their school’s program than Michael Vick for Virginia Tech—particularly that magical 1999 season.