When Virginia Tech hosts Boston College this Saturday, they will honor the team from 1999 that forever changed the expectations of people in southwestern Virginia.
The summer of 1999 in Blacksburg found a quiet optimism, but certainly no one expected the season to follow.
The Hokies lost three games in 1998 by a combined 10 points. The first loss came at home to Temple, nearly a five-touchdown underdog coming in. The other losses saw Tech get out to big leads against Syracuse and Virginia, only to see them evaporate in the second half thanks to future NFL quarterbacks Donovan McNabb and Aaron Brooks.
Despite the setbacks, the Hokies finished the season on a high note with a 38-7 victory over Alabama in the Music City Bowl.
Everyone knew there were some great pieces in place coming into 1999.
The defense was dominant, returning All-American defensive ends Corey Moore and John Engelberger. Linebacker Jamel Smith was another All-American and a rock in the middle and corner Anthony Midget gave defensive coordinator Bud Foster yet another All-American to work with.
The big question was the offense, particularly the quarterback position where a redshirt freshman would be called on to lead Virginia Tech.
That quarterback was Michael Vick who burst onto the scene in the season-opener against James Madison.
The game marked the 1,000th football game played by Virginia Tech, a fitting landmark at the beginning of what would come to be known as the greatest season in Hokies’ history.
Vick played only about 20 minutes in his first collegiate start, completing 4 of 6 passes for 110 yards and rushing 4 times for 54 yards and 3 touchdowns before attempting to leap over a defender and getting flipped head over heels into the end zone.
Vick landed awkwardly which resulted in a contusion of his left leg. The performance was a harbinger of the high-risk, high-reward style that would define his career.
With Vick out for Tech’s next game with UAB, the Hokies turned to backup Dave Meyer and some good old-fashioned trickery.
Meyer threw a 41-yard touchdown pass, but struggled with three interceptions on the day. So, with the Hokies leading just 17-10 early in the fourth quarter, Meyer handed off to second-string tailback Andre Kendrick who ran right, pulled up, and lofted a 35-yard touchdown pass to Andre Davis sealing what would end up a 31-10 victory.
Next for the Hokies would be a Thursday night home tilt with the Clemson Tigers where the Tech defense would assert itself.
Leading just 14-11 with five minutes remaining, Shayne Graham kicked a field goal to give Tech a 17-11 advantage. On Clemson’s next drive Corey Moore hit Tigers quarterback Brandon Streeter and his errant pass was picked off and returned for a touchdown by corner Ike Charlton.
The next drive saw Moore’s defining play of the year. He exploded around the line nearly untouched, hit Streeter stripping the ball and picked it up and returned it 32-yards for the game-clinching touchdown.
The Hokies next put together blowout wins over Virginia and Rutgers before what was expected to be their first conference test at home against No. 15 Syracuse.
Tech passed the test with flying colors with a masterful effort on offense, defense and special teams, crushing the Orangemen 62-0, setting a record for the largest shutout victory of an AP top 25 team in the process.
The Hokies hit the road for a hard-fought but comfortable 30-17 win over Pittsburgh, then it was off to play West Virginia for the game that would define the season.
Prior to kickoff, word filtered through the college football world that No. 2 Penn State had lost at home to Minnesota. If the No. 3 Hokies beat West Virginia, they would be in ideal position to play in the BCS Championship game in the Sugar Bowl.
The Mountaineers however had other ideas. Battling the entire game, even after losing starting quarterback Marc Bulger, West Virginia clawed their way back, and after two Brad Lewis touchdown passes led the Hokies 20-19 with under two minutes remaining.
Tech took over at their own 16-yard line. Vick then began completing passes.
First it was a 16-yard completion to freshman Terrell Parham followed by a 9-yard hookup with Ricky Hall.
On 2nd and 1 Vick was flushed from the pocket and with no open receivers took off. Just when it appeared he was headed out of bounds, Vick burst up the sideline surprising defenders with a 31-yard gain to the Mountaineer 36.
Vick then hooked up one more time with Hall, hurried to the line, and spiked the ball with five seconds left.
That set the stage for Shayne Graham who calmly trotted on the field for a 44-yard field goal attempt. The kick went up and perfectly split the uprights as time expired cementing a 22-20 win and completing what has become known as the “Miracle in Morgantown.”
After that finish, there was the small matter of No. 19 Miami back in Lane Stadium.
After falling behind 10-0 in the first quarter, the Hokies forced 6 turnovers and scored 43 unanswered points to defeat Miami for the fifth consecutive season.
After the huge win Tech posted a 62-7 thumping of Temple and took care of Boston College 38-14 to finish off a perfect 11-0 regular season.
And with that, the Hokies were bound for New Orleans and a spot against No. 1 Florida State to decide the national championship. Tech was a certain underdog, armed with a fleet-footed quarterback and a suffocating defense. The Seminoles had been ranked No. 1 all season with 29-year-old Heisman-trophy winner Chris Weinke at quarterback.
With Tech down 14-0 in the first quarter they indeed looked outmatched. Just before the quarter ended however, the most prolific combination in Hokie history hooked up again. Michael Vick flicked his left wrist and found Andre Davis for a 49-yard touchdown pass.
The Hokies would again trail 28-14 at halftime and appeared on the brink of getting blown out of the Superdome.
The third quarter saw a furious Hokie rally. Shayne Graham kicked a field goal, then Andre Kendrick scored on touchdown runs of 29 and 6 yards giving the Hokies a 29-28 lead in the national championship game.
That was as close as Tech would come to hoisting the national championship trophy. FSU took over the fourth quarter and wideout Peter Warrick landed the final blow with a 43-yard touchdown reception to make it a 46-29 Seminole victory.
Virginia Tech was 11-1, champions of the Big East conference and finished ranked No. 2 in the nation.
The results were almost impossible to imagine before that. Tech was just 7 seasons removed from a 2-8-1 record and suddenly they were playing for the national championship.
Since 1999, the Hokies have been in the hunt for BCS glory many times, including this year. That team laid the foundation for the football powerhouse that Frank Beamer has continued building.
School applications and admissions have consistently risen. New practice and workout facilities have been constructed and Lane Stadium has expanded several times adding tens of thousands of suites and luxury boxes galore.
And it all started with a magical ride in 1999.