The Mad Stork and the '67 Hokies
By Bill Floyd, 5/14/01

The most dominating college football player I ever saw played in perhaps the most important game in Virginia Tech football history. And Frank Beamer was right there, at field level, in the thick of things, as usual. But he wasnít wearing his game-day coaching cap. The game was played in Blacksburg and the opponent was the University of Miami. And no, Iím not talking about 1999 or Michael Vick. The year was 1967 and the player was a Miami linebacker named Ted Hendricks. . And Beamer was in our defensive backfield, which proved to be the closest thing to heroes the Hokies could muster that day.

Miami that year had been ranked as high as No. 1 preseason by Playboy Magazine - which in those days was probably the most closely followed preseason poll. Back then, Look Magazine was the primary reference source for All-Americans (Bob Hope would introduce the team on National TV) and AP and the coaches poll (published then by UPI) were the major in-season and post season rankings. There were only a handful of bowl games and it took a darn good team to get to one. The polls showed the top 10 teams and "others receiving votes".

Tech football in those days was generally relegated to the second tier of college football, and the school was desperately trying to get into the big leagues. The Hokies were an independent then, just a couple of years removed from the Southern Conference. Tech's biggest game most years, from a national perspective, was Florida State. They had only been playing football for 15 or so years but had built up a program that already had a national reputation and was usually at or near the top 10. Just the year before, we had knocked them from the top 10 by beating them 23-21 in our homecoming game.

Jerry Claiborne was our head coach and he had three things he believed in when it came to football: (1) keep the other team from scoring; (2) donít turn the ball over; and (3) win the battle of special teams (all three, especially this third part, made an obvious impression on Beamer). We played "three yards and a cloud of dust" offense, a wide tackle six defense, and helluva good special teams play. Our best offensive weapon was the fourth down - - i.e., punt. We were often ranked in the top ten nationally in defense under Claiborne, but that was about it.

We still played Richmond, William and Mary (affectionately known to the fans then as "Ozzie and Harriet" after a popular TV show about the perfect family) and even VMI. In fact, the VMI-VPI game as it was known was the height of the season to many students and it was always the last game and usually was played at a neutral site in Roanoke (Lane Stadium was just getting to be a place that could seat a crowd approaching 50,000 - it amazes me that it has just recently begun to grow again -significantly - a few seats have been added since then, but not many - after almost 35 years).

But back to the game. Miami was ranked fourth coming into the game, which was our eighth of the season. They had been upset earlier in the year by, I believe Notre Dame, but it may have been Penn State. Regardless, it was a recognized power and they were still near the top. We were 7-0 and on the verge of breaking into the "top 10" for the first time ever! So it was a big, big game. A "name" opponent, in Blacksburg, was a super rarity in those days.

I was sitting in my usual seat in the far rear of the East Stands that was reserved for students that were late to rise on game-day Saturday mornings, and thus got there after all the better student seats were taken. There was no assigning of students to particular seats, and you didnít have to have a ticket - just an ID card - the stadium had NEVER been filled, so seating was always there for the taking.

Miami took the field and their helmets seemed to dominate the field. They wore the solid gold ones, similar to what Notre Dame uses, but seemed to be much, much brighter. I only saw ND once in person, and that was at South Carolina in Ď76, but their helmets certainly didnít seem to glisten as much as Miamiís did that day in 1967.

Miami had a very solid team, but I only remember Ted Hendricks. At 6í 7" or more, he was a monster. He even dwarfed the rest of the Miami team, and from my perch high above the field, made them look like little kids with a grown-up mixed in. He lined up in the middle of their backfield and on each play it looked as if he just grabbed all 11 of our players and then spat out the one with the ball. He seemed to be in on every play. My memory of the statistics is that we had a net minus 2 yards total offense for the game.

Our quarterback, Al Kincaid, a Bear Bryant hand-me-down that Claiborne had recruited on the advice of his mentor, was seldom allowed to pass. By hand-me-down I mean he was a player good enough to get Bryantís attention but not good enough to get an Alabama scholarship, so Bryant told Claiborne, his top protťgť, about these guys - there were several over the years. I donít remember a single pass play by Tech in the game. Rumor had it that it was because of a sore arm, but I think Claiborne just did not like to throw the ball at all. Claiborne would later let Don Strock sit on the bench for almost his entire sophomore year (freshmen werenít eligible then) rather than play a passing quarterback. Strock went on to set more than one Tech and NCAA record for passing and may well be the greatest backup player in the history of the NFL. He had the misfortune (or perhaps fortune - he retired after a long career in rather good physical shape) to play behind two of the top five quarterbacks in NFL history in Bob Griese and Dan Marino.

Miami moved the ball fairly well between the 20ís but our defense was rock solid, playing most of the game, as the offense just couldnít get anything going. Miami, despite our inept offense, managed just 14 points. As had been the case almost all year, our special teams outscored the offense that day.

Our only score came on a punt return by Consensus All-American Frank Loria, our free safety and punt return specialist. If you think the cheers that went up for big plays during the last two years were wild, you just had to be there to believe the noise the crowd made when Frank returned that punt. And it wasnít his first touchdown that season. Loria wasnít big enough to play pro ball, but what he lacked in size he made up for in determination. The Hokie fans (actually, back then we mostly called ourselves Tech fans - Hokie was still a somewhat derogatory term used more by ĎHoos than us) just came to expect him to make the big play, and he seldom disappointed.

This punt return was more important than just 7 points, too. Miami had the momentum and the game could have gotten ugly, score-wise. But the punt brought the crowd back into the game. I donít remember the exact timing, but this was about the time one of our fans on the sidelines "stole" the little pea-shooter Miami carried around as a cannon. It was about two feet long and made a rather loud "pop" whenever they scored, as compared to our full-sized field artillery that sat right off the end-zone grass in those days Theirs ended up sitting on the top wall of the East stands before a reluctant gendarme retrieved it for them.

As for Hendricks, he went on to become a legendary player for the Colts, Packers and especially the Oakland Raiders. Most any historical All-NFL team would have him among the starters or at least on the second team. More about him can be found at:

http://sportsline.netscape.com/u/football/nfl/thendricks.htm

Earlier in that same year, we had one of my most memorable moments in sports and it also involved Frank Loria. We were playing Villanova (in those days, there was no 1A or 1AA - just division 1 and Villanova played on the same level as Tech). This game had been a real struggle. For three quarters we battled to a scoreless tie. Then we got a field goal. In the waning minutes, Villanova lined up for the tying field goal attempt. It wasnít a long one - maybe 35 yards - but the ball hit the cross bar and bounced back. Frank Loria, being the determined athlete he was, covered it and caught it off the crossbar, and turned up field. As he avoided one tackler after another, he missed one just entering from the sidelines. The Villanova special teams coach tackled Frank then and there. Of course, the ball was a dead ball anyway, but I will never, ever, forget the coach just losing it and bringing Frankie down! It was the first thing that came to my mind when Woody Hayes slugged the Clemson player in the bowl game many years later.

Loria went on to become an assistant at Marshall University and unfortunately, was on the plane that crashed on November 14, 1970, taking the lives of most of the team and coaching staff, as well as some Marshall University boosters. More on that tragic crash can be found at:

http://members.aol.com/jeff570/marshall.html

Now we get to the point of this whole story. It is important for all of us to remember we are ALL Hokies and we share a long and rich history. Sometimes, we make postings to the Hokie Central Website (now known as Techsideline.com) and rather than appreciate this fact, some tend to get aggravated at some of us infrequent posters who "donít seem to know a lot". Some of us old-timers know a lot more than the frequent posters ever thought of knowing about Hokie football. I made a couple of rare posts after the spring game which seemed to go basically ignored. I didnít understand why until I read the recent article by Will called "Herding Cats." So, I decided to write this in hopes that maybe I could contribute something that the newer fans might find enlightening. I will continue to infrequently post my opinions on the Football Board - and people can continue to ignore them, but just know that they are coming from somebody who has been following Tech football for a long, long time and does know quite a bit about the game.

For those that got this far, Iíll tell the rest of the story of the 1967 season. It reminded me a lot of what happened in 1998 to Clemson. A highly regarded program has a bad game and then falls apart. Even though losing to # 4 by 14-7 doesnít sound like a bad game, Techís spirit was broken, just as Clemsonís was when we pummeled them 37-0 in their second game of 1998 at the field Frank Howard built . That game (Clemson - 1998) was probably the most enjoyable Tech game I have witnessed in person - even topping the 1999 Boston College game which clinched the Sugar Bowl. But, back to 1967. The next week in Tallahassee we lost easily to Florida State 38-15 in a game we were favored to win but that wasnít even close, and then we proceeded to lose the season finale 12-10 to a VMI team we had beaten the year before 70-12.

Now, why did I start out by saying this game, which was a downer for the fans, teams and coaches, was perhaps Techís most important ever? Several reasons.

It was a very coincidental replay of our 1966 Liberty Bowl Game loss to Miami. This gave us two close games with a real national power (not counting Florida State, who for then at least, we were sort of a nemesis).

It showed we could draw a national opponent to Blacksburg.

It showed we could play at a National level.

It showcased our first Consensus All-American Frank Loria, and perhaps was the deciding factor in a lot of votes he got for that honor.

It had a lot to do with our eventual rivalry with Miami and the formation of the Big East Football Conference many years later, which believe me, is the only reason we are even here to have this talk. Without the Big East, we would still be a refuge from the Metro Conference by way of the Southern Conference, and we would have had less chance than Texas Christian had last year of even getting to watch the National Championship on TV, let alone playing in it.

But most important, it raised the level of consciousness of Tech fans like nothing before Michael Vick. Without this game, Claiborne might have retired at Tech. And neither he nor Tech might ever have risen to the same level of greatness in college football. A couple of seasons later, as we were still seemingly mired in the shadow of this game, Tech fired Claiborne. This was a blessing, in my opinion, for both him and the school.

Claiborne spent one year as defensive coordinator at Colorado, where they had their best season ever (up to then) and he saw a great offense in action as well. This offense (he publicly acknowledged it at the time) made a lasting impression on him. Never again would his teams be so one-dimensional He was such a great coaching talent, it took only one year for Maryland to pick him up as head coach. He took Maryland from mediocrity to the top of the ACC and then headed to his alma mater, Kentucky, where he took an absolutely dismal program (think Duke or Wake Forest today) to be a respected opponent in the SEC. And he took himself to the College Football Hall of Fame. And Tech, after a couple of false starts, brought in Bill Dooley from North Carolina, who began our current climb to the top rungs of College Football. While there were some negatives under Dooley for sure, he forever changed the expectations of the Hokie fan.

Today, we are extremely lucky to have a head coach of Frank Beamerís caliber. Since Tech is his alma mater, and since Claiborne would have possibly retired from Tech (had he still been here) roughly the time Beamer came on the scene at Tech, fate might have prevailed anyway, but it is highly unlikely our football fortunes would have taken as favorable a path had it not been for the tough loss in the eighth game of the 1967 season.

And nothing in here is meant to disparage Vick or anything he accomplished. He is undoubtedly the most important, if not the greatest player, in Tech history. I think he will truly be one of the all time greats in the NFL and I certainly can understand the math of playing for $62 million versus free tuition. But I still have never seen any one performance in anything , let alone football, that was so dominating as Ted Hendricks that day. And my most memorable moment as a fan is still watching Frankie Loria return that punt.

          

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