Wide Right: Move the Practice
by Jeff Cockey, 10/23/03

Itís 11:41 Wednesday night, and if this makes any sense, I am just too emotionally exhausted to sleep. I have no idea what Iím going to write. This one is completely off the cuff. Frankly I donít know if Iím even going to send it in but I feel compelled to commiserate. I donít have a humorous bone in my body right now. There was absolutely nothing funny about our performance tonight. We were out-played, out-hustled, out-coached, and out-classed, by West Virginia. And now we are out of the Sugar.

I had a great column all lined up and ready to go. I had planned on sharing my best Sugar Bowl memories. I made the trip to New Orleans twice, the first in í95 and then in í99. I remember screaming incessantly at the Texas fans seated in front of us. So much so that my friend Aaron had to explain to the Superdome security guard that I had Tourette Syndrome and had forgotten my medication. They allowed me to stay, and I thought it wise to stop drinking my bourbon and coke until actually on said street later that evening.

I was ready to write about the second quarter of the í99 National Championship game when our seats were right on the stadium dividing line between FSU and Tech fans. I stood for the entire quarter right next to my father and wife (a Maryland and a UVa grad, gracious enough to cheer on our Hokies), enduring the "over-rated" chants with class and dignity, knowing that we were down but not out. Although we lost that game, and I my voice, the 4th quarter ticked off the clock with faces of garnet and gold shaking my hand as if I were the one wearing the #7 jersey. Win or lose, we earned respect that night.

I was going to write about that, but not now.

God I love this team. Iíve followed them from Blacksburg to New Orleans to Miami and Jacksonville. I havenít missed a game since I started attending that University Ė save for weddings Ė and through it all this hurts the most. Maybe because itís the most recent - as I write this, the wound is not even 2 hours old. Or maybe it is because, like my BoSox this year, I know how talented we are and I know the opportunity we just threw away.

I donít know if it was bad play calling; a lack of discipline; a case of looking ahead . . . I donít know and I really donít care. We underachieved Wednesday night in Morgantown and thatís why, this year, it hurts so much. This year, with our talent, it is our choice to win and Wednesday night we chose not to. I read a great post on the message board before the game, it said something along the lines of Ė if we are not a pretender, this game shouldnít be close. That post kind of put me at ease because I know we are not pretenders. But where is our ĎWí?

During the game I couldnít be in the same room with anyone else. I shut myself in the bedroom with the TV on and I rested in my bed. Ironic isnít it? I was in the exact same situation during the 11th inning of game 7 of the ALCS. How could this happen twice in one week?

I wanted to call somebody. I thought by sharing my misery it would somehow lessen the blow. I wanted to talk to someone, but I had nothing to say. I had no words for this. I dialed my friend Bog. Bog went to VT with me and I knew he would understand. He was feeling exactly the same way. The conversation went like this:

Me: Dude . . .
Bog: Yeah, I know . . .

That was it. No hello. No goodbye. Just that - followed by sixty solid seconds of complete, yet understanding, silence.

It was like I was watching The Ring, except Quincy Wilson was climbing out of the TV to burn my couch. I canít even explain the emotion Iím feeling right now as I write. There are no words. But you know. You love this team as much as I do.

I keep thinking about this one fall afternoon my senior year in high school. On the [football] practice field behind the school, I went up for a pass. The QB had thrown it too high and I just remember feeling the ball on my fingertips when Fred Richardson tattooed me at full extension. His shoulder pads went right through my rib cage. I opened my eyes to stars. I opened my mouth but found no breath. I couldnít speak save for a horrible wheezing sound that accompanied the ringing in my ears. I had never been hit so hard in my life, until maybe tonight. That is how I feel right now. We had this season on our fingertips, and like years past, I allowed myself to feel it. Nobody cried for me that day. Nobody asked me if I was OK. They knew Iíd be fine. I had the wind knocked out of me, thatís all. The only thing that Coach G. did was move practice fifteen yards to the right so the rest of the team could continue on while I lay there waiting to catch my breath.

As I type this column tonight that is what I fully intend to do. Move the practice fifteen yards to the right. We got the wind knocked out of us in Morgantown and it hurts. It hurts more than last year and the year before. But just like we couldnít afford to look past this WVU game to Miami, we most certainly can not dwell on it. Move the practice and continue on. Weíve got the Hurricanes blowing into town and last I checked itís all about pride now and Iíll take pride over sugar any time.


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