Wednesday, January 05, 2000

FSU gets trophy, but Vick steals show




BY PAUL DAUGHERTY
The Cincinnati Enquirer

img
Michael Vick ran for 97 yards and one TD and threw for 225 yards and a TD.
(AP photo)
| ZOOM |
        NEW ORLEANS — I can't explain it. Every play is a heart attack. Michael Vick drops back, and your pulse jumps forward. It's like reading Stephen King during a thunderstorm. He's a phenomenon, is all. Vick seems to have more legs than the rest of us. If you've got a better explanation, I'm listening.

        The Florida State Seminoles chased him everywhere Tuesday night. They'd have had better luck tackling a ghost. Vick was a 19-year-old whisper, a redshirt freshman missile in the fog.

        I don't know how he did what he did against the No. 1 team in the nation, even though I watched him do it. Of course, Vick had help. Ike Charlton ran some punts back forever. Andre Kendrick ran tough replacing the injured Shyrone Stith.

        But it was Vick's world out there Tuesday night. The Nokia Sugar Bowl was his show. He pushed his team from a 28-7 hole late in the second quarter to a 29-28 lead after the third. It was Vick's legs that left FSU's defense gasping, his feet that left them lunging, his courage that lifted the Hokies crowd and had them begging for more.

A night at the Improv
        The kid's game is strictly improv. You assume plays are called. You assume Vick's trying to run them. Virginia Tech does have an offensive coordinator in the booth upstairs, not a choreographer.

        But when the ball is snapped, Vick takes off. And then, who knows?

        If Vick weren't a football player, he'd be down in the French Quarter at Preservation Hall, bending trumpet notes.

        Even when Vick wasn't running the ball, FSU acted like he was. An option pitch to Kendrick in the third quarter resulted in an easy 29-yard TD scamper, because the 'Noles had Vick on the brain. That made it FSU 28, Vick 23.

        The next time Tech had the ball, Vick marched them right down the field again, rubber-legging it one play, completing a throwback screen the next. Kendrick bowled in from the 6, and Tech had the lead heading into the 4th quarter.

        When Tech had to have a touchdown to stay within praying distance of FSU in the first half, Vick scrambled 43 yards to the FSU 19. A few plays later, he scored on an option keeper. What had been a dark hole suddenly was a manageable 28-14 halftime deficit.

Dance fever
        Vick's improvising was good and bad for the Hokies Tuesday night, but always interesting.

        On their first drive of the game, the Hokies simply put a boot on FSU's neck. They marched from their 20 to FSU's 1 in a nine-play, statement-making crunch. On successive plays, Vick carried for 25 and 9 yards. Both were scrambles. Vick danced like Michael Jackson.

        Then, on 4th down from the 1, Vick fumbled into the endzone. FSU recovered. Early in the 4th quarter, Vick lost another fumble, at the Tech 34. FSU cashed in with a field goal to go back up by 10. These were the growing pains of a 19-year-old in the biggest game of his early life, trying to do it all.

        Vick even managed to overshadow FSU wideout Peter Warrick. All Warrick did was average 40 yards every time he touched the ball in the first half. Warrick scored on a 64-yard bomb and a 59-yard punt return. He iced the game with a circus TD catch in the 4th quarter. Warrick runs like water through your fingers. He is the best player in the country. But only the second best in the Sugar Bowl.

        After three quarters, Vick had run for 102 yards, a misleading number because it included the sacks he took, and thrown for 147. But it wasn't the numbers that jumped out, but the wire Vick walked play after play to achieve them.

        A reason I do this for a living is I still hold the childlike notion that every so often, I will see something I've never seen before. I could do this awhile longer and not see another game like the one I saw Vick have Tuesday.

        Congratulations to FSU, which was clearly the better team, and to Warrick, whose greatness found a deserving audience. But it was Michael Vick's stage. He danced on it.

        Paul Daugherty welcomes your comments at 768-8454.

Sugar Bowl coverage