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What Virginia Tech's Playing For

The onslaught of Virginia Tech Redemption-Through-Football stories is well underway. On April 16, I was writing about basketball in the Verizon Center, while watching the same thing everyone else was watching. But I have no connection to Virginia Tech, and no connection to tragedy. If the Saints made people in New Orleans feel better last year, that's great, and I'm glad. If Hokies football makes people feel better, that's great. If Hokies volleyball or men's soccer or women's golf or the debate team makes people feel better, that's great too. That being said....

Why do we have to wring some sort of grandiose tales of societal healing out of sporting events? In what way does football provide comfort to the people who actually need to be comforted; say, the victims' parents? If any of my relations were ever struck by tragedy, how exactly would a four-yard run up the middle on second-and-eight make me feel better? Is it just the return to normalcy, the distraction? In which case couldn't this redemption come via any thousands of normal events: breakfast at the dining hall, or U.S. History 101, or the cross-country opener? Or is it because football provides the opportunity for group success in a sport people care passionately about? And if so, would an unsuccessful season thus make people feel worse?

For me--speaking hypothetically--it would make me want to flee the state if I saw my own family's tragedy being mixed into this stew of big-time athletics and ESPN coverage and national sports commentary urging everyone to cheer for the Hokies. I mean, cheer for better mental health treatment. Root for the parents whose kids died. Leave football games out of it.

Kurt Kragthorpe in the Salt Lake Tribune: "Virginia Tech should be everybody's second-favorite team this season, as the Hokies play their part in the healing process....Heavily favored over East Carolina, the Hokies will feel some pressure in an effort to honor the victims with their play."

The Baltimore Sun: "As much as jerseys and pads, the memory of that horrific day has become part of Virginia Tech's 2007 football story....Rather than try to run from it, the Hokies, a preseason top-10 pick by most prognosticators, say they've embraced their role as campus healers."

Dick Weiss: "Beamer is hopeful his preseason ninth-ranked team can be part of the healing process at this sports-crazed school. 'Tech people are looking for something good to rally around,' he told his team the night before the start of practice. Then he told them this: 'You have a chance to be America's team. People want to root for this team.'"

Savannah Morning News: "Football games in Blacksburg are more important than ever this season....'We've got to become closer, more united and more respectful of each other,' Beamer said. 'I think there's no better place to start than our football stadium, because in that stadium, everyone's got the same purpose.'"

Tom Dienhart: "Practice has started for college football coaches across the nation. But the first 40-yard sprint, monkey roll and jumping jack meant a little more to Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer. More than anything, the start of practice signaled another chance for the Tech campus and community -- the "Hokie family" as Beamer likes to call it -- to convalesce."

USA Today: "Virginia Tech is trying to recover from one of the worst tragedies perpetrated on a college campus. Bobby Bowden and son Tommy are trying to quiet critics at Florida State and Clemson, respectively." reasons to love college football: "Virginia Tech, where the season will begin in a moving fashion on Sept. 1, the first game at Lane Stadium since this spring's campus tragedy." A bit later on the list is Vanderbilt, "led by the criminally underrated Earl Bennett," and "the guaranteed offbeat yuks of a news conference from Texas Tech coach Mike Leach."

Really, I understand how people can get some comfort through some sort of group gatherings, but when recovering from a mass murder becomes another story line to be lumped in with the Bowdens attempting to quiet their critics or a criminally underrated wide receiver? Ick.

By Dan Steinberg  |  August 27, 2007; 3:39 PM ET
Categories:  College Football  
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