By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
It would be one final indignation, that’s what it would be if Michael Vick were to beat out Geno Smith and win the starting quarterback job with the New York Jets.
This past week the scenario was set up for that possibility, the Philadelphia Eagles releasing Vick and the Jets signing the veteran quarterback to push, back up, or even beat out, their quarterback of the future.
But it was so much more than that for it was a renewal of the battle for the Black Diamond, a faceoff between the greatest quarterback Virginia Tech ever produced in Vick and arguably the greatest quarterback West Virginia ever produced in Smith.
This stretches far beyond the NFL for it goes into the heart and soul of both West Virginia and its neighboring state, Virginia.
See, in West Virginia you will find few who are considered more villainous than Vick, and the dastardly deed of dogfighting that sent him to prison only enhanced that view of this man who already had earned his spot as Public Enemy No. 1 in the hearts and minds of the Mountaineer faithful.
What he did to West Virginia was of such proportion that, in Blacksburg, it is known simply as “The Miracle in Morgantown.”
We take you back to that moment right now. The date was Nov. 6, 1999, a rather forgettable 4-7 season for West Virginia but one that allowed them to wear that underdog role they so often cherish when No. 3 Virginia Tech came to town, looking for a chance to win a national championship.
The stage already had been set for them. No. 2 Penn State already lost that day, leaving the door open. But the Mountaineers were slamming it in the Cavaliers’ face, leading 20-19 with 1:11 left when Vick ran onto the field to take over at his own 15-yard line.
As the teams set up on the field, the television camera came in close on WVU’s No. 8, wide receiver Khori Ivy, on the sideline, holding one finger up to the camera while shouting “Never give up! Never give up!”
Vick’s first play was an incompletion, one of 16 he would throw among 30 passes for 255 yards in the game. He followed that by rolling left for a completion that gave him a first down. Another pass followed, another completion, this one inbounds, the clock running, 45 seconds left as they lined up, Vick taking the snap and rolling to his right toward the sideline.
He seemed hemmed in, nowhere to go.
After the game, WVU senior tight end Anthony Becht would explain what he saw happening.
“He was looking like he was going to go out of bounds and we laid off and were going to let him run out of bounds and all of sudden he’s running up the sidelines,” he said.
Vick found a little seam, put on that burst of speed he was so famous for, cautiously tightroping his way down the sideline until cornerback Perlo Bastien pushed him out of bounds.
He had gained 26 yards. He had stopped the clock. He had reached field goal range, moving even closer with a short completion moments later and then spiking the ball, bringing placekicker Shane Graham onto the field.
Five seconds remained.
Mountaineer fans held the lead and their breath. They lost both a moment later as the field goal was true, the clock showing 0:00 and Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer began his walk across the field to shake hands with Don Nehlen.
What more could Vick ever do to West Virginia?
Years passed, as did Vick in the NFL, displaying his great talent but never recapturing that moment in Morgantown.
Now, he’s at the end, 15 years have transpired and he’s not the quarterback he once was but Smith is not the quarterback yet that he will be. Coach Rex Ryan has thrown open competition between his second-round pick in Smith and the newly acquired Vick.
Geno Smith says don’t sweat it, he isn’t giving his job up.
Why does he feel so strongly about it?
“My belief in myself,” Smith answered. “Knowing that I’m going to take every action possible to get better and to come into this season a better player; having a second year in (offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg’s) system and with (quarterbacks) coach David Lee and with Rex as the head coach is going to do wonders for not just myself but everyone on the offense.
“A lot of it is going to come down to production on the field. I just believe with the experience I’ve gained and the direction we were heading in as an offense and where I see myself as a second-year player, I just believe I’m more than capable of being the starter,” Smith added.
It’s not a gimme, though, not if Vick is healthy, which has been what’s held him back throughout his career because it seems the sidelines close faster in the NFL than they did that day in Morgantown.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.