One of my favorite events of the year, particularly spring time is the annual Virginia Football Alumni Club reunion at Scott Stadium’s Bryant Hall.
While I didn’t get the opportunity to see some of the former great Cavaliers play, such as Tom Scott, Frank Quayle, Joe Palumbo and many more, it is through this event that I’ve gotten to know them over the years.
Former Wahoos quarterback Nelson Yarbrough got the club together 19 years ago with the cooperation of then UVa coach George Welsh and the program’s longtime assistant athletic director for football operations, Gerry Capone. The club has thrived ever since.
As Yarbrough will note, the club brings together all generations of Cavalier football players with receptions after every home game, then the spring weekend that features a golf tournament, the reception the night before the spring game, a dinner for upcoming Wahoo seniors at the Aberdeen Barn, and a get together in the president’s box at the spring game.
Having been a sportswriter all my adult life, I thought I had heard just about every line that a scribe could possibly hear until the most recent football reunion. Then again, one must consider the source.
I had just requested to interview one of the recipient’s of this year’s “Order of the Crossed Sabre” award, which goes annually to someone who has contributed greatly to Virginia football. Sometimes it goes to a coach such as Hall of Famer Welsh. Sometimes it goes to a player such as legendary Quayle.
More often than not, it goes to someone behind the scenes such as the late Dr. Frank McCue, or Carl & Hunter Smith, or former strength coach John Gamble.
Such was the case this year, when the award went to Dr. John Risher and Paul Wisman. If you read this paper regularly, you already knew those two gentlemen had been presented the award. What you perhaps didn’t know is what characters they are.
Getting back to the interview, I asked Dr. Risher what the award meant to him when he interrupted me with a suggestion.
“Why don’t we go sit down,” Risher said. “It’s not like I’m 101 anymore.”
Never heard that one before. But, I’ve never known anyone who is on the eve of becoming 103 years old either. Doc, the oldest living Cavalier football player, will be turn 103 on May 11. Personally, I hope there’s a special celebration for him somewhere.
As you may know, Doc has helped Wisman keep statistics in UVa’s press box for more than 50 years. Wisman, who like Doc, lives in Lynchburg, show up at nearly every home football, basketball, lacrosse and sometimes baseball games.
Wisman has actually been keeping stats at Virginia for 58 years, believed to be the longest streak in the country. He’s missed only one home game since 1946.
Not many people know this about Wisman, but this one fact alone would probably put him in any Wahoo sports hall of fame, if any existed. While most of today’s Cavalier fans consider Virginia Tech the chief rival, that wasn’t always the case.
Back from the beginning of sports at Virginia up until maybe sometime in the 1980’s or even ‘90s, most of the old Wahoo fans considered North Carolina to be the arch rival, and with good reason. UVa and UNC used to be two of the South’s best football teams and those gridiron battles were legendary, partly because of the fierce rivalry between the border states, partly because the game was most always played on Thanksgiving and was considered one of the biggest game in this part of the country for decades.
Keeping that rivalry in mind, Wisman has always gone to great lengths to prevent giving any assistance to UNC in any shape or form. To this day, throughout all his trips to and through the state of North Carolina, Wisman has never spent a penny in the Tar Heel state.
He will stop on the border and fill up with gas and/or food, just to make sure he doesn’t have to spend any money in North Carolina. No hotels or anything else that would result in him spending any money in that state. No, he’s not a cheapskate. He contributed a seven-figure donation to the renovation to Scott Stadium in the late ‘90s. He just doesn’t like UNC.
“I always figured if I spent any money down there that somehow part of it would end up filtering its way into helping North Carolina,” Wisman said with a serious grin.
I think he just earned that spot in every Wahoos’ own personal hall of fame.
Shifting from that topic to spring football aftermath, I’ve been approached dozens of times since the spring game and asked what is seemingly an annual question: Who is going to be Virginia’s starting quarterback?
Had someone asked me that prior to the beginning of spring drills, I would have predicted Phillip Sims, who owned a timeshare of the job late last season with Michael Rocco. With Rocco transferring to Richmond, it seemed the job was Sims’ to lose.
Well, at least reading between the lines, it seems to be Sims has done just that.
Personally, I don’t think he had a great offseason winter program and with him dropping to No. 3 on the depth chart was a signal from the coaches that he needs to bust his hump if he wants to be considered as a contend for the job when training camp begins in August.
Who do I believe will start the season?
Watford, you’ll recall, enrolled at UVa early a couple of years ago, played some as a true freshman and then redshirted last year when the program became logjammed at the quarterback position. Wouldn’t it be a neat story if Watford came back from that process as the starting quarterback?
From what I’ve been told, Watford has done everything the coaches have expected of him in the offseason and it showed in the spring.
What I like about the guy is that he can make things happen with his legs. Personally, I’ve always thought the best college quarterbacks are the guys who can run with the ball and still throw well enough to become true dual threats.
I’d much rather have that kind of quarterback in an offense than the classic dropback passer. My personal preference.
Anyways, I believe the job is Watford’s. Whether he will keep it for the entire season remains to be seen, just as much as whether Sims will come back more determined and in better shape.
Should be an interesting training camp.