Publish date:

Virginia had the last Word

Barry Word, that is, whose running led the Cavs past Georgia Tech

Virginia quarterback Don (Magic) Majkowski was echoing all the serious stuff most of his teammates were saying after they had dominated ACC rival Georgia Tech 24-13 on Saturday in Atlanta. Then he decided to be himself. "You know, that Black Watch didn't intimidate us one bit," Majkowski said with a sudden directness that made him smile. "I think our guys knocked that black stripe right off their helmets."

Such brashness is rare for Virginia's players, who tend to emulate the diplomacy of school founder Thomas Jefferson and the low-key manner of coach George Welsh. But Majkowski was proud that the Cavalier offense had handled the Ramblin' Wreck's Black Watch—six defenders who wear a Mr. T-width black stripe and a black GT on their gold helmets to let the opposition know they are Tech's best hitters. Further, the young Cavalier defense had held Tech scoreless for nine straight possessions. "I guess I'm just one of those guys whose confidence leaks out," said Majkowski. Sorry, Mr. Jefferson.

Since a 55-0 rout by Clemson on opening day last year, Virginia has gone 10-1-2, including a 27-24 Peach Bowl win over Purdue in the Cavs' first-ever bowl game. Clemson, against which the Cavaliers are 0-24, and Maryland, which Virginia last defeated in 1971, loom on the schedule. But if the Cavs' first defeat of Tech (they were 0-6-1) is any indication, the highbrow school with a laughable football past might just win its first ACC title.

Welsh scoffs at such talk. Of course, the 52-year-old coach lowballs everything, from his team's potential to his rating by insiders as one of the best coaches in college football. "I don't know if this is a good team," he said Saturday. "Ask me three or four weeks from now."

Welsh's biggest triumph has been getting his players to believe they can win. He didn't have much work to do with Majkowski, a strong-armed 6'2", 205-pound junior, who has thrown only three interceptions in his last 175 attempts. On Saturday, Magic completed 10 of 16 passes for 150 yards and one touchdown. He can run the option, sprint out or drop back with equal effectiveness. He can also high-jump 6'9" and play Johnny B. Goode on the electric guitar, as he did at Fork Union (Va.) Military Academy, where he was a guard on a basketball team that had North Carolina State's Chris Washburn at center. "Extremely versatile and a good leader," is the understated Welsh's assessment of Majkowski.

On Saturday, Majkowski, whose plays are called mostly by Welsh, was erratic, but he flashed hot early and put the game out of the reach of plodding Tech. In connecting on six of his first eight passes, Majkowski led Virginia to three touchdowns and a field goal on its first four possessions. By halftime, the Cavs had 297 total yards and were averaging more than 10 yards per play. Welsh called it the best half Virginia has played since he took over in 1982.

After Tech's Thomas Palmer kicked a 47-yard field goal to open the scoring, Cavalier senior tailback Barry (The Last) Word ran inside Jim Dombrowski, a monster left tackle, on Virginia's second play from scrimmage. He then outraced the secondary to complete a 79-yard touchdown dash. "We've run that play for eons," said Welsh. "No special reason it broke." Tech coach Bill Curry had a different reaction: "Our defense became comatose after that run."

Tech rallied behind All-ACC quarterback John Dewberry, who capped a nine-play, 79-yard drive with a five-yard TD pass that put the Ramblin' Wreck back in front 10-7. But on the next Virginia snap, Word, who finished with 188 yards on 17 carries in his first starting assignment, again ran The Wham. This time Word, a 6'2" 218-pounder who qualified for the 1984 Olympic Trials with a 13.89 time in the 110-meter hurdles, galloped over right tackle for 52 yards. Six plays later Majkowski scored from the three, and Virginia led 14-10.

After that the Cavalier defense took charge. The D had lost seven '84 starters, which prompted linebacker coach Tony Whittlesey to say, half jokingly, "If the offense scores 47 points a game, we'll be in there." But the Cavs didn't allow Tech within 40 yards of the goal line in its last nine possessions. A strong pass rush, particularly by sophomore end Sean Scott, led to three interceptions of Dewberry. "We don't want any names," said Virginia linebacker Charles McDaniel, mocking the Black Watch. "Just a good strong defensive unit."

Tech's D had bluster but was a bust as Virginia outhit and outhustled it all game. Word's impression of the Black Watch: "a bunch of slow big guys."

Welsh is familiar with the type, along with slow little guys. In nine years at Navy, where he suffered from a dearth of size and talent, Welsh called on all his skill to produce five winning seasons and three bowl appearances. When the Virginia job opened up, he ignored the Cavaliers' 90-207-3 record from 1953 through 1981 and moved to Charlottesville. Welsh brought six of his nine Navy assistants with him, along with a good supply of self-confidence. "I figured if I could do it at Navy," he says, "I could do it here."

After Welsh's first team went 2-9, the Cavs began to respond to his rugged practices and distant manner. "I've learned it's not important to care what the players think of me," he says. "It's only important that I coach in a way that's comfortable to me." Welsh went 6-5 in '83, 8-2-2 in '84, and now the Cavs are 2-0 and No. 16 in the SI poll. The depth of his leadership was proven when Virginia came back from that 55-0 loss to Clemson. "Everyone respects Coach Welsh," says Dombrowski, who was named the ACC's top blocker in '84. "When he told us after Clemson that he still believed we had the talent to win, we believed him."

Says Curry about Welsh, "He's honest, and he's won at two places where it couldn't be done. It's awful to look across the field on Saturday and see Welsh standing there. George Welsh can beat you with his brain."

Of course, it also helps if you have a touch of Magic and the last Word.



When Word wasn't rambling through the Wreck's much-heralded Black Watch defense, junior tailback Howard Petty was sailing over it.



As Cory Collier (25) learned, Tech should have been watching out for the Cavs' young D.



Majkowski's three-yard scoring run in the first quarter put Virginia ahead for good.