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Sports time capsule: What would have gone under The Diamond in 1984?
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Sports time capsule: What would have gone under The Diamond in 1984?

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There is, reportedly, a time capsule underneath the Robert E. Lee statue on Monument Avenue, placed in 1887, with dozens of encased items. If this were a sports thing, The Diamond, a community facility, would seem Richmond’s right place.

Those who planned the ballpark on Arthur Ashe Boulevard were too rushed to think about time capsules through the winter of 1984-85. The Atlanta Braves warned that their intention was to move their Triple-A team from Richmond if Parker Field was not promptly replaced.

It was, in a remarkably short time, for $8 million. The wrecking ball bashed Parker Field’s stands the day after the Richmond Braves’ final game of 1984. On April 17, 1985, the R-Braves played their home opener at The Diamond.

Had there been a capsule embedded in The Diamond’s foundation with memorabilia to reflect sports happenings of that time around Virginia college athletics, what may have been included?

VUU game ball

The Virginia Union University women’s team won the 1983 NCAA Division II national championship and finished as the national runner-up in 1984. These were tremendous accomplishments under any circumstances, and VUU’s two-year run was distinguished by the fact that coach Lou Hearn did not recruit in the traditional way.

Hearn never saw any of his players perform in high school. Instead, he depended on recommendations from VUU alumni and friends. The only financial aid his players received was based on need.

One of the stars, Paris McWhirter, took 83 warm-up shots before games in 1983, and ’84 when the calendar flipped.

McWhirter declined to speak with reporters during 1983 until the championship was captured because she didn’t want to jinx the season.

During its two trips to the playoffs in Springfield, Mass., VUU picked up many new fans drawn by the sportsmanship and entertaining style of Hearn’s teams.

Bruce Smith’s jersey

Virginia Tech’s pass-rushing Sack Man won the 1984 Outland Trophy, annually presented to college football’s top interior lineman. Smith didn’t play the sport until his sophomore year at Norfolk’s Booker T. Washington High. As a senior, he made all-state.

At 6-foot-4 and 280 pounds, Smith blended terrific athleticism, size and strength. At Virginia Tech, he was an All-American in 1983 and 1984, and then played 19 NFL seasons. Smith was inducted to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.

Virginia’s glass slipper

Behind guards Othell Wilson and Ricky Stokes, Virginia struggled during the 1983-84 regular season, going 6-8 in an ACC that featured junior Michael Jordan at North Carolina.

UVA played a demanding schedule, and lost six regular-season games by 6 or fewer points. The NCAA tournament selection committee recognized that and included Virginia as a No. 7 seed in the East Region, though only 53 teams qualified in 1984.

Virginia won close NCAA tournament games on its Cinderella run, beating Iona 58-57, Arkansas 53-51 (OT), Syracuse 63-55 and Indiana 50-48 before falling to Houston’s Phi Slamma Jamma team 49-47 (OT) in the national semifinals at Seattle’s Kingdome.

Terry Holland’s staff included assistant coaches Jim Larranaga and Dave Odom, and graduate assistants Seth Greenberg and Jeff Jones. Each later became a successful Division I coach.

Dick Tarrant’s clipboard

Tarrant assumed control of the University of Richmond basketball program in June of 1981, and the Spiders began taking off during the 1983-84 season, when they won the ECAC South and finished 22-10. With star forward John Newman, UR made the NCAA tournament for the first time in 1984, and as a No. 12 seed sent Charles Barkley and Auburn home.

From 1981 to 1993, Tarrant led the Spiders to a 239-126 record, eight 20-win seasons, four Colonial Athletic Association championships, five NCAA tournament appearances and four trips to the National Invitation Tournament.

A UVA peach

Virginia’s first trip to a bowl game came in 1984. The Cavaliers played in the Peach Bowl on New Year’s Eve and beat Purdue 27-24. Coach George Welsh’s team was versatile on offense with quarterback Don Majkowski, running backs Howard Petty and Barry Word, and fleet receiver John Ford.

Virginia finished 8-2-2, tying Georgia Tech and North Carolina. Virginia was ranked No. 17 by The Associated Press in its final poll that year.

VCU’s blue collar

The Rams won the 1984 Sun Belt Conference regular-season championship (with Old Dominion finishing second) behind forwards Michael Brown and Mike Schlegel, and guards Rolando Lamb and Calvin Duncan.

Lamb hit a jumper off an inbounds play at the horn to beat Northeastern 70-69 in the NCAA tournament. Coach J.D. Barnett’s balanced team succeeded with tough hombres that provided rugged resistance on the way to a 23-7 record.

joconnor@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6233

@RTDjohnoconnor

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