Rekindling the rivalry on the football field
CHRISTIANSBURG — Eric Wade Sr. couldn’t sleep past 7 on Sunday morning.
By 10 a.m., the 49-year-old was dressed head to toe in Blacksburg Alumni Football apparel, complete with eye black stickers that read, “Glory 2 God,” as he sat at his dining room table, anxiously waiting to take the football field for the first time in more than three decades.
“This is better than any Christmas,” Wade said. “It’s a dream come true.”
The last time Wade was on the field — his senior season at Blacksburg High School in 1981 — things hadn’t gone how he had hoped.
Wade injured his shoulder in a preseason scrimmage, which forced the then 140-pound receiver to have surgery and restricted him to stat-keeping duties on the sideline for the entire year.
“It killed me. My first love in life was football,” Wade said.
This May, Wade, now a 205-pound cook at Red Robin, learned of an opportunity to change the ending of his football career when players began assembling for Sunday’s Battle of the Burgs alumni football game.
Promoted by Alumni Football USA, the game was slated to feature various decades of former players from Christiansburg and Blacksburg high schools, giving players such as Wade another shot at playing full-contact football.
The two teams spent more than two months preparing for the game, originally scheduled for July 27, but rain forced the game to be pushed to Sunday.
The change made it possible for Wade’s 22-year-old son, Jordan Wade, who had previously opted not to play due to a scheduling conflict, to join the team.
Jordan Wade, a 2008 Blacksburg High graduate, wore the No. 6 jersey and was the lone member of his family not wearing a vintage Blacksburg Indians T-shirt, freshly embroidered with Eric Wade’s No. 14.
Despite growing up in Blacksburg, Eric Wade’s roots are now firmly planted in Christiansburg, where he lives, works and coaches youth football. Living among many of his former high school rivals likely bears some responsibility for the emphasis he placed on his top priority Sunday.
“Winning, it means everything,” he said. “I don’t like Christiansburg, I’ll be straight up with you. … I want to bring the rivalry back.”
At 11 a.m., Wade arrived at Christiansburg High School for a pregame meeting and equipment fitting with Alumni Football USA. His youngest son, 12-year-old Jared Wade, was attached to his hip at all times.
After signing a waiver, Wade handed over his driver’s license, which the company requires for collateral, in exchange for the first helmet, shoulder pads and uniform pants he would put on since high school.
“Very weird, it’s been a long time,” Wade said.
“Thank God my son [Jared] helped me get in my pads and stuff in my pants.”
As the rest of the team prepared to warm up, Wade and Jared walked to the Christiansburg field to share a moment alone.
Wade joined his teammates for some brief stretching and shortly after 1 p.m., stood with his teammates, waiting to be called to the field.
As the captain of the defense, Wade said the key to stopping Christiansburg was to contain their rushing attack, particularly the Blue Demons’ Chris Carter, who had more than 3,000 rushing yards during his high school career.
“I can’t wait to meet Mr. Carter. Knock that smirk off his face,” Wade said.
With the game minutes away, the Blacksburg team met with the Bruins’ current head coach, Dave Crist, who led them in the Lord’s Prayer. Entering his 39th season at Blacksburg, Crist has coached each of the alumni.
Just after 2 p.m., Wade stood at center field as a team captain for the coin toss, which Blacksburg won, deferring to the second half.
Following the kickoff, the Christiansburg offense approached the line for the first time. Wade crouched just off the line in his position as the left outline linebacker.
The ball was snapped and handed off to Carter, who ran off the right tackle and directly toward Wade. Eric Wade went in for the tackle, but Carter cut back toward the center of the field and avoided the hit. Visibly upset, Wade returned to the huddle and back to the line for the second play. Carter would again rush toward Wade, but this time, Wade would secure the tackle — his first game tackle since his junior season.
Christiansburg’s series continued until a fumble three plays later was recovered by Blacksburg’s Allan Price.
Wade sat out the following defensive series and then returned to the field. He collected two tackles and assisted on two more, and said he believed a head-on collision with Christiansburg’s Mike Scott during the series put him on the verge of passing out.
As he stood on the sideline, he talked about his symptoms with his teammates.
“I think I got a concussion. Oh well,” Wade said.
Wade debated a return to the field throughout the second quarter of the game.
“Just keep your eye on me,” he told teammate Price at one point.
Wade didn’t play any more in the first half and returned from halftime without his shoulder pads. He talked with the trainer and was considering returning to game action until he stumbled over the answer when asked his mother’s name.
“I’m satisfied. I got five or six tackles. At 49 years old, you can’t beat that. I’m blessed,” Wade said.
Wade spent much of the second half bouncing between a seat on the bench and standing on the sideline, often leaning on Jared, and cheering on his teammates.
Midway through the final quarter, Wade’s condition worsened when he appeared to be near fainting. Teammate Josh Sales retrieved an EMT to check him out.
“I just feel weird when I talk,” Wade told the EMT.
Wade was still talking to the emergency worker when the Blacksburg defense stopped Christiansburg’s Carter on the 1-yard line on a fourth-and-goal and sealed Blacksburg’s 28-12 victory.
He was advised to immediately take an ambulance to the hospital, but he refused.
He wanted to see his team get the trophy.
Wade remained on the field for the duration of the game and the post-game awards, in which he was given the award for being Blacksburg’s oldest player.
Following the game, he spent more than three hours in the emergency room at LewisGale Hospital Montgomery, where he had his head and wrist examined. He was officially diagnosed with a concussion and a badly bruised wrist and was told to avoid any excitement or strenuous exercise for at least a week.
On Monday morning, Wade awoke feeling the physical effects of the previous day — but happy.
“A lot of people don’t like waking up sore, but it means I actually played,” Wade said. “I don’t regret it, I promise you that. I’m glad I did it.”
He said he believes it won’t be the last time he wakes up feeling that way.
“Don’t count out Wade. I’m not done yet. I’ve still got some more things to prove,” he said. “The old man will be back again next year for another one.”
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