NEW ORLEANS, La. - Several years ago, Aretha Franklin sang a song about respect.
The Virginia Tech Hokies know all about that. They have been trying to earn a nation's respect for years.
And despite losing to Florida State in the 2000 Sugar Bowl, the Hokies did exactly that.
In a breath-taking game - one of the best championship games in recent history - Tech rallied from a 21-point first-half deficit to take the lead from Florida State going into the fourth quarter. But the Hokies simply couldn't overcome their mistakes nor the big plays of the Seminoles, and as a result, FSU walked off the field with a 46-29 Sugar Bowl victory in front of 79,280 fans at the Superdome.
By winning, Florida State claimed its second national championship. Meanwhile, Tech claimed respect.
"We earned their respect," Tech tailback André Kendrick said. "They [the Seminoles] let us know we played a great game. We're not a fluke. We're for real. They know we're for real. Everyone knows we're for real.
Tech lost for the first time in more than a year. The Hokies, who rolled to an 11-0 regular season, finished their greatest season ever ranked No. 2 in the final Associated Press poll and No. 3 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches' poll.
"I'd like to congratulate Florida State," Tech head coach Frank Beamer said after the game. "I thought they made some great plays and we did some things that were uncharacteristic of our football team.
"But I'm proud of the people in that dressing room. We had a good cryin' session in there. We've got some people we hate to see leave this program and then we've got some great, young kids coming back. That's the way college football is."
Tech showed no fear against one of the nation's premier programs. Florida State became the first team to be ranked No. 1 for an entire season since the Associated Press came out with preseason rankings in 1950. The win also gave Florida State its first perfect season ever and its second national championship overall. The Seminoles claimed their first title in 1993.
But for the Hokies, the sting of this game will loom for a long time. Not so much because they lost, but because of how they lost.
Much like it did in the 1995 Sugar Bowl win over Texas, Tech played poorly in the first half and trailed at halftime. In the first half alone, the Hokies had a blocked punt that was returned for a touchdown and they gave up a punt return for a touchdown. Combined with a couple of breakdowns in the secondary, Tech found itself trailing 28-7 nearly 18 minutes into the game.
But the Hokies, much like they did all season, showed some mettle. And just like in 1995 when Bryan Still returned a punt for a touchdown just before halftime against the Longhorns, the Hokies got a score late in the first half to change the momentum.
Michael Vick, Tech's redshirt freshman quarterback, got the Hokies back in the game with a 3-yard touchdown run with 37 seconds left in the first half. Tech then went on to score 22 unanswered points and took a 29-28 lead on Kendrick's 6-yard run with 2:13 left in the third quarter.
That score sent the 30,000-40,000 Tech fans in the Superdome into a frenzy.
"I'm proud of the way we came back," Beamer said. "We were down 28-7 and it could have gotten ugly. I know I'd be miserable if we had gotten beat 55-7. We came back and played hard. We just didn't make enough plays.
"You have to give them credit. They came back and took the lead and got us."
Unlike in 1995, when the Hokies dominated the second half against Texas, Tech couldn't put the Seminoles away primarily because of a critical fourth-down call by FSU coach Bobby Bowden.
On fourth-and-one from the FSU 46, Bowden brought in reserve quarterback Marcus Outzen and the Hokies expected a quarterback sneak. Instead Outzen pitched it to Travis Minor, who ran 16 yards for a first down. After the play, Tech was called for a 15-yard personal foul penalty. That gave the Seminoles a first down at the Tech 23.
"That was a gutsy call, but it worked out," Beamer said. "If we stop them there, we've really got the momentum. Then we got the 15-yard penalty and it became real significant. That's not the way we play."
"You have to have momentum," Bowden said. "We had it first, they had it second, and we got it back away from them and won the game."
The play turned out to be the turning point. Four plays later, FSU quarterback Chris Weinke hit receiver Ron Dugans for a 14-yard scoring play to give the Seminoles the lead. FSU went on to score the game's final 18 points - all in the fourth quarter.
"It would have been a momentum thing for us," Tech cornerback Ike Charlton said. "We stop them there and we have good field position. But they end up getting it and they got the momentum back. That probably hurt us a little bit."
The game showcased two of the best players in the nation - maybe the best - and neither disappointed. For FSU receiver Peter Warrick, the national championship game marked the swan song of his well-publicized career, while for Vick, it marked perhaps his national coming-out party.
Warrick, the game's most valuable player, caught six passes for 163 yards and two touchdowns. And while the Hokies worked all week on tackling him after he caught the ball, they underestimated his ability to get deep. He caught touchdown passes of 64 and 43 yards. Fittingly, the 64-yarder got the Seminoles on the board to start the game and the 43-yarder polished the game off for Florida State.
As for Vick, who finished third in the voting for the Heisman Trophy, he accounted for 323 of the Hokies' 503 yards of total offense. He constantly avoided FSU's rush with a dazzling display of footwork and racked up 97 yards rushing. And he hurt the Seminoles through the air, completing 15 of 29 passes for 225 yards and a touchdown.
"I'm proud of my performance," Vick said. "If I could change anything about this season, I wouldn't change anything. Even tonight. I wouldn't change a thing.
"We went out there and played as hard as we could. We showed everyone we are champions. There is no way we don't have the respect of this nation right now. I think everyone knows we are one of the top teams in the nation."
Tech proved it belonged among the nation's elite. And now, it's a matter of time before the Hokies play in a game of this magnitude again.
"It's been a great year," Beamer said. "Some great players made some great plays against us and we did some things that weren't quite characteristic of us.
"But having gotten here is the first step. Now we need to get back to this game and win it."