TIL a VT RB died after punishment drills in 1977

I'm sure some of the older Hokies on here know this story but it was news to me. I went down the Wikipedia rabbit hole today and wound up reading about athletes that died during their careers. I hit Control F to search for Virginia Tech, not thinking I would find anything. Wrong. On November 21, 1977, freshman running back Robert Vorhies of Irvington, NJ died in Hillcrest Hall after completing a punishment drill an assistant coach had him do. According to this Chicago Tribune article, Vorhies and some friends had a party to celebrate their recent win over Wake Forest, a game in which he got his first and only collegiate carry (12 yard gain), in their dorm. A drunk Vorhies broke a door after making a mock tackle and a resident coach came and broke up the party. Vorhies was told he'd have to run a punishment drill two days later on Monday. According to the Chicago Tribune, the punishment drill consisted of:

Ten 50-yard sprints. Ten 100-yard sprints, with both the sprint and return to the starting line to be completed in 30 seconds. Fifty pushups. Fifty situps. Two 100-yard "bear crawls," in which the player "runs" on his hands and feet without allowing his knees to touch the ground. Four other 100-yard runs of various kinds. An undetermined number of laps around the field.

Holy shit. I mean, holy shit! And the punishment drill was after the team's practice, which they ended with ten 100-yard sprints. He died later that night in his dorm when his roommates found him naked on the floor. He was too weak to remove the athletic tape from his ankles. From the Chicago Tribune (emphasis mine):

Some 1,500 people attended Bob Vorhies funeral, but no one came on behalf of Virginia Tech. Head coach Jimmy Sharpe and his assistants - later fired in a move the University says was unrelated to Vorhies' death - sent flowers. But not one member of the Golden Hokies alumni club sent a note.

The University was cleared of any criminal wrongdoing but agreed to a settlement with Vorhies' mother and released a statement reading:

the measures administered to Robert Vorhies are not now being used and will not be used in the future to discipline athletes at Virginia Tech.

What a sad story. And shame on the VT administration and football staff for being so callous. Do any Hokies on here remember this personally?

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Yesteryear sucked.

This is my second attempt to tell my part of the the Bob Vorhies' story. My mobile device lost power during my first attempt. But, this story needs context, so I'll try to keep it short, while providing the necessary context.

These are the facts of what I saw personally, while at Va Tech in the 1970's as a football player. It was brutal times, and I am fortunate to have survived it.

I was recruited by Jimmy Sharpe's staff in December of 1975 at the position of Quarterback from Petersburg High School, Petersburg, Virginia. The late Assistant Coach Perry Willis, who came from the University of Alabama with Head Coach Sharpe recruited me. My first full season at Virginia Tech as a freshman was in the Fall of 1976.

The next year Bob Vorhies came into Va Tech as a Freshman Fullback. The 1977 football season was an uneventful one with our team losing the majority of its games during that season while the coaching staff tried everything to find a way to win games. I was redshirted that year, and I had a bird's eye view of the program as a player.

Bruce Arians, now of NFL Fame, then a Graduate Assistant Coach was my Quarterback Coach. He was great! And he took his job seriously, and he did it very well. I was fortunate to have him as a position coach.

The night that Bob Vorhies died was on a Monday night (November 21, 1977). I remember it like it was yesterday. That day after a brutal practice the players were given tickets to go to a free movie in Blacksburg, Virginia; or just go back to the dorm as you normally would, if you didn't want a free ticket to the movies. I don't know how many of my teammates took advantage of the free movie tickets after that practice. I just wanted to get back to the dorm, eat, and rest.

We had just come off of a loss that previous Saturday and the practice that Monday was for Olympian's only. That practice was a running marathon! The sprints seemed to never end. And I was in tip-top shape and could run all day back then - but even I was totally exhausted after that practice. To this very day, I don't remember a practice so dangerous.

It was like the coaching staff was punishing the team for losing last Saturday's game. The practice took place in the indoor field house on AstroTurf. We had on sweats, T-shirt, and helmet only. I was soaked in sweat from head to toe. That practice was way too much, and it lasted way too long! I remember thinking to myself "when is this thing going to end"?!

After that practice Bob stayed to complete punishment drills for breaking a door in the dorm that previous weekend. The list of drills Bob had to perform after that practice, as listed in the media, was well beyond ungodly. I had done all of those drills before in my football career, but never 'after' a brutal practice like that one. Which really wasn't a practice, but instead was itself a type punishment drill for the whole team after a loss.

Bob finished a second set of punishment drills directly after that practice 'alone' and only with an unsupervised Assistant Coach; and then miraculously walked back to the locker room from the field house. Who knows what happened in that field house with Bob and that Assistant Coach alone. Bob then put his clothes on 'without taking a shower', while 'leaving the tape on his ankles' - I believe he was too exhausted to cut it off. I don't believe he got to eat dinner, or maybe he was trying to get to dinner at the dorm. He did have to really hustle to get to the cafeteria before it closed because it would have been late in the evening (6:30PM).

After personally getting back to the dorm and eating, I went down the hall to the 2nd floor lounge to watch Monday Night Football, and relax. I lived on the 2nd floor of Hillcrest Dormitory. Bob Vorhies also lived on another part of the 2nd floor of Hillcrest Dormitory.

After being in the lounge for about 1 hour, and still in the first half of the NFL game, a player came to a glass door just outside the lounge area with an horrific look on his face. Another player in the lounge with me got up went outside the door to talk to the other player, and then ran around the corner to Bob Vorhies dorm room. He came back in a few minutes with the same horrific look on his face. We all still in the lounge seeing this through the glass door then got up rushed out the lounge down the hall to Bob's room.

Bob was lying on the floor in front of the sink in his dorm room. Some of the older players picked his body up and laid him on his back across his bed. The sink and floor was covered with vomit.

The Trainer who lived in the dorm was called, and when he arrived asked that he be moved into the hall on a hard surface, so he could resuscitate him. He tried for a few minutes, but quickly realized that Bob was deceased. The trainer then left to contact the emergency crew and the coaching staff. And when he left the other players left with him to inform the rest of the team what had happened. But, I just stood there in the darkened hallway looking at his body. He was huge like the Incredible Hulk, lying there with white trainer's tape still on his ankles, his skin complexion now a light purple. I'll never forget it. It was horrible. I then noticed I was the only one in the hallway, and as I quickly walked away others were coming to view his body.

The next day was a media circus at Hillcrest Athletic Dormitory. I made sure I stayed out of sight. I didn't want to discuss or answer questions. I really needed some counseling, looking back. No young adult should view that kind of uncivilized death. Bob didn't deserve that, no one deserves that kind of treatment, regardless of what kind of rule was broken. A poor decision by Head Coach Sharpe to punish Bob on that same day of that marathon practice ended Bob's life. Alcoholism was rumored to be a problem of Coach Sharpe. Coach Sharpe was fired shortly thereafter.

I later saw Bob Vorhies' Dad at the Red Lion Inn. He was sitting at the bar. When he saw me he could tell I was a football player, and his eyes lit-up. He wanted to talk to me I'm sure, but I couldn't talk to his Dad about what I saw at Hillcrest Dormitory.

Every now and then I think about Bob. I remember briefly picking on him as a freshman. Bob then picked me up by my leg and bicep and lifted me over his head with ease. I thought, message received Bob!

God bless the Vorhies family.

Allen Brown

Harrowing account of events my friend. Thank you for taking the time to tell us (twice!).

Your memories won't be forgotten. Hopefully Vorhies and his family have long since found peace.

Chick Patty w/ Cheese

No harrowing account at all sir.

These were the actual events that occurred on November 21, 1977 concerning Bob Vorhies' death at Virginia Tech. There are a number of Virginia Tech football players that are alive today that can corroborate my account, as being accurate to the smallest detail.

The reason I added Monday Night Football being on at that time; some players going to the movies; the tape still remaining on his ankles; and the 'orderly sequence' of other events is to add credibility and context to my personal account. Only a person that would have been there would have known what I shared. Some of my account can be verified in the press
during that period. But, players were careful what they said out of respect to the Vorhies family. I was one of them.

My reason for posting this information now is to answer the question another Hokies asked above 'if others had knowledge of these events' of Bob Vorhies death? Unfortunately, I had direct knowledge of these events. I was there, and witnessed it 40+ years ago. I will be 64 years old in November of this year.

By the way, something's are best kept secret for a long period of time because it only brings hurt and harm to so many when it's fresh and raw. I pray this was a better time to share this horrific information. Tech football has come a long way, trust me.

Allen Brown

Thanks for sharing. I grew up in the area and remember this very well. Howard Costello had a sports show and did a segment on it. Very dark time for VT athletics. If I remember correctly Mr Vorhies died unexpectedly very soon after his son passed.

I remember the Howard Cosell report very well. I think everybody on our team watched it. I can't imagine how Coach Sharpe felt. What a burden to carry for so many years.

Allen Brown

wo 100-yard "bear crawls," in which the player "runs" on his hands and feet without allowing his knees to touch the ground.

I don't think I could even do that part without dying. What a terrible, terrible story.

My 2020 Season/Covid19 Challenge: only comment with Marvel memes.

My 2019 Season Challenge: only comment with Star Wars memes. (completed as of Nov. 29)

If you had any experience with Sharpe's staff at that time, bear crawls were not uncommon. Buddy Bennett, the DC and defensive backs coach, particularly liked to invoke them when hearing a player swear. That "fence over there" seemed a good 150 yards away - and you came back on all four too.

"The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. " Rocky B.

As expected Vorhies' father was not happy with the verdict and while I never knew him personally from the vague memory of news accounts of the day he passed away within a few years of his son and I'd almost have wagered then it was from a broken heart.

"The world ain't all sunshine and rainbows. It's a very mean and nasty place and I don't care how tough you are it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. " Rocky B.

Coach Sharpe and staff were tough but not abusive. The excessive types of "conditioning" that occurred in the 1970's was common amongst Division I teams, and would be considered excessive by todays standards, but was rampant then and the norm. I know because I experienced it. The coaching staff were under tremendous pressure by alumni for a "national presence" in football. Though I am a Tech graduate (1978), I think the institution suffered from an "inferiority complex" as there are many very fine public universities in Virginia. Success in sports was an antidote. My experience as a member of the football team 74-75 (career ended by injury) was good and it helped me be a better and more successful person. Many of the assistants went on to successful head coaching careers.
I do feel very sorry for Robert Vorhies and his family and understand their outrage. The mid to late 1970's was a tough time for Va Tech Football. I think many things are better today.

J S Julian

About a year later one of the VT assistants involved became my high school position coach. I knew only a little of what had happened and at the time I would think about it during some of the hard training and conditioning I went through that year. He was definitely tough but not abusive. However, that coach brought more out of me than I ever thought was possible and played a significant role in the person I am today.
I was not aware of all of the details until now and I feel sorry for Robert Vorhies family and the way it was handled back then.

β€œI'm addicted to placebos. I could quit, but it wouldn't matter”~steven wright

It's dangerous to say that because things were normal in the past that it wasn't abusive. Yes it was. Pushing someone to the edge either physically or mentally, especially for a game, is wrong. Let's not sugar-coat it.

Using /s is for cowards.

Not condoning it, but this type of punishment was the norm in those days. Denial of water was also a big thing. It's a wonder there weren't more deaths.

Came here to mention denial of water. That was still being used in WV youth football as late as the early 1990's.

I wrestled in high school early 2000s, water denial was the norm.

So was vomit.

TKPhi Damn Proud
BSME 2009

I'm ok with some one denying me vomit, i don't want my own much less than some one elses.

I came back for a couple of practices when my little brother was a freshman. The team was in midseason they were a bit more conditioned, so the vomit can was not in sight. I had some freshmen 15 on me, and needed to crawl to the can.

TKPhi Damn Proud
BSME 2009

Good thing his first name is not Jason and this did not occur during summer camp. All kidding aside it was a different time back then, shit they did stuff to us in the Corps in the late 90's that would probably get people thrown in jail now but it was all fun and games then.

I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction:
β€œI served in the United States Navy"

KCCO

We had a classmate painted blue by the rats my sophomore year in the HTs. Problem was, the rats used lead based paint. Definitely could have turned out worse, but it was bad enough to cause a quietus of shit pulling for a bit. This was the 60s, and I know things were a bit "looser" in those days when we still had to drag the upper quad and square our meals as rats.

Reel men fish on Wednesdays

I was at Tech at the time. I remembering reading the articles in the papers, and can still recalled Vorhies name without prompting. Sports science made great strides in the late 70's and early 80's, related to improved training methods and sports medicine.

Wow, totally forgot I had even posted this 4.5 years ago. Thanks apbrown for the insight. Still awful stuff, all these years later.

Tragic story, facilitated by a total overrecaction from the coach - punishment does not fit the crime here. A dorm party? (duh those never happen in college) - have him pay for the door and do some extra steps. And I'm all for the Saban discipline approach- he wins obvs.