How Virginia Tech and Texas Met in the 1995 Sugar Bowl
Joel Ron McKelvey was one of the three biggest stories leading up to the 62nd Sugar Bowl.
If you can’t place him, don’t worry. Nobody else could either.
But first, there was another interesting change in the leadership of the Sugar Bowl. Dr. Leonard Burns became the first African-American to serve as the Sugar Bowl’s president, putting persons of color in both the executive directorship with Troy Mathieu and the presidency. Coincidently, this landmark moment came the same year women were also brought into the organization.
There was a change in Sugar Bowl sponsorship, too. The game was now affiliated with Nokia Communications.
There was a change in the configurations for the postseason, as well, as the second step in the formula to pair the best two teams was implemented. The Bowl Alliance went into effect, encompassing the SEC, Big 12, ACC and Big East along with provisions for Notre Dame. For the first time the “host” teams in the Sugar, Fiesta, and Orange bowls would leave their traditional homes to play in a No. 1 game.
That’s what happened to the Sugar as SEC champion Florida, ranked No. 2, went to the Fiesta to meet No. 1 Nebraska.
The system still wasn’t perfect because the Big Ten and Pac 10 still weren’t part of it, making a true title somewhat iffy. Things worked out this particular season, however, with Nebraska blitzing the Gators, 62-24.
Meanwhile, back in New Orleans, chuckles were produced as Texas and Virginia Tech were pitted in the first Sugar Bowl without an SEC presence in 24 years.
It was a worthwhile pairing of conference champions, and Texas was ranked ninth and Virginia Tech 11th.
But it was also a match in which no one could tell the players even with a roster. Really. Leading up to the Sugar Bowl, McKelvey was listed as a Texas defensive back. Two days before the game, a California newspaper identified McKelvey as Ron Weaver, a 30-year-old man who assumed the name of a person seven years younger to play football for the Longhorns. He had already played six year of college football, ending in 1989. McKelvey/Weaver was a reserve cornerback who played in all 11 Texas games in ’95 but was a real factor in none.
An investigation ensued when Texas officials learned of a story in The Californian, a newspaper in Salinas, Calif., which McKelvey listed as his hometown. The paper had been doing stories on local athletes playing in college bowl games when it was discovered no one knew of an athlete named Ron McKelvey from Salinas.
According to the paper’s account, several people in Salinas identified a photograph of McKelvey as Weaver, including his mother, Sung Weaver.
The Californian reported Weaver played for two seasons at Monterrey Peninsula and two years at Sacramento State. In 1992 Weaver told his parents he was enrolling in graduate school.
Instead, he assumed an alias and went to L.A. Pierce Junior College. After two standout seasons, Weaver was signed by Texas.
Upon learning of McKelvey’s ruse, the Longhorns were left to explain how they had been fooled. Coach John Mackovic said the school doesn’t normally check players’ birth certificates for identification, but rather relies on the transcripts from the high schools or junior colleges.
The Salinas newspaper reported Weaver had revealed in an interview that he took on the identity of Joel Ron McKelvey so he could sell his story. “I’m here for no other purpose than what you think,” McKelvey was quoted as saying in the paper. “I’m working on a book. In L.A., I have a publisher. It’s on the scandals of college football.”
But he never explained himself to his Texas teammates, coaches or administration. When they went looking for him, Weaver had already skipped town.
Recap excerpted from the book “Sugar Bowl Classic: A History” by Marty Mulé, who covered the game and the organization for decades for the New Orleans Times-Picayune.