The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

January 1, 2014

HERTZEL COLUMN: Lessons learned through my rear view mirror

MORGANTOWN — A year ago I celebrated my Christmas with a bang, so to speak.

At least, that’s what they tell me.

I don’t remember it, of course, having passed out while driving on I-79 and rolled my Ford Focus four or five times.

The state trooper who came on the scene, a friend of mine, approached the scene, took a look at the car and later told me he thought to himself, “No one is getting out of this alive.”

But, in truth, the Ford people had built themselves a pretty good car, for my injuries were far less than anyone would have imagined. In fact, I even kept writing my stories out of my bed in Ruby while undergoing tests.

In one way, I even considered the beating my body took as it rolled over and over in that tumbling automobile worth it, for it kept me from attending the Pinstripe Bowl in New York and having to watch another West Virginia University football disaster.

Things like a car accident that could have brought an end to one’s existence at holiday time often lead to a bit of soul searching, and I certainly was no exception.

And, as I began looking back on a life in which sports were always the most dominating aspect, from the moment Bobby Thomson hit his “Shot Heard Round the World,” an event that made such an impression on a 10-year-old that 13 years later he would name his son Robert Thomson, I began questioning the role sports played not only in my life but in the lives of so many others.

With me, sports had turned from an obsession into a profession. If I couldn’t hit a curve ball, I sure could describe one, and because of that I was able to live out a rich and rewarding career.

The problem was it had become more life than career, but I was being paid to immerse myself in sports— knowing how many base hits Pete Rose collected in his career, knowing how many touchdown passes Geno Smith threw against Baylor, knowing Tavon Austin’s 40-yard dash time was an expected part of the gig.

What I couldn’t understand was how fans could find this as important as I did and to be so involved that their happiness would seem to hinge on the result of a football game or, this thing that is called fantasy football, on how they could find themselves rooting against one team while at the same time rooting for its quarterback to throw five touchdown passes.

When you are lying in a hospital bed late at night, unable to sleep because thoughts are running through your mind faster than even Austin can go, you wonder about such things.

As this year went by, much changed in the outlook that I had adopted.

Indeed, there was a transition taking place that gave me insight into the minds of those who considered themselves fans, the very same people who had been reading my articles over the years.

Often articles that seemed to be reasonable and on point to me were looked upon by fans as an attack rather critique of something that obviously was wrong to anyone looking through an unprejudiced eye.

Slowly as the year went by, a year that was now being viewed by me as overtime, I came to see and understand the attachment fans had to sports.

Watching what transpired over the summer in Pittsburgh with the Pirates was as uplifting a turnabout for an entire community as I had ever seen and could not have been matched by anything, not even the discovery of a vein of gold running beneath the Boulevard of the Allies.

Conversely, having seen the change in our own community that Rich Rodriguez’s football and John Beilein’s basketball had brought, to see the depression that has set in due to the slide of both those sports over the past two seasons has demonstrated the power sports has over the mood of an entire community.

But it is even more than that. To watch a friend, Jill Sammartino, a recent WVU graduate from the suburbs of Washington, D.C., rooting for her team, the Dallas Cowboys, at that, other friends at WVU such as Melissa Becker of Cincinnati wearing her Bengals’ jersey on football Sundays and demanding that Reds’ games be playing in the restaurant in which she worked offered a view you don’t get from the press box.

Even in a college town like Morgantown, where you would often run into academic types, it seemed that many of them would enjoy talking about Garrett Ford rather than Sigmund Freud.

Sports, it turns out, are a strong fiber within our society, something more than just a pastime or a Saturday social. They help shape what a community is and how it sees itself, so much so that it is unclear if sporting teams take on the identity of the community or the community takes on the identity of the sporting teams.

Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.

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Bob Herzel
  • Bussie looks forward to WNBA

    On Tuesday, the weather turned cold, the wind blew and amongst the raindrops that fell a few snowflakes fluttered quietly to Earth.
    It was as if it was a celebration of Asya Bussie being drafted on Monday night by the Minnesota Lynx, champions of the WNBA, with the third selection of the second round, the 15th overall pick of the draft.

    April 16, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: Jackie Robinson’s impact extends beyond baseball

    It is Jackie Robinson Day as I sit here writing this today, and I feel as though I am doing it in a world gone mad.
    Every player in Major League Baseball wore No. 42 on Tuesday in honor of Jackie Robinson, the man who took racism’s best shot and integrated the game that was known then as the National Pastime even though it was as white a Ku Klux Klan robe.

    April 16, 2014

  • Gyorko, Padres agree to extension

    Jedd Gyorko, who hasn’t hit much of anything with a .178 start on this season, hit the jackpot on Monday, signing a six-year contract extension with the San Diego Padres for $35 million with a one-year club option at $13 million.

    April 15, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN- Spring game showed defense has improved

    From Dana Holgorsen’s viewpoint, which was standing right behind the offense, West Virginia’s Gold-Blue Spring Game on Saturday was a rousing success for it showed very little of what the Mountaineers will be in this coming season, probably not even showcasing the man who will direct the offense in the quarterback position.

    April 15, 2014

  • WVU signs guard; Adrian arrested for DUI

    There was something good and something bad for West Virginia men’s basketball coach Bob Huggins this past weekend as Kansas junior college player Tarik Phillip committed to play for the Mountaineers but rising sophomore Nathan Adrian was charged with Under 21 DUI after he was stopped at 1:20 a.m. Sunday for an expired registration sticker.

    April 15, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN- Garrison still proving he can carry the ball

    The running back raves from the West Virginia coaching this spring have been directly mostly toward Wendell Smallwood, and rest assured he earned every one of them with his versatility, but it was a reborn running back who well may have taken the biggest jump up the depth chart.

    April 14, 2014

  • WVU baseball drops seventh straight game

    One’s athletic skills are tested on a daily basis but every so often other aspects of an athlete’s makeup are tested, often far more important aspects in the game of life.

    April 14, 2014

  • Gold-Blue Game answers few questions at quarterback

    Dana Holgorsen finds himself in a quarterback quandary.
    He’s looking to have one quarterback and has five of them as spring practice ends, and nothing about the spring session has done anything to straighten out the situation.

    April 13, 2014

  • Moore ‘back at home’ under center

    There are a couple of ways to look at what Logan Moore did this spring after being moved back to quarterback and given a chance to compete for what is a wide open job, as wide open at the end of the spring as it was coming in.
    The first is to say that he didn’t wow Dana Holgorsen to the point that he’s willing to say he’s the leader going into summer drills, but that would be shortsighted considering from where Moore came.

    April 13, 2014

  • HERTZEL COLUMN: WVU punter turns heads at linebacker

    They call him “Huey the Punter.”
    His real name is Houstin Syvertson. His real position is not punter. Not anymore, anyway.
    To be honest, until Saturday’s spring game, not many people following West Virginia football knew the name or the nickname. They know it now.

    April 13, 2014

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