The Times West Virginian

Bob Herzel

February 2, 2013

HERTZEL COLUMN: Huggins reflects on glory days

MORGANTOWN — It is Super Bowl week and considering the way the basketball season has gone around this town this year, it is time to admit to this fantasy that has been bouncing around in the recesses of an empty mind of late.

No, it doesn’t concern yours truly throwing the winning pass in the Super Bowl, for that goes beyond fantasy and into science fiction, for neither Jules Verne nor H.G. Welles could come up with something as fantastic as that.

Instead, we have always had this fantasy that West Virginia University coach Bob Huggins’ father, Charlie, had been one of the great high school football coaches in America and that he had brought his son up to be not a basketball player but instead to be a football player.

Having watched Bob Huggins as a coach and seen the way he pours himself into each game and having been told tales of how he played, not only by the man himself, but by others, it is easy to envision him as part Dick Butkus, part Ray Nitschke … a Ray Lewis without the criminal background.

And so it was that on a Friday when not really very much was transpiring it seemed like a good thing to ask Huggins if, indeed, he had been a football player at any time during his life.

“I played,” he said.

This, of course, was what you had hoped he would say, that it would lead to tales of him ripping a helmet off a running back’s head as he tried to tackle him, somehow managing to yank it off with the chinstrap still buckled.

That may sound like a fantasy but, in truth, it was something yours truly witnessed performed by his high school football coach as he was making a point with a running back, that football coach having just celebrated his 90th birthday in Florida and still just that ornery.

Who would have guessed, though, that Huggins was neither a linebacker nor a safety in this days, but instead a quarterback and wide receiver.

You had to ask him, of course, if he was good at the game.

“What do you think?” he answered. “Do you think I was bad?”

Considering that no one has found anything that Huggins has been bad at, the answer had to be no.

But a quarterback?

Like they had practice and he wasn’t allowed to be hit?

Or a wide receiver?

In truth, it is almost impossible to imagine that he even played offense as compared to defense.

See, to Bob Huggins, sports is defense.

For example, you ask him to compare the two sports, football and basketball.

“Defensively games are the same,” he said. “You have to get to the ball — basketball, football, baseball …and, for that matter, golf. It’s hard to hit it if you don’t get to it.”

Football, basketball, baseball ... and golf?

“Everything is about getting to the ball,” he said, and that got him to Sunday’s Super Bowl matchup between San Francisco and Baltimore.

“I really enjoy watching people play whose defenses get to the ball, and obviously both these teams do that,” he said.

Deep down, in this Super Bowl, he was pulling for Baltimore because he had a long-standing relationship with John Harbaugh, the coach.

“John Harbaugh is a good friend of mine,” he said. “We were together at Cincinnati for 7 or 8 years. He was there with Tim Murphy and then with Rick Minter a good while. I got to know him very well. I met Jim, but I don’t profess to know him the way I know John. It’s interesting that I know one of the coaches in the Super Bowl,” Huggins said.

John Harbaugh was an assistant at the University of Cincinnati from 1989 to 1996, arriving at the school in the same season Huggins was named head basketball coach.

Obviously, both men have made much of themselves from the day they first met, but John Harbaugh is at the Super Bowl, while Huggins is still clawing to reach that NCAA Final that is the last thing left on his resume to fill in.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.

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