By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Finals are over and graduation not far behind.
Traffic is one-way out of Morgantown, thousands of students heading home for the summer or off into the unknown that is the future.
Geno Smith, Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey may have made headlines as they went off and embarked upon their careers, but there are many different stories at West Virginia University graduation time — Kelly Folger, heading for Nashville to work for Pepsi-Cola, and thousands of other WVU graduates beginning their professional lives.
They leave in automobiles distinguishable only by the Flying WV decal on the bumper or windshield, perhaps the Flying WV flag on an antennae. They wear, most likely, a hat, a T-shirt or sweatshirt with the school logo on it, maybe a football jersey or a pair of shorts that scream out to anyone who looks at them that they are from WVU.
In truth, the Flying WV is an incredible logo … one that has grown out of the most modest of beginnings to stand up there alongside the giants of the college world.
Take the Flying WV and put it together with the Mountaineer mascot and you have, well …
Matt Wells will tell you what he believes you have.
“I think it means pride as much as anything … what the state of West Virginia stands for and what Mountaineers stand for. People rally around the teams and athletic programs, and the logo extends out to represent just what it means to be from West Virginia and to be a Mountaineer,” he said.
He should know.
Wells may have the easiest job in the state as the man in charge of marketing West Virginia sports, having both the logo and the Mountaineer mascot to sell the school and its teams.
Annually, Mountaineer merchandise is around No. 15 in the nation in retail sales of its goods, the logo being that strong.
Early on, the man who created the logo got to understand the monster he had created.
His name is John Martin. He lives in Kansas. His brother, Dick, was athletic director at WVU and was the man who brought Don Nehlen here to coach football.
When Nehlen came he wanted a logo to make the helmets distinct, sat down with Mike Kerin, who become director of football operations, and they came up with a primitive design that was sent to John Martin, a commercial artist, to produce.
He worked with shapes and sizes, decided he wanted to get the look of the mountains and to include some action, which led to the serifs that seem to be wings and led to the idea that it was a Flying WVU.
He wasn’t sure what he had created until a day he found himself in Roanoke and walked into a sports bar for dinner.
“I noticed when I walked in this crowd over in the corner cheering and I thought ‘What is going on?’” Martin recalled this year when he came into town for the Kansas game. “Well, Pitt was playing West Virginia. I looked at the crowd and saw all these WVs on sweatshirts, so I went over and joined them.
“This guy says to me, ‘You for West Virginia?’ and I said ‘Yeah.’ So he says, ‘Did you go to school there?’ I said ‘No, but my connection is I did the logo.’”
The guy looked incredulously at Martin.
“You did the logo?” he said.
That was all he had to hear.
“Everything was free the rest of the night,” Martin said.
Now don’t you go trying that the next time you’re in a bar and a WVU game is on, but it probably would work.
“I had no idea it would take off like that,” Martin said. “I’m glad it did. I think it’s terrific.”
So, too, was the deal WVU got for Martin working on the logo … which was not very much at all.
“Monetarily, to me, that doesn’t mean as much to me, not as much as it has been to the university … to the community … to the state. That, in itself, is reward to me. Amazing.”
Wells will tell you how much it has meant.
“For the nominal amount of money the athletic department paid out to have the sketching done, the return has been just phenomenal,” he said. “I don’t know you could find an investment that has returned more financially, to say nothing of from a pride and rallying point for the fan base.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @bhertzel.