They deserved better.
We’re talking about the West Virginia University Mountaineers. Your Mountaineers.
We’re talking about the seniors; this was their day and you didn’t even bother stopping in to say goodbye.
They announced 48,368 of you were there to see them win the Big East, to see them turn a season that once stood on the brink of disaster into a season that now must be considered an inspirational success.
And you, the public, took a pass. There were 9,000 more to see the Mountaineers play Coastal Carolina, of all teams.
This is supposed to be such a great football area, a school with such a great football following, and then you get this string on Facebook before the game:
“Last game of the season. I’m going to watch it in comfort…in my bed where it’s warm”
“Me, too! It’s too freakin’ cold out there for me.”
“We had tix but decided to watch it in the warmth, too.”
Here they were, these gallant players, having fought through adversity to save their season, juiced up and rarin’ to go and there you were, under the covers, staying warm.
So you missed senior linebacker J.T. Thomas coming out and honoring his father, a player at West Virginia with the same name, by wearing his No. 41 uniform jersey as he ran onto the field.
“I called my mother in Ft. Lauderdale and asked her if she had his Carquest Bowl jersey and if she did to have her bring it up for me. I changed into it in the tunnel and ran out on the field to honor him,” J.T. the younger said. “The thing was, he missed his senior day game so I wanted to wear it for mine for him.”
He would change into his own No. 30 jersey for the game, a number Rutgers would come to learn quite well during WVU’s 35-14 victory, a victory in which he made seven tackles, forced a fumble and then recovered it and darn near ran it in for a touchdown.
That’s pretty much what kind of day it was, with enough warm emotion to fight off the sting of the cold, unless, of course, you were snuggled up in your bed somewhere.
See this was not just any ordinary win to clinch a share of the Big East championship, for it came after the team had started the season 1-2 in the conference, after it had lost unexpectedly and, quite honestly, inexplicably to Syracuse and Connecticut.
“I told a story here a few years back after my first year. I was an assistant here and we’d gotten beat by Miami and we were 1-4 and bunch of guys grabbed hands down in Miami. We didn’t do very bad after that. Out in Colorado, we were 1-2, and we did the same thing; we bonded,” coach Bill Stewart said.
“This year, after UConn, in that locker room, there wasn’t one finger being pointed at anyone. It was all thumbs being pointed at themselves. I owe to the seniors and the staff. I like to think that one William Stewart had a little something to do with that.
“We bonded and we blocked everybody out by ourselves and said we’d cross our t’s, dot our i’s and take care of business and play hardnosed football. It’s been a fabulous four weeks. Its been the ride of my life.”
Stewart held up a T-shirt proclaiming West Virginia Big East champions.
“I may take this home and put it on tonight because not many people thought that shirt right there would be handed out today.”
Stewart may have been overstating the case just a bit. As his quarterback, who became a full-fledged star on this day with 352 yards on 23 of 28 passing, one a touchdown, Geno Smith would note, it wasn’t all one big brotherhood.
“After Connecticut and Syracuse we kind of turned on each other,” he said.
But a meeting following the UConn loss set the record straight, Thomas getting up and speaking to the team.
“I told them how I felt about things,” he said. “I knew we could do it. I told them we were better than Connecticut and better than Syracuse, but we just dropped the ball. I told them that I knew crazier things had happened, that I’d seen it and that at 5-2 the way the Big East was we could still win.”
And they listened, these players. They joined hands and became as one and ran off four victories in a row, getting better each week, pounding Pitt into submission in a game where it didn’t seem possible that they would win on the road.
It was really an amazing turnaround, built on what has to be the nation’s best defense, a defense that has not allowed any team to score 21 points this year and that closed out the final four games giving up 10 points in three consecutive games to Cincinnati, Louisville and Pitt and then 14 to Rutgers, the final seven being against scrubs in long after the issue was decided.
And while that happened the offense grew, scoring 37, 35 and 35 in three of the final four games, Smith and Tavon Austin taking charge, along with a magnificent senior named Jock Sanders who in this game caught six passes for 81 yards while tying Khori Ivy’s school and Big East record of catches in 40 consecutive games.
Then, when it ended, they gathered at midfield and hugged each other as John Denver sang “Country Roads,” after which the seniors took a victory lap around the field, hand slapping the students who had come out and braved the cold, saying thank you to them for coming.
Don’t you wish you’d been there, too? You might even have a smile on those cherry red cheeks.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org.
They deserved better.
- WVU Sports
HERTZEL COLUMN: Huggins just wants WVU to compete
In the end, with Bob Huggins, they count victories and losses, and he has always been one to pile up the victories while keeping the losses to a minimum, at least until the last two seasons at West Virginia University.
And, in the end, when he tries to analyze why the losses have come rather than the victories, he comes to understand that he just doesn’t have the manpower to compete.
Carey, Bussie headline Big 12 awards
To the victors go the spoils, and West Virginia University’s newly crowned Big 12 women’s basketball regular-season co-champions certainly took down their share of the conference’s post-season awards, headed by coach Mike Carey and senior center Asya Bussie.
FURFARI COLUMN: Women’s finale fitting as all-time Coliseum great
If you weren’t among the thrilled, extremely vocal 5,502 fans at the WVU Coliseum last Tuesday night, you missed one of the most memorable sports events in that 44-year-old arena’s history.
The No. 7 nationally ranked West Virginia University women’s basketball team’s capture of the Big 12 Conference regular-season co-championship beating Kansas 67-60 on Senior Night was followed by a wild, wonderful celebration.
Carey named Big 12 Coach of the Year
In only his second season in the Big 12 Conference, West Virginia University women’s basketball coach Mike Carey has been named the Big 12 Coach of the Year.
Oklahoma pulls away from WVU, 72-62
Reality hit West Virginia University in the gut Wednesday as No. 23 Oklahoma showed the Mountaineers almost every reason why they are not an NCAA Tournament team this year, pulling away in the second half to a 72-62 victory in Norman.
HERTZEL COLUMN: Lady Mountaineers will always remember their senior season
Taylor Palmer was following a much-traveled path when she packed up her gym shoes four years ago and left Mount Vernon, N.Y., for Morgantown to play basketball.
Lowes Moore and Kevin Jones had both done the same thing and become two of the greatest players West Virginia University had ever produced, each not only playing the game the way it should be played but living life the way it should be lived.
Bradley to give everyone a chance
A day after snubbing the local media by not talking to them on an evening set aside for interviews with assistant coaches, West Virginia University’s latest defensive savior Tom Bradley found 14 minutes to talk to IMG Sports, which possesses the rights to West Virginia sports.
FURFARI COLUMN: Ex-WVU star loves coaching at FSU
Joe Mazzulla, a native of the Providence, R.I., area, now is in his first year as an assistant men’s basketball coach at Fairmont State University.
He had made his coaching debut during a two-year hitch as a member of the staff at Glenville State.
Former WVU player sues NCAA, five conferences
Former West Virginia football player Shawne Alston sued the NCAA and five major conferences Wednesday, saying they violated antitrust laws by agreeing to cap the value of an athletic scholarship at less than the actual cost of attending school.
WVU women clinch share of Big 12 title
West Virginia University’s women’s basketball team had just defeated Kansas, 67-60, to lay claim to a share of the Big 12 championship with Baylor on Tuesday night in the Coliseum, and someone had to sum up the feeling for the five seniors who had made the program grow to championship status.
That someone was Christal Caldwell.
- More WVU Sports Headlines
- HERTZEL COLUMN: Huggins just wants WVU to compete