By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
Today is a festive day in these parts, the day when West Virginia slides in seamlessly with its new Big 12 brethren, riding in on high expectations from within but facing the same thing it has always faced.
West Virginia is an underdog ... and loves it.
The truth is, even with 70 points having been put together in winning the Orange Bowl, there is no one who looks at WVU with the same reverence it reserves for Texas and Oklahoma as football and athletic programs.
What’s more, the road to the first division in the Big 12, a football conference that also features Baylor, Oklahoma State, Kansas State and TCU, is not an easy one.
This is something more than simply an athletic change. It is, instead, a cultural change, a trip into a cactus conference with a history that the Big East never could approach.
One might wonder why WVU might want to take on this challenge, considering it was in a relatively soft spot, but the Mountaineers really had no choice but to act because their world was coming undone around them.
So what does WVU bring with it to this bigger, tougher new challenge athletically across the board?
What was it that carried the Mountaineers to their greatest heights?
The man who led them to some of their greatest moments understands what worked before and what will be necessary for the future.
“Hard work pays off,” former quarterback Patrick White said the other day.
To White, whom many believe was the greatest quarterback at the school, with any apologies due Major Harris, Jeff Hostetler, Marc Bulger or Geno Smith, it was good, old-fashioned West Virginia values that lifted the state university to the brink of a date in the national championship game before Pitt threw the world off its axis with one of the most unexpected upsets in college football history.
Until then, WVU was living off attitude as much as ability.
“If you see it and believe it, then it can happen,” White said. “That’s what I learned on the teams I was part of here at West Virginia. Miami was a different story. I don’t know if they saw that or believed it. But here in Morgantown we believed. We showed it every time we went out.”
White, of course, even had a year in the NFL with the Miami Dolphins but he didn’t find that same ethic and value system that could take a team and make it play better at amazing heights.
“Most people didn’t pay us too much attention, but for the first half of most games we were either down, tied or not doing so well,” White recalled.
It seemed that weekly that team’s will was tested, but they always seemed to find a way to jimmy something together to turn the emotional tide of the first half in its own favor.
What says he knows why it was possible.
“Because of the faith we had in each other and the hard work we put in, we were able to finish those games in the fourth quarter and come out victorious,” he said.
And think how much faith that team had to have to pull out a solid Fiesta Bowl victory over an unsuspecting Oklahoma team, one that certainly will be looking for payback when the two teams get together this year.
If West Virginia is going to succeed athletically in the Big 12, it is going to have to bring the intangibles with it and keep them there, for there will be no shortcut to success in this venture ... and that goes for basketball, too.
Relying on one another, being close and sharing responsibility and duties is what gets a basketball team through, and you saw how it worked with John Beilein’s teams and with Bob Huggins’. This is true be it at a time of victory or one of defeat such as Kevin Jones just went through last week when the NBA made the mistake of bypassing him in the draft.
Rather than turn on the tears, KJ opted to find some reason to see happiness, and this was what he tweeted to his teammate and friend, Truck Bryant, also bypassed in the draft: “S/o to my big brother @truckbryant25 always there for me as a best friend and teammate.”
In the end it is teammates against the world and there is something at work, especially at West Virginia, where this is more of necessity and more common than at other schools.
The one thing WVU does not have to worry about bringing along to the Big 12 is the final thing Patrick White mentioned when speaking of what you get here as an athlete.
“Community support,” White said. “It gives you motivation. It makes you feel like you have a backbone even if you don’t. The level of respect and amount of work they put in and I guess the type of people they are make them that way.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.