By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
It is only a theory, mind you, and not one that West Virginia linebacker Jared Barber really would like to experiment with any more than he has already.
But he believes, to some degree, the Mountaineers’ late run to the Big East championship and that magical 70-33 Orange Bowl victory over the Clemson Tigers was the result of what seemed to be a pair of devastating defeats to Syracuse and Louisville.
Sporting people throughout history have voiced their opinions about losses and they make it very clear that a good loser is usually just a loser.
“Above anything else, I hate to lose,” the great Hall of Fame baseball player Jackie Robinson once said.
Even a president of the United States found a way to discuss the phenomena of losing, Richard Nixon’s career having ended on somewhat of a major defeat when he met his Waterloo at Watergate:
“You must never be satisfied with losing. You must get angry, terribly angry, about losing, but the mark of the good loser is that he takes his anger on himself and not his victorious opponents or on his teammates,” he once said.
This inner anger that President Nixon says one must feel can create an atmosphere for improvement.
Barber is the one Mountaineer who truly understands both Nixon’s and Robinson’s emotions, having gone through more than his share of losing himself in what once was a disappointing high school career for Davie County High in Mocksville, N.C.
It was a career that had known nothing but success until high school, by Davie’s count having lost only one game from third grade until his freshman season, that being in the third grade championship game to a team that had a running back playing now at Winston-Salem State.
“He grew into an offensive lineman. He’s more like Quinton Spain now,” Barber remembers.
He remembers, too, how that loss hurt and how it drove them as a group to grow into a team that would not accept defeat, at least until high school came around.
So how did they turn into a team that would win only 27 of 52 games?
“Honestly, we were stacked,” Barber said. “We had a bunch of kids who should be right where I am. They should be playing Division I ball. But they got into some stuff and went down the wrong road.
“A lot of people took losing hard when we got to high school. Some guys quit and said, ‘I’m not playing for a loser.’ I think if we had lost some when we were younger, that would have helped us a lot. Some of the guys would have been able to handle losing.”
And that is why Jared Barber, who finished his true freshman year with 23 tackles in 12 games played and as an Orange Bowl starter, believes the West Virginia program turned on those miserable losses to Syracuse and Louisville.
Two losses in three games could have sent the program spinning out of control wildly if the
team had reacted adversely toward it, had it accepted the losses, but they regrouped and refocused on the rest of the season.
“I honestly think losing can be 10 times more powerful than winning a big game,” he said.
It’s all in how you take it, Barber emphasized.
“I don’t fear losing, but it’s definitely powerful,” he said. “It’s kind of interesting in a way. You don’t ever want to lose. You want to win no matter what. It doesn’t matter if you’re playing checkers, you want to win, but eventually you’re going to lose, no matter who you are. What you do after you lose, how you prepare for the next game so you don’t lose again, is what matters.”
It wasn’t that WVU became the powerful force that people seem to think they were, choosing to remember only that 70-33 massacre of Clemson but forgetting that the same Mountaineer team closed the season with three straight victories by a total of only seven points.
The players can’t look at it that way, though. They know there is work to be done and that nothing will be given to them because they became such a dominating offensive team in the Orange Bowl.
“The Orange Bowl was last year,” he said. “This is a different team, a different defense, different coaches. We’ll get our rings down the road and everyone will be happy and excited, but that was my freshman year. We’re trying to win a national championship. I think we know better than to settle for just the Orange Bowl.”
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.