By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
The other day, as West Virginia University readied itself for the Bowling Green game in what was designated as a reunion weekend for WVU quarterbacks from the past, Hoppy Kerchaval welcomed Patrick White to his Friday morning talk show.
White, you surely know, ranks either first or second with Major Harris as the greatest quarterbacks ever to play at the school. He was a second-round draft pick of the Miami Dolphins.
Kerchaval asked White if he had plans to play more football, being still in the prime of his athletic career.
“I’ve been booted out of two leagues,” White said. “I’m through.”
White, who was cut by Miami after spending a season on the bench and suffering a concussion before being quickly cut by the Virginia Destroyers of the United Football League this year, indicated he had plans for the future but refused to divulge them.
It is curious, in some ways, how WVU’s two greatest quarterbacks (we’ll save Marc Bulger’s ranking for another day, considering that he never carried the team to the brink of a national title) both suffered similar fates after their collegiate careers ended.
White, of course, played his to the end, found himself looking at going to the national title game only to have a four-touchdown underdog Pitt team end that dream in Mountaineer Field.
Harris, on the other hand, after leading WVU to a national title game against Notre Dame in the 1988 season as a sophomore only to be injured early in the game, opted to skip his senior season and enter the draft.
His style, like White’s, was more athlete than quarterback, able to run as well as throw, and when he came along there was not much use in the NFL for such an animal and he lasted until the ninth round of the draft and never played a down of NFL football.
“It’s just one of those things. It happens,” Harris said the other day at the quarterback reunion, addressing the way both situations played out. “It all depends on the coach on the NFL level and whether they want to go outside the box, so to speak.”
It has always been difficult to get the NFL to innovate much in the way of changing systems, most of the experimentation being done on the college level.
“It’s almost like the old saying — and I’m not knocking coaches — but
it’s hard to teach an old dog new tricks,” Harris said. “A coach who has coached 20 years in the NFL doesn’t want to change because he might take it as, ‘Was I a failure coaching the other way?’
“It’s a Catch-22,” Harris continued. “Some coaches just say the hell with it and do what they think they need to do to win.”
And so it was Harris slid off into football oblivion, a wispy memory of days gone by but unable to really cash in on his fame or to prove himself.
He didn’t sulk, curse his luck or disappear; he just accepted his fate and thought his days in the limelight were gone.
“I felt I was given an opportunity. If I can’t get a job, so be it,” he said. “It’s almost like if I’m an actor and I go in for an audition and don’t get the part, I still can feel I did a good job trying out for it.”
Then one day last year his entire life changed, and he was jolted back into reality.
Major Harris was elected to the College Football Hall of Fame.
“I was probably more shocked than any player that got inducted, considering the way my career went and that I didn’t have an NFL career,” he admitted.
It hit him like a bolt of lightning out of a steel gray sky. It was like learning you hit the lottery with a ticket you forgot you had purchased.
Life changed almost immediately.
“In my case, it was almost like I was in a race and I was in last place, then the Hall of Fame thing comes along and jump starts you and moves you up in status in football. It becomes a spot where people say you deserved a shot in the NFL and it legitimatizes you,” he said.
All of a sudden he was being requested at autograph shows, to speak at functions, to become ... well, a Hall of Famer, which is a profession in and of itself.
The call came long after his career ended, 21 years to be exact. It was a deserving call, a wonderful choice.
And it can only be hoped that Patrick White doesn’t have to wait quite that long to get his place in the Hall of Fame, too.
Email Bob Hertzel at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.