The Times West Virginian

January 7, 2012

HERTZEL COLUMN: Sports giving W.Va. a new reputation

By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian

MORGANTOWN — Home.

After a week in Wonderland, it’s great to be home.

Back to normal, back to the routine.

We left the sun and the warmth and 70 points behind in Florida, where you come to learn is where it really belongs.

Nice place to visit, Florida is, but I wouldn’t want to live there. Not when you’re sitting on I-95 at 5 p.m. with four lanes of traffic going nowhere.

Speaking of the interstate, reminds of a Facebook posting from someone who said when he got back into West Virginia the speed limit sign on the Interstate read 70 .. and under it someone had scribbled in, Clemson 33.

That’s another thing nice about being home … a sense of humor.

With an Orange Bowl victory under the Mountaineers’ belts, everyone in these parts is smiling.

It is a Jarrett Brown kind of smile, the one that the former Mountaineer quarterback was wearing as he walked out of the WVU locker room following the Orange Bowl victory, the smile that can light up an entire state, at least the state that is West Virginia.

Smile? Why, after watching Darwin Cook prance 99 yards with the football firmly in his grasp to turn the Orange Bowl game around, West Virginians could even smile about television announcer Brad Nessler’s proclamation that Clemson, which had beaten Virginia Tech in the ACC championship game, would now be playing “another school from Virginia” in West Virginia in the Orange Bowl.

Funny guy, that Brad Nessler.

But really, he should know better. This is, after all, one of America’s premier programs.

Let’s see now, West Virginia has won three BCS bowls in the last seven Januarys.

That would make it one of America’s premier programs, wouldn’t it?

And it’s been to the Final Four in men’s basketball in the last few years and has one of the four winningest coaches active in college basketball in Bob Huggins.

Kind of makes it a player in that sport, too, doesn’t it?

This is big stuff, people, for a state that has suffered far too long from an image problem.

You come down to Florida and mention that you’re from West Virginia and it doesn’t matter to whom you are speaking, you get the feeling you are talking to Brad Nessler himself.

They don’t quite say “I’m sorry,” but you get that feeling that they are surprised you’re wearing shoes on your feet and that your face isn’t covered in coal dust.

But you notice that’s changing these days. They know the logo of the state university, and if they don’t know the state capitol is in Charleston they know the school is in Morgantown.

They may not want to talk to you about the economy, but they will ask you what kind of guy that Bob Huggins really is or something like “where’d you guys find that Holgorsen fella?”

OK, they don’t know Earl Ray Tomblin is governor of the state, but they can tell you that Geno Smith threw for 401 yards against Clemson.

The other night, in a restaurant/bar on the beach at Fort

Lauderdale-By-The-Sea named Aruba, the conversation was with a retired high school coach who was in town with Clemson for the Orange Bowl game. The talk naturally got around to football and some of his connections, and it led one way or the other to him having been at a football camp with Lou Holtz.

“He’s from West Virginia,” I said to him, and he looked quizzically at me and said, “He is?”

A few moments later he mentioned Nick Saban and Alabama, again leading me to say, “He’s from West Virginia, too,” and him to say, “He is?”

And before not too much time the name Rich Rodriguez came up and, you guessed it, we noted, “He’s from West Virginia, too, not far from where Nick Saban is from.”

We avoided mentioning Jimbo Fisher, but before long the talk turned to Clemson and he got to speaking about Tommy Bowden before he realized that the former Clemson coach is also from West Virginia, too.

We could have mentioned Fielding Yost, too, who invented Michigan football, or Doc Holliday or Terry Bowden, but by now the point had been made that football coaches, not coal, may be the state’s greatest product and that athletics are done more for spreading the word about West Virginia than any chamber of commerce ever could do.

In fact, when you think about it, this is quite a treasure we have here in West Virginia, this state and its people.

True, we aren’t selling as much suntan lotion these days as they do down in Fort Lauderdale, and South High Street can’t compare with South Beach in Miami as a destination, but what we have is uniquely our own, a group of proud, hard-working friendly neighbors who would rather have a beer with you than a glass of Chablis and who still appreciate the finer things in life — like a BCS bowl victory.

Email Bob Hertzel at bhertzel@hotmail.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel.