Is it still Friday night or Saturday morning?
Considering the hour, it is difficult to count me among the friends of coal after whom this morning mayhem that is West Virginia-Marshall football has been named.
Where’s Bud Collins? Where’s Federer and Sharapova and the Williams sisters?
Isn’t this Wimbledon?
What? It’s not Breakfast at Wimbledon? It’s Breakfast at Huntington?
I don’t think I signed up for that when I enlisted in the army of sports journalists who have descended — puffy-eyed though they are — on this place for a football game between No. 3 West Virginia and Marshall.
What does one do at this hour of a Saturday morning? I looked for breakfast, but the only establishments I could find open were bars.
At 7 a.m.?
Looks like another Tequila Sunrise is in the making.
As tailgates go, this one is relatively tame.
Then 8 a.m. comes. Before long there are cries of “Let’s Go!” They are answered by as enthusiastic a “Mountaineers” as you can get when the sun is still low in the eastern sky.
That “Let’s go, Mountaineers” cry has been not heard in these parts since 1915.
You look around and see a sea of green.
A Mountaineer fan notices it and comments: “Sure ain’t money. Must be envy.”
You say those kind of things when you are No. 3 in the nation, even if there’s still almost three hours until kickoff.
Inside Joan C. Edwards Stadium, a mini-me of an arena, there is a huddle of green uniformed people at the 5-yard line.
Is Marshall driving? Hardly. It’s only 9 a.m.
This is the state police assigned to the event, going over their game plan to keep the insanity from becoming craziness.
Moments later, as they break the huddle and get into their spread formation, stationing themselves throughout the stadium, the gates open and a few fans come straggling — or is that staggering? — in.
Someone dressed in green says something about “We are Marshall!” to which someone dressed in old gold and blue replies: “We are not.”
If it was a matter of being proud to be a Mountaineer before the game, by halftime the atmosphere was changing dramatically, something Rich Rodriguez noticed as he headed for the locker room trailing, 13-6, and with his offense nothing more than a genie corked up in a bottle.
“I noticed the fans were panicking,” the coach would say after it was over and WVU possessed a 48-23 victory. “During the game, I have my headset on and all I can here is Coach Magee. But when you head for the locker room, you take your headset off.
“Usually, it’s good to have your fans there by the tunnel. Not today. That was not pretty.”
One can only imagine what Rodriguez heard from the unfaithful, but considering that at halftime West Virginia had all of three first downs, 46 rushing yards and that Steve Slaton had managed to grind out only two yards rushing on five carries, what Rodriguez heard probably couldn’t be reported here anyway.
That being the case, and knowing the temperament that Rodriguez normally possesses, one would expect him to have had a blue locker room session with his team, perhaps echoing some of the sentiments he heard from the fans as he headed in to meet with his team.
“If I had let half the West Virginia fans into the locker room the paint would be coming off the walls,” said Rodriguez, explaining how they would have handled the situation.
The language, though, was not X-rated. The mood that Rodriguez presented was calm, if not soothing.
“No one panicked,” he admitted. “I didn’t scream and yell.”
Instead the focus was on how to find ways to get the offense back on track. He knew if he didn’t, the bus ride back to Morgantown would be down a long, lonesome highway with an untold number of Mountaineer fans hanging from roadside trees.
“There was concern,” he admitted. “But you don’t want to show panic as a coach. Sometimes screaming is the right approach, if you think guys are lollygagging around out there. But that wasn’t the case.”
What was the case?
“We had to get back to playing Mountaineer football,” said Slaton.
And that is just what WVU did. While Patrick White and Darius Reynaud, who finished with eight catches for 126 yards and two touchdowns, kept WVU in the game, the game was won when the Mountaineers found a way to open up the running lanes.
Slaton went from two yards at halftime to 146 for the game. The team totaled 362 yards and five rushing touchdowns, 76 of the yards and two of the touchdowns coming from the electrifying Noel Devine in relief of a wearying Slaton.
And so it was when the early morning had turned into mid-afternoon, there were Mountaineer fans with a hitch in their giddy-yap, a smile on their face and a long afternoon of celebrating ahead of them. It had turned into a most enjoyable trip to Huntington, after all.
E-mail Bob Hertzel at email@example.com.
Is it still Friday night or Saturday morning?