By John Antonik
July 4, 2007
The Greatest 50-26 | Reader's Write
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- We gave you our first 25 players on Monday, now here is the cream of the crop. Larry Csonka and Floyd Little had pretty good games against WVU -- in the same years -- and the closest anyone from West Virginia ever got to Tony Dorsett was on his recruiting trip to Morgantown. But were they the best to face WVU? | Who is No. 1 on your list? Feedback
50 Greatest Players: 25-1
25. Mark May, OT, Pitt
The All-American tackle found his niche blocking for Dan Marino at Pitt, where he won the Outland Trophy as college football’s top offensive lineman in 1980. May took part in three West Virginia beatings, including a 52-7 thumping in 1978. The 13-year pro played in one Pro Bowl in 1988.
24. Donovan McNabb, QB, Syracuse
West Virginia coaches had an opportunity to recruit Donovan McNabb out of Chicago’s Mount Carmel High School but instead took a pass on him. McNabb passed for 308 yards and accounted for 354 yards of total offense in a 1995 Syracuse triumph over West Virginia, and he threw six TD passes in games against the Mountaineers in 1997 and 1998. Today McNabb is one of the top quarterbacks in the NFL for the Philadelphia Eagles.
23. Lydell Mitchell, RB, Penn State
Lydell Mitchell managed impressive numbers despite sharing a crowded Penn State backfield that included Charlie Pittman in 1969 and later Franco Harris in 1970 and 1971. Mitchell caught two passes for 76 yards and ran for a TD against WVU in 1969, had a 13-carry, 93-yard performance against the Mountaineers in 1970 and added a 128-yard, two-TD effort in 1971. Penn State won all three games by scores of 20-0, 42-8 and 35-7.
22. Ray Lewis, LB, Miami
Ray Lewis, the biggest and baddest linebacker in the NFL, first terrorized ball carriers at Miami from 1993-95. The two-time All-American had a 15-tackle performance against West Virginia in a 1995 Miami victory before moving on to an all-pro career with the Baltimore Ravens where he twice earned NFL defensive player of the year honors.
21. Jack Ham, LB, Penn State
A lot of the misery West Virginia fans have had with Penn State had its root in players like Jack Ham, who Ham-sandwiched West Virginia running backs for three seasons from 1968-70. The lightly recruited Johnston, Pa. native earned All-America honors as a senior in 1970 before becoming a key member of the Pittsburgh Steelers’ famed “Steel Curtain” defense in the 1970s.
20. Dan Marino, QB, Pitt
Dan Marino only played two full games against West Virginia, but he was spectacular in both. As a freshman in 1979, Marino threw for 232 yards and a touchdown to lead Pitt to a 24-17 victory over the Mountaineers in the final game at old Mountaineer Field. Three years later in 1982, Marino engineered a late touchdown drive to lift Pitt to a 16-13 victory in one of the most exciting games in Backyard Brawl history.
19. Bruce Smith, DE, Virginia Tech
Defensive end Bruce Smith’s rare blend of size, speed and athleticism made him college football’s dominant defensive lineman of the early 1980s. Smith had a sack and a pair of tackles for losses in a 1983 loss to West Virginia, and helped the Tech defense limit WVU to 240 yards of offense in a 1984 loss to the Mountaineers. The 1985 Outland Trophy winner went on to become the most prolific sacker in NFL history.
18. Chris Spielman, LB, Ohio State
Chris Spielman first caught the attention of the country when his picture was on the front of a Wheaties box while still playing at Massillon High School. He only added to his legend at Ohio State. Spielman produced a season-high 19 tackles and picked off two passes against West Virginia in a 24-3 victory over the Mountaineers in 1987. He won the Lombardi Award as college football’s top linebacker before being taken in the first round of the 1988 NFL draft by the Detroit Lions.
17. Charlie Pittman, RB, Penn State
Any conceivable way to score a touchdown Charlie Pittman did it against West Virginia from 1967-69. Pittman ran for 137 yards and scored a TD in Penn State’s 1967 victory over the Mountaineers, but it was his 83-yard second-half kickoff return that proved to be the deciding score in one of the closest WVU-Penn State games in more than two decades. In 1968, Pittman ran for 125 yards and a touchdown against WVU before having a 13-carry, 84-yard, one-TD performance against the Mountaineers in 1969. Pittman played briefly in the NFL with the St. Louis Cardinals.
16. Glenn Davis, RB, Army
Glenn Davis was one part of Army’s famous “Touchdown Twins” backfield along with Doc Blanchard. The 5-foot-9-inch, 170-pounder won the Heisman Trophy in 1946, doing so by helping the Cadets knock off West Virginia 19-0 along the way. Army coach Red Blaik thought so much of the Mountaineers that he chose not to attend the game and instead scouted the following week’s opponent.
15. Vinny Testaverde, QB, Miami
West Virginia football fans in 1986 got a brief glimpse of Heisman Trophy winner Vinny Testaverde before he retired to the sidelines with Miami well in control of the game. The Hurricanes were so good that an exasperated WVU coach Don Nehlen asked his defensive coordinator Dennis Brown earlier that week if the Mountaineers had any chance of beating Miami. “Yeah,” replied Brown, “if your offense can get us 60.” Brown was right: Testaverde and Co. only put 58 points on the board in a 44-point victory.
14. Hugh Green, LB, Pitt
Pass-rusher extraordinaire Hugh Green came the closest of any linebacker to winning the Heisman Trophy, finishing second to South Carolina running back George Rodgers in 1980. He was the Walter Camp national player of the year in 1980 after compiling 441 tackles and 53 sacks during his four-year Panther career. Green showed very little generosity to West Virginia, limiting the Mountaineers to only 204 yards in 1979 and 177 yards in 1980.
13. Gino Torretta, QB, Miami
Gino Torretta’s Heisman Trophy candidacy was on display against West Virginia in 1992. The senior completed 28 of 40 passes for 363 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Miami’s 35-23 victory over the Mountaineers in the Orange Bowl. Torretta’s only loss as a Hurricane starter came in the national championship game that year against Alabama.
12. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Pitt
Air did a better job of covering Pitt’s Larry Fitzgerald than West Virginia’s secondary, which was torched for 344 yards and four touchdowns in a pair of games in 2002 and 2003. Fitzgerald, the 2003 Walter Camp player of the year, was also a Heisman Trophy runner up that season. He was the third overall player taken in the 2004 NFL draft by the Arizona Cardinals where he still plays.
11. Billy Sims, RB, Oklahoma
A four-touchdown favorite against West Virginia in 1978, Oklahoma covered easily with its 52-10 romp over the Mountaineers in which most of the key Sooner players were out of their shoulder pads and standing on the sidelines before halftime. Among them was Heisman Trophy winner Billy Sims, who clocked in with an eight-carry, 114-yard, one-TD performance before clocking out early.
10. Doug Flutie, QB, Boston College
No quarterback drove college coaches nuts quite like scrambling, 5-foot-9-inch Doug Flutie, whose last-second TD pass to beat Miami in 1984 will forever be immortalized. And while Flutie had great numbers against West Virginia, accounting for 464 yards of total offense in 1983 and throwing for 299 yards in 1984, he could never manage to beat the Mountaineers. That’s why he’s No. 10 instead of No. 1 on this list.
9. Jim Brown, RB, Syracuse
Having Jim Brown No. 9 on any list is almost blasphemous, but the reason he’s No. 9 here is because his numbers against West Virginia were merely ordinary by Jim Brown’s great standards. He accounted for 188 all-purpose yards against the Mountaineers in 1955, and he ran for 165 yards and two touchdowns in a 27-20 loss to West Virginia in 1956. Yeah, ordinary.
8. John Cappelletti, RB, Penn State
Before he was dramatized in the movie Something For Joey, John Cappelletti was terrorizing West Virginia defenders in 1971, 1972 and 1973. As a junior Cappelletti ran for 154 yards in a 28-19 Nittany Lion victory. A year later in ‘73, he scored four touchdowns and ran for 130 yards in a 62-14 romp. Cappelletti ran for more than 1,500 yards his senior season to win the Heisman Trophy. He played nine professional seasons with the Rams and Chargers.
7. Floyd Little, RB, Syracuse
In the mid-1960s, West Virginia had trouble tackling good running backs of all sizes. And while Syracuse teammate Larry Csonka was running people over, Floyd Little chose to run around them. In 1965, Little ran for 196 yards and scored four touchdowns in 41-19 Orange victory over WVU. A year later in 1966, the Mountaineers held Little to just 127 yards in a 34-7 Syracuse triumph. Little took his show to the AFL in 1967 where he was a three-time all-pro runner for the Denver Broncos.
6. Tommie Frazier, QB, Nebraska
Some argue that Tommie Frazier ranks among the best quarterbacks in college football history and you’ll get no argument here. The Bradenton, Fla. native is the only quarterback since the mid 1950s to lead his team to back-to-back national championships in 1994 and 1995. On the way to his first NCAA title in 1994, Frazier ran for 130 yards in Nebraska’s 31-0 victory over West Virginia in the 1994 Kickoff Classic. Frazier was 33-3 as a starter at Nebraska.
5. Ernie Davis, RB, Syracuse
Leukemia robbed what would have been a great professional career for Syracuse Heisman Trophy winner Ernie Davis, who was born and raised in nearby Uniontown, Pa. before moving to New York before high school. Davis enjoyed his trip back to Morgantown in 1960, running 14 times for 125 yards in Syracuse’s 45-0 victory over the Mountaineers. A year earlier during Syracuse’s journey to the 1959 national title, Davis ran nine times for 141 yards and two touchdowns against WVU.
4. Larry Csonka, RB, Syracuse
With the exception of Tony Dorsett, no running back has enjoyed more success against West Virginia than Syracuse battering ram Larry Csonka. The Stow, Ohio native ran for 216 yards and scored two touchdowns as a sophomore in 1965 against WVU including 139 in one quarter, and added 145 yards in a 1966 Syracuse win. As a senior in 1967, West Virginia was able to hold Csonka to only 117 yards in Syracuse’s 23-6 victory. Csonka was the first running back drafted in 1968 and was a standout runner for the Miami Dolphins in the NFL.
3. Michael Vick, QB, Virginia Tech
Based purely on athletic ability, no player West Virginia has faced comes close to matching Michael Vick’s enormous skills. In two seasons at Virginia Tech, Vick took the Hokies to the national championship game his freshman season and then to a Gator Bowl triumph before declaring early for the NFL. As a freshman, Vick kept Tech’s unbeaten regular season alive by engineering a last-minute game-winning drive at West Virginia. A year later in 2000, Vick passed for 233 yards and two touchdowns and accounted for 288 yards of total offense in a 48-20 win over the Mountaineers. In two games, Vick produced 593 yards of offense against WVU.
2. Tony Dorsett, RB, Pitt
The closest West Virginia ever came to Tony Dorsett was on his brief campus visit before signing with Pitt in 1973. After that he was gone. Dorsett erupted for 150 yards and three touchdowns his freshman year, produced 145 yards and a touchdown as a sophomore in 1974, had 107 yards in a loss in Morgantown in 1975 and finished his career against West Virginia in 1976 with a 199-yard, three-TD performance on the way to winning the Heisman Trophy and leading Pitt to the national championship. Dorsett continued his hall of fame career with the Dallas Cowboys.
1. Roger Staubach, QB, Navy
It was the 100-year anniversary of the state of West Virginia and its flagship institution planned on celebrating in style with a new press box and a capacity crowd to witness exciting quarterback Roger Staubach and the No. 9-rated Navy Midshipmen. Staubach took care of the party quickly by dropping a dead cat in the punch bowl, completing 17 of 22 passes for 171 yards and a touchdown before retiring to the sidelines at halftime. Navy won the game 51-7 and made it to the Cotton Bowl where it lost 28-6 to Texas. Staubach won the Heisman Trophy in 1963 completing 66 percent of his passes for more than 1,400 yards. He later distinguished himself in the pro ranks with the Dallas Cowboys.
Missing the cut: John Mackey (Syracuse), Franco Harris (Penn State), Marshall Goldberg (Pitt), Michael Irvin (Miami), Dennis Harrah (Miami), Curtis Martin (Pitt), Carroll Dale (Virginia Tech), Dan Morgan (Miami), Roy Jefferson (Utah), Tim Green (Syracuse), Chris Doleman (Pitt), Bill Romanowski (Boston College), Bennie Blades (Miami), Doc Blanchard (Army), Jimbo Covert (Pitt), Mike Ditka (Pitt), Joe Schmidt (Pitt), Keith Dorney (Penn State), Stan Jones (Maryland), Frank Loria (Virginia Tech), Richie Lucas (Penn State), Dennis Onkotz (Penn State), Barry Sanders (Oklahoma State), Chris Zorich (Notre Dame), Chester McGlockton (Clemson), Willis McGahee (Miami), Bryant McKinnie (Miami), Lawrence McCutcheon (Colorado State), Jesse Arnelle (Penn State), Curt Warner (Penn State) and Mike Esposito (Boston College).