The Forgotten Season
June 18, 2009
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – Back in the mid-1950s when things were going well for West Virginia football, its coach, Art “Pappy” Lewis, was known to boast that he’d play anybody anywhere.
“Just line ‘em up,” Lewis would say.
Two things happened: One, Athletic Director Red Brown took Lewis seriously, and two, the coach said he’d play anyone when he had players like Sam Huff, Bruce Bosley, Joe Marconi, Chuck Howley, Fred Wyant and Bobby Moss.
By the late 1950s, those guys were no longer around.
After traveling to Austin to face Texas in 1956 (a 7-6 WVU victory), West Virginia made trips to Wisconsin in 1957, to Oklahoma in 1958, and to USC in 1959 – all blowout losses. The Mountaineers' record sank to 3-7 in 1959 and eventually Lewis resigned a couple of months after the season ended with a loss to Citadel.
Pappy may have been gone, but West Virginia’s difficult football schedule remained like a 500-pound gorilla on the shoulders of new coach Gene Corum, a longtime Lewis aide who was promoted to head coach when Pappy took a scouting job with the Pittsburgh Steelers right before the start of spring ball in 1960.
What confronted Corum in his first year in 1960 were road games at Illinois, Oregon and Penn State. In 1961, it was off to Vanderbilt, Syracuse and Army. This helped contribute to the worst three-year period in the history of Mountaineer football. West Virginia endured a depressing 18-game winless streak from 1959-61 that included a 0-8-2 record in 1960 when Corum chose to bite the bullet and play mostly sophomores that season.
"That year I wrote about first downs instead of touchdowns," said Sports Information Director Eddie Barrett.
Once asked about his rookie campaign two years later in 1962, Corum turned to humor. “A fellow called me from Clarksburg one Friday night and asked me what time our game started the next day.
“I don’t know, what time can you get here?” Corum joked.
Donnie Young was a 190-pound guard from Clendenin who grew up wanting to play for the Mountaineers. He just wasn’t sure if he could.
“I came up and watched them play against Richmond in a snowstorm and Richmond kicked the crap out of us,” Young recalled. “I said to myself, ‘I can play here.’”
A shaft of light finally came in 1961. West Virginia ended nearly 24 months of football futility with a 28-0 victory over Virginia Tech. A week later, quarterback Fred “Colt 45” Colvard led WVU to an unexpected 20-6 upset victory at Pitt in what later became known as the “Garbage Game” because Pitt players were overheard by a student reporter claiming that West Virginia was rebuilding its football team with "Western Pennsylvania garbage.” The player's comment wound up in the Pitt student newspaper.
“(Western Pa) players had a certain arrogance about them with their football prowess - and rightfully so - but you didn’t have to wear it on your shirtsleeves,” said running back Tom Woodeshick. “(Corum) read that newspaper article to us verbatim and oh God did we take it to them that day.”
For that matter, West Virginia actually found some pretty good football players from Western Pa that the Panthers either overlooked or missed on.
Fullback Steve Berzansky came from Portage just northeast of Johnstown, interior linemen Pete Goimarac and Keith Melenyzer were from Charleroi located halfway between Pittsburgh and Morgantown, end Gene Heeter was from Windber just south of Johnstown, Ken Herock came from Munhall, center Joe Kiselica was from Tarentum just northeast of the city, tackle Larry Niedzalkoski was from Greensburg, center Bill Schillings came from Isabella between Waynesburg and Uniontown, and quarterback Jerry Yost hailed from Rogersville just west of Waynesburg.
All of them earned varsity letters.
Woodeshick was the only WVU player from Eastern Pa (Wilkes-Barre) and he was one of the few Pennsylvanians to turn his back on Penn State and sign with West Virginia. He joined Heeter and Herock to make up Lewis’ last recruiting class in 1959.
“Let’s face it there was a helluva difference between Pappy Lewis and Rip Engle,” said Woodeshick. “Are you kidding? I fell in love with Pappy Lewis.”
West Virginia’s other outstanding victory in 1961 came at Army when sophomore fullback Glenn Holton outrushed the entire Cadet team. Army wasn’t the Army of the Earl Blaik years, but it was still a triumph with which to rally the troops.
Then the season ended disappointingly with home losses to Penn State and Indiana.
Four wins was a lot better than no wins, and some folks like Street & Smith’s looked at West Virginia’s schedule in 1962, saw 22 lettermen (12 of them two-year lettermen) and 23 seniors returning, and made the Mountaineers 12th in its preseason rankings.
“I’d rather be rated 12th in the country than nowhere,” said Corum that summer. “At least they know we exist.”
Corum named Melenyzer and Jim “Shorty” Moss team captains for the ’62 season, but the coach still wasn't sure who was going to play quarterback. Colvard decided to leave school and try out for the Florida State baseball team – a decision he later regretted, forcing Corum to turn to unproven junior Jerry Yost. Yost appeared in just three games in 1961, competing two passes for seven yards.
At that time the pass was to college football coaches what Cuba was to the Kennedy brothers - a four-letter word. Football has always been a macho game and teams that threw the ball back then were not really respected. Fellas with military backgrounds like Blaik, Woody Hayes and Ben Schwartzwalder preferred the time-honored practice of beating teams by identifying its weakest area and then outflanking it. It was Hayes' playing style at Ohio State that was famously called "three yards and a cloud of dust."
“The passing game was geared a lot on your running offense in that you had a lot of play action passes,” said Corum a few years ago. “Those powerful running teams, when they did throw, a lot of times they had a man open because people had to gang up to stop the run.”
Jim Carlen, who followed Corum at WVU in 1966, was a young defensive assistant on Bobby Dodd’s Georgia Tech staff in the early 1960s. He once found himself in a room with Dodd and Alabama coach Bear Bryant when the two coaching legends were talking about the passing game.
“They would talk about throwing like it was a disease,” Carlen said.
That was particularly true at West Virginia. Mountaineer quarterbacks had just seven touchdown passes from 1959-61, and one of those TD aerials came from Yost. Not only did West Virginia have a difficult time throwing the ball, it had an even tougher time defending it. Porous pass defense led to West Virginia’s 41-19 loss to Georgia Tech in the 1954 Sugar Bowl.
Yost had a strong arm and two outstanding ends to throw to in Herock and Heeter. Holton, Berzansky, Woodeshick and Tom Yeater could also catch the ball out of the backfield.
“You had less spread formations which open up the passing game more,” Corum once explained. “You had your split ends and your flankers back then, but it wasn’t like it is today when a lot of teams spread the field out on every play.”
Carlen said that was because offensive linemen were not allowed to use their hands in the 1960s.
“Today there are more takedowns and tackles by offensive linemen than there are in wrestling,” Carlen explained. “Back then you couldn’t hold a guy and people couldn’t protect. You wouldn’t have time to do all those motions and moves because you would have to keep two set-backs back to protect what breaks the line of scrimmage.
"You couldn’t release five players.”
In 1962, Yost threw twice as many passes as the two previous Mountaineer quarterbacks did in 1960-61, and his 152 attempts in '62 were only four less than Dick Longfellow tried in 1958 when he finished sixth in the country in passing.
“Jerry Yost was a good quarterback,” said Young.
That year West Virginia also had a more manageable schedule with one exception - a road trip to Oregon State. The school foolishly added a cross country game against the Beavers at the end of October in Portland and flew out the day before.
Back then commercial jet travel was still in its infancy and as a result, it took West Virginia eight hours to get from Pittsburgh to Portland flying in an old DC-7.
"I advanced the game in Portland and didn't travel with the team," recalled Barrett. "The charter flight on Friday was ill-advised because the new-to-us airline took all day and we were too broke to go earlier. The team got to the stadium at about 8:30 p.m. for a workout."
“I don’t know how many times we stopped but I can tell you it’s one of the longest trips I was ever on,” said sportswriter Mickey Furfari, who traveled with the team back then.
In fact, once the team arrived in Portland Furfari remembered having to walk outside the press box to get the feeling back in his legs.
“They played in a baseball stadium out there and when you walked outside the press box there was an area where you could walk. I had to go out there and walk around while the team was down there on the field trying to get their legs straightened out,” Furfari laughed.
They never did.
Heisman Trophy winner Terry Baker threw two TD passes to lead the Beavers to an easy 51-22 win.
"Terry Baker, throwing to 6-foot-5 receiver Vern Burke, waltzed all over us. That performance drew national attention to Baker, and he won the Heisman Trophy," Barrett said. "Oregon State's coach, Tommy Prothro, decked his team in all-black uniforms with satin orange numbers that were practically invisible."
Two weeks later, Pete Liske threw three second-half touchdowns to lead Penn State to a 34-6 victory over the Mountaineers. In both instances, West Virginia simply wasn't equipped to defend the pass.
Depth was also a contributing factor. Two-platoon football was still two years away, meaning guards on offense flipped over and played defense, offensive ends played defensive end and so forth. When substitutions were made, entire units were usually replaced.
“Penn State was the kind of team, because of their depth, you knock somebody out of the box and they have somebody else to step right in, especially on the offensive line,” Woodeshick explained. “They had some studs.”
Those were the only two losses West Virginia had in 1962.
Nineteen sixty two was the year the United States and the Soviet Union nearly went to war over missiles secretly placed in Cuba, Marvel Comics introduced Spider-Man and The Incredible Hulk, the first James Bond film Dr. No was released, film goddess Marilyn Monroe died, The Beatles became hit makers, the Dodgers began play in Dodger Stadium, and Wilt Chamberlain scored 100 points in one basketball game.
It was also the year Mountaineer football made a big comeback.
WVU began the season with three consecutive shutout wins over Vanderbilt, Virginia Tech and Boston University – the Virginia Tech blanking was preserved when linebacker John Skinner nailed Hokie fullback Tom Walker at the WVU five late in the third quarter.
Pitt was the first team to score on West Virginia’s defense when Paul Martha made a 34-yard touchdown run in the third quarter that gave the Panthers an 8-7 lead. With less than 10 minutes to play, Woodeshick broke free from West Virginia’s nine and raced 49 yards up the left sideline to the Pitt 42. Then a pair of Yost passes to Heeter set up Yeater’s game-winning five-yard touchdown run.
The biggest victory came at Syracuse to end the regular season. Winless in four previous tries at Archbold Stadium, West Virginia entered the game a touchdown underdog to the Orangemen.
Syracuse caught fire in '62 when it moved end John Mackey to the backfield and it soon won four of six games during a streak of games that also included a tough 20-19 setback to Gator Bowl-bound Penn State.
Woodeshick recalled Corum using a little reverse psychology on the team the night before the game against the Orange.
“He said we didn’t need to bring our shoulder pads because we didn’t need them,” Woodeshick laughed. “He said you’ve got to hit somebody with your shoulder if you’re going to use pads, and there’s no need for you to use shoulder pads.”
Woodeshick said Corum provided more inspiration for the team at halftime with the Mountaineers leading just 10-6.
“He said, ‘Fellas I hate to tell you this but somebody broke into the dressing room and stole all of your wallets. All of your valuables are gone,’” Woodeshick said. “We didn't know any better. We just went back out there one pissed off team.”
The Mountaineers held the Orange scoreless in the second half and added insurance when Yost fired an 8-yard touchdown to Heeter. Woodeshick had the best game of his career with 89 yards rushing and he signed a professional contract with the Buffalo Bills right underneath the goal post after the game. Later, he also signed a contract with the Philadelphia Eagles.
"I was totally, totally taken by the Buffalo Bills after the Syracuse game," recalled Woodeshick. "The fact that there were so many legalities when Philadelphia drafted me - that's probably one of the reasons why I made the team (as an eighth round draft choice)."
West Virginia's 17-6 win over Syracuse and its 8-2 record were complete turnaround from the 45-0 loss it sustained to Syracuse and the winless record the Mountaineers put up in 1960.
Pride was finally restored.
“The biggest kick I get out of it is the way these seniors stayed in there and fought back,” Corum said after the game. “They took some bad lickings as sophomores but it didn’t knock the spirit out of them like it might have. They were determined to come back and prove something to themselves.”
West Virginia was rumored to be in line for the Liberty and Gotham bowls, but the Gotham chose Miami to face Nebraska and the Liberty took Villanova to oppose Oregon State. For most of the season, the Mountaineers received votes when The Associated Press only ranked 10 teams. The team's record was its best in seven years.
“We lost two games because we were so used to Eastern football that just ran the ball down your throats,” Woodeshick said. “We just couldn’t stop the passing game.”
That didn't stop the Mountaineers from throwing it, however. Yost passed for 1,134 yards and 11 touchdowns and was named AP third-team All-America – the first WVU quarterback ever selected to an All-America team. A year later, Yost's passing totals as a senior in 1963 were nearly halved as the Mountaineers struggled to a 4-6 record.
"He just kind of faded from the picture," Barrett said of Yost.
Woodeshick became an all-pro fullback with the Philadelphia Eagles, while Herock and Heeter also played professionally. Later, Herock became a well-respected NFL general manager who once drafted Brett Favre while at Atlanta.
Moss was beginning a promising career as an assistant coach when he tragically died in the 1970 Marshall airplane crash while the team was returning from a football game at East Carolina.
Young had the longest serving tenure of any football coach at West Virginia University and he remains on the WVU athletic staff.
Yost’s backup, Ed Pastilong, didn’t play in 1962 because of a shoulder injury, but he later played a big part in WVU joining the Big East Conference as the school’s athletic director. Pastilong’s present tenure is the second longest among ADs at BCS conference schools.
The '62 team also produced several successful businessmen, attorneys and doctors.
Corum coached three more seasons until 1965 when he resigned under pressure to take a teaching post in the School of Physical Education. His 1964 WVU team upset Syracuse in Morgantown and secured a Liberty Bowl bid – only the school’s fifth bowl appearance at the time.
But most old-timers agree that Corum’s 1962 team was his best. It came when West Virginia was struggling to win games when college football was beginning to change dramatically.
Television was starting to make a big impact, different styles of play were being adopted, and college programs around the country were beginning to diversify.
At the same time Ole Miss was gaining international notoriety when federal agents were required to safely enroll black student James Meredith, West Virginia had quietly and peacefully integrated its football program with the addition of Dick Leftridge and Roger Alford. The door was finally opening to all good football players.
Six years later, in 1968, West Virginia left the Southern Conference at Jim Carlen's urging and became an Eastern independent.
"Jim Carlen came along in 1966 and he got us well with his recruiting, public relations and bringing in Bobby Bowden with his exciting offense," said Barrett.
A new football stadium was eventually constructed in 1980 and the school hired a new coach in Don Nehlen. Eleven years later WVU joined the Big East Football Conference in 1991, creating many more moments in a treasure chest full of memories.
Yet buried deep inside of those memories was the 1962 football season - one of the great forgotten years in Mountaineer football history.
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