By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
March 30, 2010
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - West Virginia sports information director Bryan Messerly sent along more than 60 credential requests to the NCAA for this year's Final Four to be played at Lucas Oil Arena in Indianapolis.
||For West Virginia's first trip to the Final Four during Jerry West's junior year in 1959, the Mountaineers submitted fewer than 10 media credential requests to the NCAA, says former team publicist Eddie Barrett.
WVU Sports Communications photo
That's, oh, about 53 more than West Virginia publicist Eddie Barrett recalls passing along to the NCAA the last time the Mountaineers appeared in the Final Four in 1959.
"It's nothing like today," said Barrett from his home in Huntington, W.Va. "I think three or four West Virginia television stations went and they were the only TV stations that covered the tournament. That was Wheeling (WTRF), Charleston (WCHS) and maybe Oak Hill (WOAY)."
The contingent of sportswriters from West Virginia was just as small.
"Mickey Furfari (Morgantown Dominion News), Skip Johnson (Charleston Gazette) and Dick Hudson (Charleston Daily Mail) were the only ones I recall going," said Barrett.
Of course the NCAA tournament back then was a much smaller event, with the vast majority of the media coverage coming from the four participating schools. Barrett said the coaches at that time kept a pretty tight lid on player accessibility.
"That was part of the silent generation," Barrett said. "(All-American) Jerry West was available at certain times like right after pre-game meal or something like that, but that was about it."
Barrett remembers drawing the ire of West Virginia coach Fred Schaus for permitting a national photographer to snap some photos of West during pre-game warm-ups before the semifinal game against Louisville.
"Schaus jumped all over me," laughed Barrett. "He said, 'Don't you realize that's bad luck! You don't take a picture before the game.'"
Barrett said that much like today with the New York City newspapers adopting West Virginia because of the strong New York City presence on the Mountaineer roster, several Southern Conference writers kept up with West Virginia during its 1959 run through the NCAA tournament.
"The Charlotte Observer, Charlotte News, Richmond Times-Dispatch, Norfolk Pilot … they were our main outlets to the nation," said Barrett.
The Pittsburgh writers also had an interest in West Virginia, particularly George Kiseda from the Pittsburgh Sun-Telegraph, who went to the finals on his own dime simply because he was a great admirer of West.
"I don't think George filed a thing from down there," Barrett noted.
Barrett said he always tried to court the Pittsburgh writers.
"I would advance the Pitt game by going to the Pittsburgh newspapers a day ahead," Barrett explained. "We were always well received there. I made sure our coaches knew the difference between the Pitt Panthers and the Pittsburgh media. Those were two entirely different things."
The one nut Barrett could never crack was Sports Illustrated college basketball writer Jeremiah Tax. Barrett was frustrated with Tax because he would never come to Morgantown to write about Jerry West the way he did other star players of that period such as Cincinnati's Oscar Robertson or Kansas State's Bob Boozer.
During the finals, Barrett said Tax didn't even attempt to hide his bias for California.
"He idolized Pete Newell," admitted Barrett. "He was openly for Cal and I thought that was awful."
Barrett also recalled an incident involving Mickey Furfari near the end of the championship game against California when the Final Four MVP ballots were being distributed.
"There was overflow press from the sidelines back up five or six rows into the stands and Mickey somehow got left out when the ballots were being distributed," said Barrett. "Mickey said, 'What's the matter, don't we count?' Afterward, I played a practical joke on Mickey and told him that they were livid at him, but I'm sure he eventually did get to vote."
Two other humorous stories Barrett remembers about West Virginia's first trip to Final Four concerns tickets, one taking place in Morgantown and the other occurring at Freedom Hall.
After West Virginia defeated Boston University to win the East Regional Finals, assistant athletic director Lowry Stoops went on television to inform Mountaineer fans that he would have 250 tickets available for sale at his home on Sunday.
"Well, the cars were backed up way past Westover almost to Clarksburg," Barrett chuckled. "He lived in one of those South Park houses with no parking, and he eventually had to escape out his back door."
Barrett said a much more serious ticket controversy took place at Freedom Hall that resulted in the manager of the arena getting fired. Louisville was one of the four teams in the tournament and the demand for tickets far outnumbered the supply.
"He bowed to pressure and let his political friends have the NABC (National Association of Basketball Coaches) tickets," said Barrett. "So the NABC and the NCAA threatened not to have the event unless something was done. As a result, they put the coaches in the aisles. Guys like John Wooden were sitting in the aisles."
As for West Virginia's first-ever appearance in the Final Four, Barrett said the Mountaineers netted about $14,000 for their efforts. Adjusted for inflation, that comes out to a little more than $100,000 in today's dollars, or about 1/20th the salary of some the game's best-paid coaches.
"I don't recall anyone complaining," laughed Barrett.