• By John Antonik
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  • May 17, 2011 11:29 AM
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It was a strike year in the NFL (sound familiar?) and Houston Oilers rookie quarterback Oliver Luck had a little extra time on his hands, so he hopped in his car and drove from his parent’s home in Cleveland over to Pittsburgh to catch the Backyard Brawl being played at Pitt Stadium.

The year was 1982 and both teams were highly ranked – Pitt at No. 2 in the country with quarterback Dan Marino and West Virginia knocking on the doorstep of the Top 10 following big wins over Oklahoma and Maryland.

“I remember we had a good team that year coming off the Peach Bowl and the Oklahoma game, and going up there standing on the sidelines and watching Talley … he was just a one-man wrecking crew,” Luck recalled.

Luck rarely made it a habit to watch one particular player, usually focusing his attention on the offense being a quarterback, but the way his old Mountaineer teammate was playing against all those Pitt Panther first-rounders forced him to take notice, sort of like a bright light attracting a bunch of bugs.

“I remember thinking to myself, because I was playing pro ball and I had an eye for pro players, and I’m thinking, ‘Yeah he’s going to be a hell of an NFL player.’ I never really watched individual players that much because you don’t really watch your teammates,” Luck said.

Good players know good players and Talley was all of that, first at West Virginia and later in the NFL with the Buffalo Bills.

Luck and Talley were both from Cleveland and came to WVU in the same recruiting class. Plus, both were severely undersized when they arrived in Morgantown.

“He came in like me at 175, 180 pounds or whatever,” Luck laughed. “Darryl was not a highly recruited player. He was undersized. We always used to joke that his parents didn’t feed him and (younger brother) John took all of the food.”

Luck credits Coach Frank Cignetti and Northeastern Ohio recruiter Gary Stevens for discovering Talley.

“They took a kid that not a lot of other schools recruited,” Luck pointed out. “Shaw High School wasn’t a football hotbed like St. Edwards, St. Ignatius or Glenville. They recognized something in Darryl.”

Luck, a former pro football executive and now West Virginia University’s Director of Athletics, believes the year Talley redshirted in 1978 might have been the key to his future football development.

“I may be remembering this incorrectly, but when Darryl was redshirted I think it was one of the first classes when coaches were really starting to redshirt kids,” Luck said. “His draft class (1983) included several guys that had been redshirted, and it was almost as if there were two groups of players. My draft class (1982) wasn’t anywhere near the caliber of that draft class.”

In fact, some believe Talley’s draft class in 1983 with John Elway, Eric Dickerson and Curt Warner going one, two and three, and quarterback Dan Marino slipping all the way down to No. 27 was one of the best draft classes in NFL history.

Talley, a sure fire first-rounder in most years, was the 39th pick. Still, Talley’s timing was pretty good because that was the year after linebacker Lawrence Taylor blew up playing for the New York Giants.

“He was as quick as Lawrence Taylor,” Luck recalled. “He didn’t have the size that Taylor had, but I thought he was as quick with his first step and kind of getting low the way the guys do now with the way they almost touch the ground coming around the edge.

“The game began to change when you had guys that you had to scheme around. He played with some pretty good linebackers up in Buffalo.”

What Talley did with those outstanding teams in Buffalo was often lost because the Bills had so many great players during their run of five consecutive AFC championship game appearances – a feat that will likely never be duplicated again.

“He played in a tough market up there,” said Luck. “That kind of run you are not going to see anymore given the parity in the NFL.”

Talley’s election into the College Football Hall of Fame is yet another sign that Mountaineer football is positioned among the top programs in the sport.

“It validates a couple of things,” said Luck. “One, it validates what Coach Nehlen said about Frank stockpiling some pretty good players. Secondly, I think it validates what Don was able to do in those early years when I think we had some pretty good talent but we didn’t have any depth.

“Well, he took those guys and we started knocking off Florida and Oklahoma, and beating Penn State finally, and it validates for me the fact that Nehlen built the foundation for this program. People took notice and remembered that.”