MSN radio sideline reporter Jed Drenning is providing periodic commentary on the Mountaineer football program for MSNsportsNET.com. You can also read more about Mountaineer football at Jed’s website http://thesignalcaller.com. You can also follow Jed on Twitter: @TheSignalCaller
Driving to the airport in Bridgeport last week to catch the team charter to Tampa, I was saddened by the news that Chester McGlockton had passed away.
Before his untimely death at age 42 last Wednesday morning, McGlockton was known to a lot of people for a lot of things. To some he was a four time all-pro defensive tackle for the LA/Oakland Raiders. To others he was an assistant coach at Stanford University, a post he held the last two seasons.
To me, McGlockton was the freshman wrecking ball who pulled off the ultimate defensive trifecta in Clemson's 27-7 Gator Bowl win over West Virginia in 1989. He sacked; he scooped; he scored.
With the Tigers leading 17-7 midway through the final quarter, McGlockton blew the game open with the type of play that would later earn his place as a first-round draft pick. Facing a third and long from his own nine, WVU's Major Harris dropped to pass and was quickly ambushed by McGlockton. From his defensive tackle spot, the Clemson defender took the path of least resistance, blasting through the A-gap and engulfing Harris with a textbook "arm over" move. He swatted the football from the quarterback's throwing hand like a dirty bagel before slinging Harris to the ground. The ball bounced into the end zone and McGlockton smothered it for a Tigers' touchdown.
The score effectively put the game away, marking the end of the Major Harris era and closing the book on what was at the time the most bountiful decade in West Virginia football history. It also was the only time Clemson and WVU had ever met on the gridiron.
That’s about to change.
What I didn't know last Wednesday en route to the airport was that Dana Holgorsen's Mountaineers were poised for a Houdini-act at South Florida. Nor did I know Dabo Swinney's Tigers were preparing to drop another hammer on Virginia Tech. These were the key events that set these programs on a collision course in the 78th annual Orange Bowl game in Miami on Jan. 4.
With 30 bowl berths to its credit overall, West Virginia has appeared in 14 different postseason classics through the years – but the Orange Bowl will be new to the list. Moreover, with Sugar and Fiesta Bowl trophies already adorning the halls of the Milan Puskar Center, an Orange Bowl win would propel WVU into the very select company of Ohio State, Oklahoma and Miami as the only schools with a victory in three of the four designated BCS bowl games. No team has won all four.
Take a few steps back to see the larger picture and an even more critical opportunity presents itself. This particular BCS affair represents a chance for Mountaineer Nation to reclaim its rightful standing as one of the most dependable and bowl-crazy fan bases in all of college football. That reputation suffered a modest blow last December when the university fell significantly short of selling its allotment of 12,500 tickets for the Champs Sports Bowl.
Word in Miami is already spreading about the rabid nature of the Clemson faithful. With geography on their side (a five-and-a-half-hour shorter drive from Clemson than from Morgantown), Tiger fans are expected to arrive en masse and plant a proverbial orange and white flag over the Magic City on the sea.
Well, not so fast Tiger fans.
What do I see playing out? I can see Mountaineer Nation recognizing this game as the signature opportunity that it is and responding like history suggests they can. I can see West Virginia fans going old school and turning out in droves to watch an offensive-charged matchup that might turn out to be the biggest surprise on the BCS slate this January. I can see them invading Dade County by planes, trains and pickup trucks with a tackle box and tanning lotion in tow. I can see them descending on Miami like a Gold and Blue legion dispatched from the hills and hollows to prove that last year’s bowl showing was the exception – not the rule.
In short, I can see WVU fans at their maniacal best for this one. They know what’s at stake; and they know the nation is watching. If you’re riding the fence on making this trip, do yourself a favor and come over from the dark side – and bring a friend with you.
As a player, I was taught that if I visualized positive things leading up to a game, those things might actually happen. It took a lot of focus, but I got pretty good at it through the years. In my mind’s eye I would imagine every detail of a big play, or a great throw, or a nice read. Color me crazy, but I’m convinced it did help.
Reflecting on this made me wonder: why confine this tactic to just players? Can’t fans practice the same thing? Of course they can.
Imagine the smile on your face and the sun on your back as you hop off the plane and make memories leading up to this game. Imagine sitting in the stands with friends and family. Imagine standing to attention when the Pride of West Virginia gets cranking and Big Brock Burwell leads the Mountaineers onto the field in a dead sprint as the boom of his musket echoes into the Florida night. Imagine screaming so hard that you can’t whisper at work until five days later.
This game – this Orange Bowl “event” - is rife with opportunity - for our team, and for our fans. It’s an opportunity for our tackle football squad to show the world they’re more than just the last man standing in the topsy-turvy Big East Conference; an opportunity to become just the eighth team in West Virginia history to win 10 games; an opportunity to give the Big 12 a taste of what’s to come; an opportunity to shine on a stage once dominated by such gridiron luminaries as Joe Namath, Lee Roy Selmon and Tommie Frazier.
And for our fans?
This trip presents an opportunity to let the good folks of South Beach in on a little secret that every West Virginian already knows … After hearing a couple hundred hill folks belt out “Let’s go … Mountaineers!” across a crowded city block, a feeble “A-C-C” chant holds no peril.
See you at the fifty ... in Miami.