October 2, 1982 was the date when the rest of the country found out what West Virginia football fans had known for a long time – linebacker Darryl Talley was one helluva football player.
On that gorgeous early October afternoon in Pittsburgh, Talley, playing in front of a nationally televised audience on ABC, almost singlehandedly beat one of the best teams in college football - a Pittsburgh Panther squad that Jackie Sherrill had fully stocked with top-shelf NFL talent before blowing out of town for Texas A&M.
By his own admission, Talley was sick and tired of losing to Pitt and he decided on that Indian Summer afternoon to reach deep inside himself to do everything he could to beat the Panthers in his last crack at them.
“I had tried everything I could think of to beat Pitt during my whole collegiate career,” Talley recalled. “I mean, I had games where I had 18, 20 tackles, a couple pass breakups, sacks, a couple tackles for a loss; I couldn’t do it.
“I had to figure out some other way to do it.”
That meant lining up at defensive tackle and defensive end. That meant going outside on the slot receiver when West Virginia played its “tough coverage” defense. That meant playing on the punt block team. That meant chasing down ball carriers from the either side of the field. That meant taking on blockers twice his size. That meant covering guys half his size.
“When we played them I was like, I’m going to out-play everybody and you know why? This game is on national TV and guess what, you put me on national TV and I’m going to show my butt,” Talley said. “I used to tell my old man, ‘Pop, if they ever put me on national TV, I’m going to show my butt!”
Darryl Talley could do anything he wanted on the football field and that afternoon, West Virginia coach Don Nehlen was smart enough to let him.
Talley lined up at every position on defense with the exception of safety. He intercepted passes, blocked punts, hung out in Pitt’s huddle, antagonized quarterback Dan Marino, butted heads with Jimbo Covert, Jim Sweeney and Bill Fralic, stuffed running back Bryan Thomas, ran down fleet receivers Julius Dawkins and Dwight Collins, helped out the chain gang, kept stats, and even found some time to serve hot dogs and cokes.
Many dyed-in-wool West Virginia rooters consider what Talley did that afternoon the most dominating defensive performance put forth by a Mountaineer player – ever.
Oliver Luck, on break from the NFL that weekend, was standing on the West Virginia sideline during the game watching in total amazement his former Mountaineer teammate controlling the football game – it was Talley, not one of the guys in the dark blue jerseys. Luck said he never really focused on one particular player during a game, but that afternoon he couldn’t keep his eyes off of Talley.
“I remember thinking to myself, because I was playing pro ball and I had an eye for pro players, ‘Yeah, he’s going to be one hell of an NFL player,’” Luck said. “He was as quick as Lawrence Taylor. 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 off the edge.”
Nehlen said his team had some pretty good football players on the roster that year, but nothing close to what Pitt was running out there on a weekly basis.
“We had maybe five or six really good players,” Nehlen recalled. “The rest of the guys were our Mountaineers, but they weren’t going to the next level or anything like that.”
Yet Nehlen thought his guy - Darryl Talley - was the star of stars that afternoon.
“Pitt had as good a football players that you were going to find anywhere in the country,” said Nehlen. “I mean, almost all of them went to the NFL and Darryl Talley was a one-man wrecking crew against that team.”