It's Texas, If You Haven't Heard
If you haven’t heard, the Texas Longhorns are coming to town to play the West Virginia Mountaineers at Milan Puskar Stadium this Saturday.
Texas. Not North Texas. Not Texas State or Texas Southern.
Texas. The Longhorns.
When I used to play backyard football with my buddies as a kid in the late 1970s, I would sometimes stuff towels underneath my thigh pads so that I could try and have thighs just like Earl Campbell.
Who didn’t want to have thighs like Earl Campbell if you were a football player?
Or, if I was lined up at wide receiver playing two-hand touch out in the street, I would sometimes imagine myself being Johnny “Lam” Jones streaking down the road, leaping over the sidewalk to make an acrobatic catch before plunging into the yard – just the way Lam Jones used to do it on TV against Oklahoma.
That’s the Texas I remember.
Obviously, the Longhorns have a great football tradition dating back to the Darrell Royal years in the late 1950s. Texas has won national titles in 1963, 1969, 1970 and 2005. That’s a big deal - just as it was a big deal last year when Oklahoma came to town, or in 2011 when the Mountaineers played LSU, or in 2008 when Auburn traveled to Morgantown, or even way back in 1986 when top-ranked Miami showed up at Mountaineer Field to play WVU.
I will never forget the electricity and excitement of that Miami game sitting in the student section as a WVU freshman. When quarterback Vinny Testeverde got sacked on the second play of the game, everyone looked around and thought, is this the same West Virginia team that we saw get pummeled by Maryland, Pitt and Virginia Tech?
Turned out it was.
Vinny picked himself off the turf, converted what seemed like a third and 50, and in a blink of an eye had 28 points on the scoreboard before the end of the first quarter. By the third quarter most of the Miami starters were already on the bench.
I still get a chuckle when recalling the story I once heard about Don Nehlen walking into defensive coordinator Dennis Brown’s office the week of the game and asking him if he thought the overmatched Mountaineers even had a prayer against Miami, to which Brown replied, “Sure Don, if your offense can get us 60!”
He was right: Miami 58, West Virginia 14.
The really graybeards still talk about the time Navy came to Morgantown in 1963, and about how Roger Staubach invented new ways to score touchdowns. Like Vinny, Roger got so tired of scoring that he decided to sit out the second half and watch from the sidelines.
Back then it was few and far between when teams like top-ranked Miami or ninth-ranked Navy came to Morgantown.
But today, it seems like these types of games are a common occurrence – especially over the last 15 years or so, going back to 1998 when West Virginia played host to No. 1-ranked Ohio State in the first college football game ever televised in high definition.
Can you even imagine watching a college football game today without HD?
By the way, you can also throw in the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in 2000 and the Wisconsin Badgers in 2003 among the traditional programs playing college football games in Morgantown.
That’s quite a difference from some of the football teams the Mountaineers used to bring in here on a yearly basis – William & Mary, Richmond, VMI, Tulane, Temple, Kent State, Louisville, Northern Illinois, Bowling Green, Louisiana Tech and Ball State, just to name a few.
One of the first Mountaineer football games I ever saw in person was a 27-17 ho-hummer-of-an-affair against the Tulane Green Wave in 1979, and the only two things that I can remember about it were the putrid stench emanating from the WVU student section and old Mountaineer Field’s bright, green Astro-turf playing surface.
All I wanted to do was get down on that field after the game and run around on that green carpet with my plastic cup and imagine that I was a Mountaineer football player - while also getting away from the student section stench.
It’s possible my boss, Oliver Luck, even played in that game but I’m not 100 percent certain (he actually did, running for a team-high 120 yards and throwing for a 108 more), plus, I couldn’t name a single player on Tulane’s team or even its head coach (turns out it was Larry Smith, a pretty good one who went on to have a fine coaching career at Arizona, USC and Missouri).
But I bet every 11-year-old kid who is at Milan Puskar Stadium on Saturday night will be able to name some of Texas’ football players, or its coach Mack Brown, who, by the way, is responsible for one of those four national titles in 2005. I am also certain they will remember Dana Holgorsen’s Mountaineers, that’s for sure.
The bright lights of national television will once again be shining on Morgantown this Saturday night.
It’s Texas, if you haven’t heard, and it should be a lot of fun.
We’ll see you at the stadium.
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