Now that I’ve had time to digest the worst showing by a WVU team since New Year’s Day 2004, A couple quick thoughts:
“If you wanna BE the Man, you gotta BEAT the man.”
My all-time favorite Ric Flair-ism is as true now as it was when he first uttered it back in 1948.
More importantly, this is the mindset that every Big East team has carried into their game against WVU for the last several years. A couple hot seasons from Cincinnati notwithstanding, WVU is the only team in the conference to have 2 BCS Bowl trophies in it’s case and remains the closest thing to a marquee football name in the Big East. Since the first found of detections in 2003, WVU has been picked often 1 and at least 2 in the preseason poll. And if WVU plans on hanging around the diluted conference, none of that will be changing anytime soon. WVU needs to learn how to live with that.
Over 2 decades of WVU football spanning 4 different coaches, like most fans I’ve noticed a variety of trends. Special teams will always be an Achilles heel, great teams will be characterized by great defense, and the Mountaineers are at their worst when the world thinks they’re at their best. If you look back, some of the best WVU performances come when the odds seem the longest and some of the worst when they put it on cruise control. Witness the chip-on-the-shoulder ferocity that characterized out-of-nowhere beat downs of Virginia Tech in 2003, Georgia in 2006, Oklahoma in 2008 and Pitt about a half dozen times from 1992 to 2010.
Flipping the coin, nothing brings out the worst in WVU teams quite like widespread acclaim. Look at bowl games vs. Virginia in 2002 and Florida State in 2010 where they entered as solid favorites. Or the entire 2004 season. Or The Game That Shall Not Be Named. I tweeted out a great line last night from an old buddy of mine: “West Virginia never misses an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” This rings true to WVU fans because it always seems they come up JUST short when it seems the path is clear. We saw it last year against Syracuse and Connecticut when the conference BCS bid was just begging to be snatched up, and we saw it again last night.
I’ve developed a theory of sorts to explain this. For better or worse, WVU just doesn’t have the talent level of many teams. The reasons can be argued and I’m not going to re-hash them here. Let’s just agree it’s a fact. However it’s still a pretty damn high level of talent, and when properly motivated and adequately pissed off, they can do some damage. Unfortunately that fire isn’t a rapidly renewable fuel and the furnace often runs cold. And when it happens, you have a team talented enough to do some great things but not quite good enough to survive just on talent. So when they run into a buzz-saw – say an FSU team closing out it’s coach’s historic career or a Pitt team playing to save it’s season – or maybe an entire program that was insulted by an athletic director – things gets away quickly. It happened on Friday night. It happens at least once a season. And given the makeup of the Big East going forward WVU needs to find a way around it. The Mountaineers are going to be the best team on the schedule for most of who they play and they need to understand that.
For an education in dealing with this, I would point across the Ohio River at John Calipari’s University of Kentucky Wildcats. Playing in an often lackluster SEC basketball conference, the Cats know their game is one that teams have circled on their schedule weeks if not months in advance. For teams that won’t make the Final Four or even NCAA Tournament, that Kentucky game is their Super Bowl. Their time to shine. He has chosen to embrace it, challenging his kids each and every night to match that level of intensity, even using it as a tool to steel his clubs for the postseason grind of one and done tournament play. It’s not a cross to bear, it’s a badge of honor.
WVU needs to find a way to embrace a similar mentality and instill that pride in their football program, approaching each and every game with the knowledge that they’re going to get somebody’s best shot and only meeting that with their best is acceptable. Until then, they’ll continue leasing an apartment at the precipice of greatness with that crystal ball always just a game or two out of reach, denied by a lesser team who wanted it more.
Now on to the aftermath / fallout from an awful, awful performance by the Mountaineers. It was the most points allowed by a WVU team since 1991 in a 51-6 thrashing at the hands of the Penn State Nittany Lions. As Hoppy Kercheval said so well via twitter, it was “a good old fashioned ass whippin’.” Under the best of circumstances this would have been difficult for WVU fans to take, and in the heated climate of conference realignment it was downright maddening. The trash talk was plentiful in the twitter world, so in honor of the great Steven Colbert, allow me to give out a “Tip of the Cap, Wag of The Finger.”
Tip of The Cap:
This goes to you Syracuse and Syracuse fans
. You’ve taken a pretty fair amount of grief for your decision to bolt for the ACC – a vast majority of that from WVU and their fans. Everyone from the athletic director to obscure bloggers have been lining up to kick you in the backside on your way out the door and I can’t imagine it’s been fun having your once-storied program the subject of such ridicule. Clearly you relished the sweet revenge on Friday night. On Saturday morning, I had a shiny new “screw you” comment added to a blog entry I had posted on Luck’s ‘Cuse-bashing back in mid-September. Friday night I received a taunting reply to a tweet of mine from 3 WEEKS AGO. Honestly I don’t even know if I could find my tweets from that long ago, but clearly someone did and he locked it away in a dark corner of his heart, waiting patiently for just the right time to unleash it. If that game had happened in 2013 (or 2023, or 2053) instead of 2011, I have no doubt I’d have gotten that same response.
And you know what, I respect the hell out of that level of hate. Flipping a collective bird to an entire fan-base is a sweet, sweet feeling. One of my happiest memories as a WVU fan was being in the stands to enjoin in full-throated and drunken glory a jeering chant of “ACC!! ACC!!” as we sent the spanked #3 in the country Virginia Tech Hokies the season after their conference defection. Had Twitter existed back then, I’d have been firing out screw-yous to anyone who would listen. So enjoy it Syracuse fans, it was well-earned. You can take your Swartz-waddever trophy and run off to the wine and cheese ACC. We’ll miss the game. And when you’re sitting in a field of aluminum watching the Orange sputter against Wake Forest alongside 20,000 of your closest friends, at least this will give you something to reminisce about.
Wag of the Finger:
He Trolls For Thee, WVU Fans.
I wag my finger at you Brett McMurphy.
As the clock ran out on WVU’s dignity Friday night, McMurphy didn’t want to miss a prime trolling opportunity, deciding to bang his twitter account against the hornet’s nest. He tweeted:
“West Virginia lost by 26 to LSU, losing by 26 to Syracuse. A-C-C! A-C-C! A-C-C!”
First let me say I have no problem with that. I think it’s a little petty for a guy who is supposedly a professional and it certainly lowered his esteem in my eyes (I’ve always liked the guy) but fair enough. He wants to mix it up, mix it up. I’m sure he takes plenty, let him dish it a little.
What DID piss me off royally however, was what McMurphy did after, when he began retweeting the responses he was getting from WVU fans in all their predictably profane glory. It was cheap on every conceivable level. I won’t repeat them here but you can get a look at them if you check out his mentions from Friday night (@McMurphyCBS). As a WVU fan, it was infuriating to see a national writer cherry-pick the most inflammatory responses from fans who were right in the middle of a pretty frustrating night and send them out. Just a lazy journalist using his high profile platform to kneecap a fanbase.
Few things infuriate me like the penchant national media outlets (particularly ones headquartered in Bristol, Connecticut) have developed for selectively reporting only news about WVU fans that reinforces the national perception that we are all uneducated rubes who aren’t happy unless we’re fighting slinging profanity. McMurphy took this another step farther, intentionally CREATING the situation before sending it off for the world to see.
Hey Brett – you and other writers want to know why WVU fans always act like you’re out to get us? – it’s stunts like this. Don’t kick a wounded dog in the corner and then, when it snaps at you, go around telling anyone who will listen that this dog is just out of control. I get that this type of trolling allows you stir the pot and get attention, but understand that the rest of us out here, whether we know it or not, are dividing the ever growing world of opinion-makers into the categories of adults and trolls. Personally I had always out you more in the adult camp and I guess I still do, but Friday night was a blow to your credibility. You’re better than that.
And with that I will dismount my soapbox and go back to the Big East deathwatch.
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