January 4, 2007
Florida State Head Coach Bobby Bowden always said his most unexplainable career setback was a 36-35 loss to Pittsburgh as head coach of the West Virginia University Mountaineers in 1970 — a game in which Bowden's team, in his first year as head coach in Morgantown, led 35-8 only to surrender 28 points and lose 36-35.
Now his old team trumped that loss with a worst blow. The Mountaineers, eight point underdogs to the No. 1 ranked Seminoles, shocked the nation stealing the national championship from Florida State by the identical score of 36-35! And, it happened in Bobby Bowden's last game after coaching for 37 years at the major college level.
Leading 35-16 at the start of the fourth quarter at the New Orleans Superdome (where WVU head doach Rich Rodriguez had, strangely enough, coached as an assistant at Tulane under Bobby's son, Tommy, from 1997 to 1998), it looked as if Bowden would retire in style with his third national championship (his Seminoles won titles in 1993 and 1999). But, West Virginia turned the tables on Bobby.
Rodriguez, uncharacteristically, told his offense to go to Plan B. Abandoning the nation's leading offense, the spread and no-huddle attack, WVU turned to a double tight end, one-back offense featuring a fresh unused bruiser, a senior fullback who weighed in at 265 pounds. Combining play action tosses to WVU's unheralded tight ends (who each caught five passes in the fourth quarter) with quick traps and fullback pitches, the Mountaineers rushed for 165 yards and passed for 140 yards in the fourth quarter, outscoring Bowden's Boys 20-0 down the stretch and recovering two Seminole fumbles to earn the oh-so-sweet victory.
The key play was a third-and-five from the Mountaineers' nine-yard line as WVU held a slender one-point lead with 2:42 left in the title game. Rodriguez suddenly brought in his spread offense and faked to the fullback, throwing a bomb down the middle which was caught at the Seminole 38-yard line. From there, West Virginia ran out the clock on the biggest win in Mountaineer history and WVU's first ever 13-win season.
A victory parade is scheduled to be held on High Street in Morgantown tomorrow at 12 noon. Invited guests include West Virginia governor Joe Manchin, Senators Byrd and Rockefeller and hundreds of sports celebrities and WVU alums. Don Nehlen, Major Harris, Gale Catlett, St. Louis Rams Super Bowl MVP quarterback Marc Bulger, Super Bowl winning QB—Jeff Hostetler and even the busy Jerry West will attend the festivities.
Media requests to attend these and other functions from ESPN's Lee Corso and CBS-TV's Tim Brando were reportedly denied. However, Beano Cook was invited to the affair. Cook, who picked the Mountaineers to win the national championship in 1988 when Don Nehlen was head coach and Major Harris was the starting quarterback of the team, put out a statement reading, "I would very much enjoy attending. I'm glad the Mountaineers have reached the promised land and I'm sorry my prediction from nearly twenty years ago was off by one game. But, no one can take this title away from Morgantown, West Virginia. Let me say, I am sad that long-time Mountaineer and Steeler radio broadcaster, Jack Fleming, did not live to see this day. But, I'm sure he's telling everyone up there that from now on, West Virginia is NOT ‘Almost Heaven'—it IS HEAVEN!!! GO MOUNTAINEERS!"
Jeffrey Mason, a WVU graduate originally from Wheeling and now living in Southern Maryland, is celebrating the thirtieth anniversary of his freshman year at WVU living on the third floor of Dadisman Hall,on the same floor with Joe, Brick, Deck, Covey, Tom ("Rawhide") Leonard, and a bunch of great guys and their RA, the late Steve Starkey. Steve was also the coach of the 1975-76 Boreman Hall "Stark's Studs," a flag football team that came from nowhere to make the intramural playoffs.