Conversations From The Car

I am really making an effort to stick with this title, but once again I must begin with the disclaimer that only a few of these conversations came from the car. Call it journalistic license.

In fact, the majority of them came prior to the game at the spectacular tailgate that the WVU Alumni Association held on the University of Maryland campus. A few of the conversations were held on the sidelines during the game, and yes, at least one of them actually did come on the cell phone in my car on the way home from the game.

But enough with the logistics, already. Let's begin the conversations.

  • What criteria does The Princeton Review use in its polls?

    If you were at last weekend's game, you probably saw the feature on the Byrd Field video screen that highlighted the fact that The University of Maryland fans had been selected by The Princeton Review as being tops in the nation at supporting their team.

    I just have to ask the obvious question. Has anyone who voted in the poll actually been to a Terps game?

    I admit a large portion of this recognition probably came as a result of basketball season — although I would still argue that Mountaineer fans can make as much noise as any — but the Maryland faithful certainly didn't show me much at Saturday's football game.

    The noise for most of the afternoon wasn't loud enough to keep a light sleeper awake, and the marketing department's idea of copying the Steelers and handing out gold towels to its fans basically backfired. Think about it for just a minute. What colors do you associate with Maryland? What colors do you associate with West Virginia? In which category does the color gold fall?

    The towels did nothing but give Terps fans a way to wipe their tears and allow the Mountaineers to accomplish their weekly goal by filling the stadium with gold. Who would have thought this could be achieved on the road?

    Then, early in the fourth quarter, the nation's best supporters piled out of Byrd Stadium faster than the Notre Dame faithful left the Big East Basketball Tournament. West Virginia was only up 21-6 and there was still almost a full quarter left to play, but the stadium grew more and more empty by the second.

    As you probably know by now, Maryland made a comeback and had a chance to tie the game with a two-point conversion. That attempt failed and WVU went on to win the game, but if the Terps had pulled off the comeback, there would have been very few fans left to see it.

  • There is just something different about this year's team.

    It is hard to put a finger on exactly what the difference is, but the feeling around this year's Mountaineer team is very different than it was a year ago.

    On the practice field, on the game field and even in the locker room, the attitude seems to be much more positive.

    I know what you are probably thinking. It is easy to be positive when you are 3-0. But if you will remember, WVU was undefeated after three games last year as well. For some reason, though, I just didn't get the same feeling from that team as I am getting from this one.

    It is impossible to know exactly what has accounted for the difference in attitude, but I have a few theories.

    First, I think the fact that this team is void of a true superstar has made a big difference. Last year Pacman Jones and Chris Henry seemed to be getting all of the attention, and much of it was negative. A number of Mountaineers grew tired of reading the headlines of the off-the-field and sideline antics of their teammates, and they may have begun to resent them.

    The fact that those two stars seemed to have a different set of rules didn't help either. It is not fun to watch a player that does all the wrong things line up with the starting unit, especially if you have been doing all the right things and are still standing on the sidelines.

    While losing Jones and Henry may have taken away some of the better talent on the team, it may have actually been a blessing in disguise.

    Another factor in this new winning attitude could be the fact that the Mountaineers are back in the familiar role of an underdog.

    Last year WVU went down a brand new path, being the top dogs in the conference, and it was certainly not an easy hike. West Virginia did not adjust well to being the favorites, as they dropped the last three games of the year to finish a disappointing 8-4.

    Now that the media has anointed Louisville as the instant King of the Big East — although it has done nothing to prove that it deserves to wear that crown just yet — WVU is back in a position where it can sneak up on some people. The lowered expectations have taken some of the pressure off this team and allowed it to regain that "us against the world" attitude that has worked so well in the past.

    I also have to give some of the credit for this positive vibe to the Mountaineer coaches. Despite the fact that there is a great deal of competition at a number of different positions, the WVU staff has done its best to be sure that every player understands his role and what he means to the team.

    So far every man looks as though he is accepting that role and making the most of it. Pat White and Adam Bednarik have done an excellent job of supporting each other, as have the five or six running backs in the WVU backfield who all deserve carries.

    Rodriguez has also worked hard to bring this team together with its fans. The celebration last Saturday in Maryland was a perfect example. Although some may have seen the team's singing of "Hail West Virginia" with its fans in the end zone of Byrd Stadium as a way to rub in the victory, I don't think it was intended to be that at all.

    Rodriguez simply wanted to thank the many WVU fans that made the trip as well as reward his team for a job well done. It was easy to see the pride nearly bursting out of every member of the Mountaineer team as they proudly sang along. Even former players like Aaron Beasley, Mike Collins and Brian King joined in the sing-along.

    When players realize what the name on the front of their jerseys means, the effort normally improves, and there is no better way to understand what the Mountaineer football team means to the thousands of fans that follow it around the country than celebrating with those fans after a big victory.

  • Bednarik's shoulder could become a problem. The big question this week has been, "How is Bednarik's shoulder?" After the Pennsylvania native left the field with a pinched nerve in his neck last weekend in Maryland, many WVU fans held their breath.

    Now, everyone wants to know just how that neck is. The bigger question, though, may be, "How is the shoulder?"

    Overshadowed by the on-the-field neck injury was a report that came out before the game that Bednarik was experiencing some soreness in his shoulder. He did not throw the Monday following the Wofford game, and threw fewer passes than normal during the week.

    A quarterback with a sore shoulder may be nothing new, but it is a concern, especially when that shoulder has recently been through a major operation.

    Bednarik sucked it up and hit the field at full speed, but soreness this early in the season worries me. If the shoulder is not completely healed, this could be a subject that the Mountaineers are forced to deal with week-in and week-out.

    The good thing about playing two quarterbacks is that if Adam is unable to play, White should be ready to step in with little problem. But then the worry becomes what happens if Pat gets banged up. As a West Virginia native I understand the love affair with J.R. House, and I would love to eventually see him under center for the Mountaineers.

    But no matter how much you want to root for House, it is impossible to ignore the fact that he is just not ready. His arm strength is not back to 100 percent, and it will probably be at least next season before it is. If House has to become "the guy" this year, West Virginia is in trouble.

    So if House is not going to take over, then who are we left with? The answer is Dwayne Thompson — who has made the move from quarterback to receiver more times than Virginia Tech has made the move out of the top 10 late in the season — and three freshmen currently wearing redshirts (Jarrett Brown, Nate Sowers and T. J. Mitchell). What is now a deep position could suddenly become a worry if Bednarik's shoulder problems become more serious.

  • Support the idea of greeting the team

    I saw the post on our message boards asking for fans to line up to greet the team on their way into the stadium prior to the Virginia Tech game. I love the idea, but I have to ask why it is only being planned for the Hokies.

    Greeting the team is a great tradition at many schools around the country, and I have always wondered why it is not done in Morgantown. I know Mountaineer fans love their team, and there is no better way to show them support and get them pumped to play than greeting them when they first arrive.

    Just imagine yourself in the players' position. You arrive at the stadium after the drive from Lakeview and the first thing you see is a sea of gold. Then the doors open and all you hear is the cry of, "Let's Go Mountaineers," ringing through your ears. I don't know about you, but that would get me ready to play.

    I would love to see this happen not just for the Virginia Tech game but for every game. Making the walk from your tailgate to the Puskar Center is not a major task, but it would mean a great deal to the team.

    The Mountaineers usually arrive a little more than two hours before the game, so plan to be at the Puskar Center getting prepared about two-and-a-half hours prior to kickoff. Even if there is just a small crowd this week, stick it out. I guarantee that if fans stick with it, it will grow bigger and bigger every week.

    The new traditions such as the singing of, "Take Me Home, Country Roads," after a win and the team's smoke-filled entrance onto Mountaineer Field have been great, and there is no reason another one should not be started this Saturday Be there or be a Hokie.

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