Having sat in the upper deck until the fourth quarter, I was still in "fan mode" when I entered the press box. I had to keep my rooting interest somewhat in check, but on the fake punt I let out a yell of relief and clapped my hands. When Pat White took the final knee to cap off this magical season, I even let a few tears well up in my eyes. No matter what happens with this team in the future, the 2005 Mountaineer squad will never be forgotten for their gritty, and unselfish play that led the program to unparalleled heights.
During post-game interviews I headed over to the hallway outside of Georgia's locker room to interview some of the Bulldog players. Many of them were gracious in defeat. Senior all-American guard Max Jean-Gilles praised the toughness of the Mountaineer players. Running back Kregg Lumpkin admired the play of his counterpart in Blue and Gold, Steve Slaton.
The only player who seemed unwilling to tip his cap to the Mountaineers was all-American safety Greg Blue. In comments published in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Blue said the Mountaineers were not a top 10 team. When I asked him if Slaton was a more physical runner than he expected to face, Blue responded with this:
"No. He was just an average running back, you know? He was just fast."
Every man is entitled to his opinion, and Blue is no different. However many observers will disagree with the College Park, Ga. native when it comes to Slaton. He's a special player, and just one season into his college career he's already become a Mountaineer legend.
I wrapped up interviews and wound up back at my hotel around 3:30 a.m. I was too excited to sleep, and got an estimated total of 52 minutes of slumber before getting ready to head back downtown for Coach Rod's 8:00 a.m. press conference. From there it was back to the Mountain State, home of the 2006 Sugar Bowl Champions.
Every where we went on the way home there were several Mountaineer fans in sight. At a rest stop in North Carolina we ran into some Hokie fans who offered their congratulations on the Sugar Bowl victory. (For the record, they didn't step on my knee.)
As we pulled back into Charleston we turned on ESPN Radio's popular "Gamenight" program. Co-hosts Doug Gottlieb and Fred Coleman were giving props to Coach Rod and the Mountaineers. The WVU football program has arrived to a level reserved for college football's elite...and I'll never forget the night it happened.