Rocky and ... Pittsnogle?

With apologies to Jay Ward and the rest of the brilliant writers of a cartoon show we knew so well when we were young, we bring you a look through a different set of lenses at the recent history of WVU's basketball team.

[The scene is a small scientific laboratory in a comfortable room in a comfortable home. At work with a test tube, and wearing a bow tie and oversize black-rimmed glasses, is a dog. A boy enters the scene.]

"Hey, Mr. Peabody! Why are you wearing a blue basketball uniform?"

"Because, Sherman [the dog turns toward the camera and smiles], my gold one is at the cleaners."

"Good one, Mr. Peabody, but really, why are you wearing a basketball uniform?"

"Because today, my boy, we're going to make a visit to the campus of West Virginia University. Or, actually, to a friendly establishment just a little ways off campus, a mile or two from downtown Morgantown. It's called Mario's. Or, to some, Mario's Fishbowl."

"What's a ‘fishbowl,' Mr. Peabody?"

"You'll see soon enough, Sherman. Now, set the WABAC Machine for Friday, April 12, in the year 2002."

[whirr, clack, whirr, whizzzz, clack, rumble, and the sight of spinning dials]

"Here we are, Sherman."

"Geez, Mr. Peabody, this doesn't seem like a very happy place at all."

"Not tonight, Sherman. You see, the people in this place, and this town, and this community, love the West Virginia University Mountaineers. And they love their men's basketball team. WVU has a proud basketball history. You might have heard of names like ‘Jerry West' and ‘Rod Thorn' and ‘Hot Rod Hundley'?"

"Gosh, yes, Mr. Peabody. Especially Jerry West."

"Well, of course, Sherman. Everyone who likes basketball has heard of him. And WVU is where he played in college. And the fans here still love their Mountaineers."

"So why are they so glum, Mr. Peabody?"

"Sherman, today is one of the darkest days in the history of WVU basketball. April 12, 2002. The day Dan Dakich quit as the WVU men's basketball coach, before he ever coached a game."

"Why'd he quit, Mr. Peabody?"

"Some people have used the word 'extortion', Sherman. But that's another story. Gale Catlett had been WVU's coach for many years and through many successes. Lately, though, there'd been a bad run of luck with the WVU basketball program. There was an asbestos fiasco, playing a year without any home games, the dubious career of a high-profile recruit, and then seemingly the lost chance to hire a popular former player as coach, someone the fans really wanted. But that didn't work out either, and the whole program seemed to have a black cloud over it. Everything that could go wrong, seemed to, and today was the capper. A man named Dan Dakich had apparently been hired on a handshake, then in an instant he quit! Turned and left town with rumblings of not wanting to be involved with a program on the verge of evident disaster."

"And these people crying into those funny-looking glasses are WVU fans, Mr. Peabody?"

"Every last one of them, Sherman. And those funny-looking glasses are ‘fishbowls,' Sherman. We'll come back someday when you're over 21 and see how you do with 16 ounces of some of the world's finest beer in one of the world's greatest little establishments. But I'm getting sidetracked. Now, where was I?"

"You were talking about one of the darkest days in the WVU basketball program's history, and that man named Dakich. Say, it rhymes with ‘jock itch,' doesn't it!"

"Indeed it does, Sherman. And these melancholy fans would agree with you. But let's jump ahead a bit now, Sherman. Let's go back out the door and set the WABAC Machine for the future. We're going forward to February 6, 2006, less than four short years from this dismal scene."

[whirr, clack, whirr, whizzzz, clack, rumble, and the sight of spinning dials]

"Mr. Peabody, we're still here."

"Oh, we haven't left the place, Sherman, merely the time. Look through the window into Mario's now!"

"Wow! I see what you mean, Mr. Peabody! They're all laughing and singing along with the jukebox. Someone is dancing on a chair, and the place is packed. Waitresses are spilling drops of beer on the customers, but nobody seems to mind! They're sure having fun in there."

"And we shall, too, Sherman. Open the door and go on in!"

[As Mr. Peabody and Sherman enter Mario's, all the customers raise their glasses and cheer their entry. Some put their glasses down and clap their hands. And as Sherman looks around sheepishly, the roar rises to a crescendo!]

"Wow, Mr. Peabody, this place is GREAT!"

"It is, indeed, Sherman. It is, indeed."

"But what happened, Mr. Peabody? When we were here a minute ago, everyone was sad. Now they're all so happy!"

"Ah, but it wasn't just ‘a minute ago,' Sherman. Remember that we've been in the WABAC and traveled nearly four years into the future. Now I'll explain. Shortly after that dark day in April 2002, WVU's Athletic Director, Ed Pastilong, and the University's President, David Hardesty, interviewed and hired a new basketball coach. His name was -- and is -- John Beilein. He's an unassuming man, and some WVU supporters were skeptical about what he could do to raise the Mountaineer program from the depths to which it had fallen."

"Mr. Peabody, judging from these fans, he must have done well!"

"He's done very well, indeed, Sherman. Very well, indeed. Would you believe that in less than four years Coach Beilein would take the Mountaineers from among the conference cellar-dwellers to competing for a Big East Championship?"

"But the Big East is the best basketball conference in the country, Mr. P.!"

"Yes, it is, Sherman. And today the Mountaineers are 8-0 in conference, with wins over Villanova, Notre Dame, and Cincinnati. WVU leads the Big East, ahead of even UConn, which is ranked number one in the entire nation! Amazing, isn't it? The Mountaineers are 17-4 and ranked eleventh in both major polls. Last season WVU played in the Big East conference championship game and then went on to the Elite Eight in the NCAA tournament. They were literally 12 seconds -- or one point -- from advancing to the Final Four. Now they're on top of the Big East conference for the first time ever this deep into the season. Earlier this year WVU beat Villanova on the road when the Wildcats were ranked number three in the nation, and beat a ranked Oklahoma team on a neutral site, and took Texas into overtime when they were ranked number two. And in the space of just seven days, WVU beat a ranked UCLA team in Pauley Pavilion and then beat St. John's in Madison Square Garden! This team has a realistic chance to go deep into the NCAA tournament again this year, and possibly to the Final Four, and even has a chance to win the national championship!"

"Wow, Mr. Peabody! That's something!"

"It sure is, Sherman. And it just goes to show you -- what seemed like one of the darkest days of all for WVU fans, April 12, 2002, turned out to be just the beginning of something wonderful! It was hard to see it at the time, but it turned out to be the luckiest thing in the world for WVU fans that Dan Dakich quit and that the University then hired John Beilein. Now WVU basketball is back in its glory. And these fans love it! And, if that weren't enough, Sherman, just a month ago the WVU football team won the first BCS bowl in the history of the school, finished ranked number five in the country, and is already one of the teams being mentioned as a national title contender next season! Imagine that, Sherman -- both the football team and the men's basketball team are talked about as potential national champions. Pretty good, eh?"

"Gosh, I'd say so, Mr. Peabody. No wonder these people are so happy. But what about those two guys sitting over against the wall? They don't look so good."

"Sherman, some people are just never happy."

"So I guess the moral of this story is that you never know how good something's gonna turn out even when things look their darkest. Is that it, Mr. Peabody?"

"Right you are, Sherman. Or you could say, ‘Sometimes, with just a little luck, you can make a Beilein from Blue to Gold.' [Sherman groans.] Now then, I think I'll let you drive the WABAC Machine on the way home, Sherman. Put some money in the jukebox and sing along with that "Country Roads" song. It's time for me to enjoy one of these fishbowls. Oh, waitress!..."

Greg Todd is a proud WVU alumnus who currently lives and works in the Carlisle, Pa. area. His boundless optimism carried many through those dark days just a few short years ago. And if you aren't familiar with Mr. Peabody and his pet boy Sherman, grab someone at least 40 years of age and ask him about the Adventures of Mr. Peabody, which originally ran on the Rocky and Bullwinkle Show.


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