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Old 07-21-2004, 03:55 PM   #1
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Default Penn State @ West Virginia, 1984

Let me start by just saying that I LOVE ESPN Classic. Love it.
Let me also note that my favorite day off is Wednesday.

Today, while I missed most of the replay of this game, that I salute ESPN Classic for replaying this game. It's been just under 20 years, I realized while watching it, since I last saw this game.

First, some history. I was all of 12 years old when this game was played. Aside from bowl games, I think this was the first primetime WV game I'd ever witnessed. I could be wrong... but, I remember that day as being incredibly long. My dad was downing beers all day long, grumbling about when the game would begin.

Like they do up here in Red Sox Nation, in Morgantown and throughout West Virginia, every year opened with some hope that "This was the year." But, not for a national title. Not for a conference championship. No, "This was the year" that the Mountaineers would finally beat Penn State.

The names, as the announcers would occasionally note them, were lost beacons of college football history. For Penn State, the name of most note was D.J. Dozier. There may have been defenders of note, but I missed any mention of them. The fact of the matter is this: Nehlen so desperately mismanaged the clock in the game's final five minutes that he didn't deserve to get away with winning the game.

On the West Virginia side, the names are obviously more meaningful to me than they will be to most, but there were a couple guys who went on to have professional careers.
Larry Holley, whose interception with :35 to go finished the game.
Rich Rodriguez, current WVU coach, a safety.
Fred Smalls, who had a fumble recovery, an incredible stuff play on a reverse on 3rd down, and and interception that looked like it should have been the icing TO.
Rick Superick, punter extraordinaire. We called him Superkick, of course. With less than 2:30 minutes, he put a ball just inside the Penn State 5 yard line. He looked the hero for a moment.
Ron Wolfley, fullback.
John Gay, another fullback.
Gary Mullins, wide receiver.
Willie Drewery... yeah, Warren Moon threw a pass or two to him in later years.
Kevin White, quarterback. Lost in memory by many a Mountaineer fan is the fact that the great Jeff Hostetler (still the greatest QB to ever attend WVU, challenged only somewhat by Major Harris) didn't win this game. I knew it, but occasionally forget Kevin White's name. I feel bad about it, but, it has been 20 years.

1984. Hostetler graduated in 1983. Still, the Mountaineers entered the game that night 6-1, a loss to Maryland (it's always those damned Terrapins) the only blemish on the record. They were a running, defense first team. That was Nehlen's philosophy. It was working that year to a 't'. It was Nehlen's fifth crack at Penn State. Paterno was a gaudy 18-0 against WVU. The last win was 25 years prior. 25 years of trying without anything to show for it for the Mountaineers. And a quick trip through the historical media guides provides a realization that Paterno had rarely even been tested by the hillbillies from WV. Why should this year be any different?

The announcers, in discussing the relevance of this game, noted that while Iowa knocking off Oklahoma that weekend had national relevance, and someone (Iowa State?) knocked off Notre Dame, this upset would be viewed as an entirely minor matter nationally.

Cameras panning throughout Mountaineer Field told the story in WV, though. Guys were bouncing up and down, even with seven minutes left. The 'Eers led by 10. The Nittany Lions were proving incredibly turnover prone. Three TOs to this point in the game, down 17-7. And then, Steve Smith rambles down the Penn State sideline on a 20+ yard run to pull the Nittany Lions back into the game, just over five minutes remaining.

The fans are still bouncing. Hollering. Screaming. Pushing one another out of the way to be the primary kid on camera when the camera came to them.

WV failed to get a first down. Run. Run. Deep pass that could have iced the game. But, White floated it out too far, instead of flattening it to Mullins, who had absolutely whipped his cover guy.

Penn State gets the ball. Used some clock, and punted.

WV needed two first downs. Run for negative yardage. Run to get back to 3rd and 10. Another throw, this one catchable, but still overthrown. The pressure was getting to White. He was overthrowing everything. The clock is down to 2:35, Superick must punt again.

The cover team is on the ball. The ball bounced at the three. The first guy to touch it bats it to a cover guy at the four. It's finally fallen on at the two by another guy who barely got a foot down before touching the ball after he'd been in the end zone. The officials call it dead at the four. Still, a wonderful kick. Great coverage. The fans are going wild. They're chanting something I can't make out. They're climbing over the wall behind the Penn State bench, they're forming a mob at the end of the field where Penn State is huddling. A shot of the huddle reveals that Penn State is conducting their huddle five yards from several hundred Mountaineer fans who are crazed. The ESPN announcer, whose name I missed, notes rightly that NONE of these kids were alive the last time WV beat Penn State.

Think about that. None of these rabid fans have ever seen their team beat this other team. Certainly, I had never witnessed it.

And then Penn State rolls down the field, eating up ten to twenty yards a play. Moving into field goal position. Readying for the tie.

And then, Larry Holley, #9, makes a play on the ball over the middle, steps toward the WVU sideline and scoots up the field before finally going out of bounds.

:35 left. The fans flood the field. :35 remaining, and there's no way in hell they can be removed from the field.

And, while I can't recall having felt this prior to the age of 21, one of the classiest guys in college football runs across the field from his sideline to the WV sideline and tells Coach Don Nehlen that his boys have won. Penn State still had a TO left. Anything could still happen. But, with Morgantown set to be a party spot for the next 72 hours, Coach Joe Paterno tells WVU to forget the final :35. And then he is escorted from the field by two hulking Penn State players.

For the record, we didn't listen to the ESPN broadcast of this game. In fact, I think we'd just gotten ESPN from our cable provider FOR THIS GAME earlier that week. We didn't have any real need for it previously. And we hated almost any national broadcaster. We had the radio up, Jack Fleming and Woody O'hara talking us through what we were seeing on the screen.

Incredible stuff. I cried.

I was twelve f'ing years old, and I cried because a team for a school that I wouldn't even attend beat another team for a school I had been bred to hate.

Thank you, ESPN Classic. Because I'm crying again as I type this.

Only in college football. And that's why I hate to see some of the stuff that's come along in the last 20 years: superconferences, insignificant and too many bowl games, the BCS, calls for playoffs.

It's all about this one game. That's all it was ever about.

As proof of this, WV went on that year to lose their last three games to Temple, Rutgers, and Syracuse, finishing a disappointing 7-4.

Still, the season was a memorable one, for this one game that changed an historic tide, and was step number two (beating Pitt was step number one) in Nehlen's development into the greatest WVU head coach ever.


Last edited by MountaineerDave; 07-21-2004 at 04:00 PM.
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Old 07-22-2004, 02:48 AM   #2
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Your 31 years old, eh Dave?
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Old 07-22-2004, 02:44 PM   #3
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Great post, Dave. A true fan. :cheers:
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Old 07-22-2004, 04:30 PM   #4
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Great story.

"I believe in [a] God who reveals himself in the orderly harmony of what exists, not in a God who concerns himself with fates and actions of human beings." -Albert Einstein
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