by Matt Waller
After what I wrote yesterday regarding Kansas State’s inferiority complex and some of its fans’ attempts to deflect negative stereotypes onto West Virginia, it should be no surprise that today I’m picking West Virginia as my favorite team in the Big 12. It’s a no brainer. I grew up in West Virginia during the tail end of the Nehlen era and almost the entirety of the Rich Rod era. It was a solid stretch for the WVU program. After high school, I left West Virginia to attend Notre Dame. Some West Virginians actually consider this an unforgivable breach of loyalty and identity, and I’ve talked to people who’ve told me I can never be considered a “true” WVU fan again. That’s fine, I guess — I’m still allowed to shotgun Natty Lights in the Blue Lot when I make it back to Morgantown, right? Regardless of how I’m viewed by those back home who consider me a traitor, I’ll still be preaching the Gospel According to Dana here in Chicago to anyone who’ll listen.
What’s great about being a WVU fan? First, drinking. That goes without saying and requires no elaboration.
But being a WVU fan and seeing WVU succeed on the field is also something that gives many West Virginians, and I certainly include myself here, an unmatched sense of pride in the state. Sure, the vast majority of the roster is made up of kids from Florida, Texas, and other states (though in the rare cases where a West Virginian plays a notable role on the team, he becomes a veritable folk-hero-Mountaineer-demigod, and rightfully so). But the fact is that these out-of-state players come to WVU and knowingly choose to represent the state of West Virginia (Is it naive of me to think that? Probably, but whatever.); once a player gets to Morgantown, the state considers him a de facto West Virginian, and that’s that. We’re talking instant first-name basis familiarity. Stedman, Tavon, and Geno may as well have grown up in Parkersburg, Clarksburg, and Martinsburg (rather than Miramar and Baltimore).
It’s odd (and maybe sad, I’m not sure), but the West Virginia athletic program is currently one of the only vehicles through which the state is able to garner positive national attention for itself on a regular basis (though of course, the program gets its fair share of negative attention as well). Ask someone from outside of West Virginia to tell you something positive about the state, and the answer will likely involve Pat White, Steve Slaton, or Major Harris. (The answer is not likely to involve education, median income, or health.) In addition to living with the real shortcomings of the current state of affairs in WV (and they are manifold, to be sure), West Virginians — both current residents and expats — also have to deal with outsiders’ imagined notions of the state. This basically involves having to prove to people that you still have teeth and that you are able to read, and it often involves saying, “No, I have never met the banjo kid from Deliverance, and did you know that that movie/novel is actually set in Georgia?” That’s what happens when a.) a state has a certain historical reputation, and b.) people have little incentive to visit the state and be proven otherwise. So it goes.
All of that isn’t to say that all West Virginians actually care about outside perceptions; I can assure you that many don’t (this is paradoxically a great strength and a major weakness of the state as a whole). But still, the “backward” image persists and the stereotypes prevail, and autumn Saturdays give West Virginia — and West Virginians — a rare opportunity for superiority on the national stage. West Virginia football brings the state (excepting Marshall fans) together in a way that little else does. Most West Virginians are fiercely independent, skeptical, and even cynical (there’s no sense in trying to romanticize it any other way). But Saturdays in the fall bring everyone from Bluefield to Wheeling together in the hopes that their team will deliver the blows on behalf of a state so used to receiving them.
Oh yeah, there’s also Dana Holgerson and one of the most exciting offenses in college football. There’s also the fact that WVU has won three BCS bowls over major programs (Georgia, Oklahoma, Clemson). There’s also the legendary Quincy Wilson touchdown against Miami in 2002 (see below), which is one of my greatest football memories ever. I could go on for a while, but I think I’ll go drink a beer and watch some highlights.