I have to tell you. I was one of them. I was an unapologetic fanboy ofthe moment the Sugar Bowl ended. We rolled into the Georgia Dome disrespected, the mess of Katrina destroying many lives and looming over the whole triviality of the bowl season, causing one of the biggest bowls to be moved to Atlanta - the one WVU happened to be in, which made it a virtual home game for the Bulldogs. You know the rest of that story. The Mountaineers blew out to a huge lead on the strength of White and Slaton, watched that lead diminish, and then RichRod, as we called him then, faked a punt to preserve the victory, proving that he had a steel set (the same set that would allow him to dick us around, pun intended, for two straight years and finally wind up in the wrong gold and blue in Ann Arbor...).
I was ready to give the guy Sainthood status after that win because it felt so....so much like a breakthrough. It really felt to me like a moment of arrival, where all the frustrations and failures of the past were trivialized, placed in a closet with a sign on the door that read: "That was then." It felt like some kind of triumph over the Appalachian Fatalism I have combated all my life as a native of this state. It felt even more special because our coach was being lionized, hailed as an originator, an offensive genius, even.
Allow me to recollect with even more clarity. I had been on the road, and I came home from work late and on the ESPN crawl it says that Rodriguez has accepted the coaching job at Alabama. Turned out not to be true, after some "renegotiation," of course, and again we hurt the feelings of a Georgia audience, coming from way back to break Chan Gailey's heart and wreck the Ramblin' Wreck from Georgia Tech. Walking out of the stadium, I followed a guy who was wearing a T-Shirt that read: "Hey Bama, Keep Your Hands Off Our Rod." Even though we probably underachieved that season, I was even more ready with the Sainthood thing, even more sure that RichRod was going to coach my beloved Mountaineers for 20 years or more and go down as the greatest coach in our history. "HE TURNED DOWN ALABAMA," I shouted to my brother. "If he's turning down Alabama, what other jobs could possibly matter to him? He is from here, and HE IS GOING TO BE OUR KNUTE ROCKNE!" Yes...those sentences deserve CAPS. That is how emphatic I was.
And then you know...13-9. The stunning revelation of machinations. Secret flights to Toledo (because if you are going to take a secret flight, make it to Toledo in winter). And then, the Michigan move. Whatever. I think Mountaineer fans have been vindicated on that poor decision by Rodriguez, and I am sure that he regrets it himself. And then came Stew, for whom, as many of you know, I was supportive, even if I always felt that he wasn't the Product of a legitimate search as much as he was a guy Pat White nominated after a seminal, emotional win. And then Oliver Luck comes home. He conducts the search that should have happened after that Fiesta Bowl win, and he finds the guy he believes will lead the football program forward.
Could Saturday have been any better? As gametime approached, I was texting friends and fellow Musketeers about RichRod continuing to screw with us even now, as hisplayed an overtime game against Stanford that threatened to obscure WVU's start with Texas. And then Arizona lost...Rodriguez walking across Stanford's field, tight-lipped, to shake hands, done in by a porous defense even as his old team, was taking the field a time zone away to battle the historic heavy of its new conference. I was downtown, in Beckley, West Virginia, where the air was cool and crisp and the game was on the marquee of the new theater that is going in there, while a Chili festival was in full swing - a thousand people watching in the street. I watched the second half in an Irish bar on Neville street, where people were going APE SHIT when the clock reached 0:00 and the whole bar broke out into "Country Roads."
I looked up at the screen, and Dana Holgorsen was walking across the field to shake hands with Mack Brown after a momentous victory. Holgorsen's hair was disheveled in that awesome, mad-scientist way...and suddenly I remembered reading an article about him after he was first hired at a site called TheSignalCaller. In it, Jed Drenning, who now does sideline reporting for MSN, and who played for Rodriguez at Glenville State, said this:
"I think for the better part of my career at Glenville we were number two in the country in passing, but we could never grab that top spot. I remember that every time I saw the national stats posted there was one team we could never catch and it always seemed to be Iowa Wesleyan."
That would be Iowa Wesleyan...the team Holgorsen played for under Hal Mumme, head coach, and Mike Leach, offensive coordinator. Drenning, Glenville State....Rodriguez...they were all admiring Iowa Wesleyan's offense and you better believe Rod was pirating some schemes. It amazes me sometimes how things come full-circle (as in, in 1994 I took a Valentine's Day river cruise in Pittsburgh with my then-fiancee, and my future wife was on that same cruise with her then-fiance...neither marriage happened, thank God, and three years later we met). We, well maybe just I, thought we had found something golden with Rodriguez, and then lost it. But really, what we had found was an imitation, and through Luck, we wound up with the original.
On Saturday, we saw the imitator lose, and one of the originators win, and I hate to conjure too much out of one meaningful victory, but I believe Dana Holgorsen could be the Greatest Coach in Mountaineer Football History. He could be our Knute Rockne. All he has to do is recognize the grass won't be greener...that it is better to be the Rockne of a program, than it is to be anyone who comes after that man. Bobby Bowden gave us a glimpse of the big-time. Don Nehlen laid the groundwork (and very nearly built the bridge to that hallowed land himself, twice.) Rodriguez showed us it was, in fact, possible to be in the conversation, year after year.
Holgorsen could win a National Title at West Virginia. Saint Dana has a nice ring to it.