A fun look back at an old Mountaineer wound.
As Mountaineer fans prepare to renew their rivalry against a longtime foe, we're reminded of something that may have been forgotten in this season of new beginnings and venom-less battles: grudges are awesome.
(quick warning - the below video is auto-play, so jump down real quick and pause it. Trust me, you'll want to watch it and enjoy later)
If you're like me, you grab hold of any wrong or slight perpetrated on our beloved Mountaineers and never, never let it go. I will hate Notre Dame until the day I die for stealing our title in 1989, I will despise Virginia Tech as worms consume me for being too chicken to renew the series, and I will loath Marvin Graves today, tomorrow and forever and ever.
The 1992 on-field brawl between the Orangemen (yes, they were the Orangemen back then before the sanitizing forces of PC-ness scrubbed their mascot of any offensiveness) and the Mountaineers was one of those perfect moments of formative hatred in my young life. I remember the surprising thrill of seeing the benches clear and the incredulity with which I watched referees toss WVU players one after the other as the instigator of the whole thing (Marvin Graves, in his 3rd of 7 years of eligibility) was allowed to play on.
The murky waters of memory always blurred the particulars of that event two decades gone, but with the help of a fantastic retrospective by John Antonik over at WVUSports.com and an accompanying video which as far as I know had never been available for general consumption, I was able to get a new and more informed perspective on what happened. Given that this rivalry is about to be rejoined for what will be one of the rare times going forward, I thought it appropriate to take a look back and reflect on a moment that will always live in blue and gold infamy.
First off here's John's article. I highly recommend you check it out. He did some great research and provided as wide a perspective as possible on a hot-button moment in Mountaineer history. What I really want to concentrate on today, though, is this video.
And with that said I give you Eight Fantastic Things About The WVU Syracuse Fight of 1992.
Don Nehlen's jacket.
Seriously. Look at that thing. It's glorious. At a time when some WVU fans wring their hands over their current coach's monochromaticially neutral choice of wardrobe, Don's jacket is a breath of diagonally slashed fresh daggum air. God bless Starter jackets and the carefree joy of the 90s that they embodied.
Look at these guys. They all look enormous, but it's because the shoulder pads they're wearing are comically huge. It's like they all taped cardboard boxes to either side of their head. Add in the neck wraps and simple jerseys and you have a far-different looking player than what we're accustomed to in 2012.
There were no tailored form-fitting uniforms with stripes everywhere or sculpted suits of lightweight armor that allow you to be the fastest projectile possible. Just guys running around wearing bulky hunks of plastic encased in little more than mesh practice jerseys. It's a level of informality and innocence that I found myself missing a little in this era of concussions, exclusive equipment deals and the business of conference realignment.
More importantly it was WVU in blue tops and gold pants - the way God intended Mountaineer football to look.
Paul Pasqualoni breaking up fights
When things flare up on the Syracuse sideline, there's one undersized figure in the thick of it flinging bodies much larger than he left and right, throwing caution to the wind as he sought to calm the storm his sideline had suddenly become: then second year Orange(men) head coach Paul Pasqualoni.
If you're my age, you remember him as the failed coach of the Syracuse Orange(men). If you're a decade younger, you remember him as the failed coach of the Connecticut Huskies. Any younger than that and you probably won't remember him at all. But for that one shining Saturday he was the thin line between control and chaos.
WVU players sprinting across the field to kick some serious Orange(men) ass
I loved this. The game today has become so commercialized and sanitized with the irony being that as the violence on the field has gotten more and more serious, those isolated dust-ups that happen off the field are fewer and far between and met with self-righteous horror at the prospect that a game predicated on hitting could inspire players to - gasp! - HIT each other!
Can you imagine if a brawl like this happened today? We get one, maybe two of these a year in major college football, and when they happen, they lead off SportsCenter and are stories for days on end. You forward your buddies the YouTube clip. Talking heads pontificate endlessly on "First Take." Players are suspended, athletic directors release statements and the world holds its breath. But in the 80s and early 90s this stuff was par for the course. You'd get one every month or so and they barely registered a blip on the national radar. They fought, the finished, they played and the world moved on. Yet somehow we survived.
The youngest member of college football's fastest family, aka "The Missile," makes an cameo appearance around the 1:11 mark. Because hey, what's an early 90s football clip without a damn Ismail. I hated them all.
#31 for WVU
Watch #31 in blue and gold run from the bottom right corner of your screen around the 25 second mark. He's pulling his helmet on as he enters the fray. Then at around the same place on the screen at the 44 second mark he's woofin' it up with some teammates as he jogs away from a brawl that isn't quite done. They did it, man!
At first I thought that was future WVU All-American Aaron Beasley, but Beasley is visible at other moments and he's in the thick of it. Then I looked again and realized #31 didn't even have a name on his jersey. Clearly some nameless walk-on seeing a rare opportunity to get some action. Then happily enjoying the moment with some other walk-ons as they depart the festivities, probably having done no more than shout at guys from 20 feet away. For some reason this was hilarious to me.
Every single thing about Mike Collins
First there's #25 diving headlong into the fray when things escalate. Then there's an enraged Collins having to be urged off the field by a ref, but not departing until he took a moment to kick the helmet that he had earlier thrown halfway across the field.
It was a refreshing display of raw emotion that you just don't see much of anymore. Today he'd be suspended for 2 games and his coach would have to display adequate righteous indignation at such horrible behavior. He'd have to read some crap statement where he apologized for poorly representing the school. But in 1992? Just move on to the next game.
And the best part about the whole thing? He was still pissed 12 months later. From Antonik's article:
Collins said he had a chance to pay back Graves the following year in the Carrier Dome, but he came to his senses when he realized what was at stake for the team the second time around when the Mountaineers were playing for an undefeated season.
"I remember he rolled out and I took off after him and tackled him for a loss," said Collins. "I had him by the ankles and I wanted so bad to throw his legs down on the ground but I didn’t.
"I begrudgingly stuck my hand out to help him off the ground and I remember just thinking to myself, ‘I just want to punch the (expletive) out of him.’ And he gave me a look like he was expecting it, to be quite honest," Collins laughed.
We need more Mike Collinses in our Mountaineer world.
Pasquiloni giving the business to the ref
At around the 2:45 mark, after the rejections have been announced, Pasquiloni inexplicably starts giving the refs 15 types of hell. WHAT FOR?! You just won the lottery dude, the officials just handed you a golden ticket, still have a couple more to dispense in the final minutes of this game and you're YELLING AT THEM? I assume Pasquiloni goes around shouting down blackjack dealers after they bust, too.
So there you go. A Mountaineer moment that will forever live in infamy. It's worth noting that the crooked TD the Orange(men) scored to win that game would be the last points they'd notch against a WVU team for three years, getting blown out 43-0 in 1993 and 13-0 in 1994. Revenge is sweet and best served very, very cold. Well, it doesn't get much colder than Yankee Stadium in the dead of December, and it is nothing less than revenge these Mountaineers seek; retribution for the most embarrassing loss of the season last year in the Carrier Dome.
They did it in '93, and we'll see if they can do it again. The opportunities to settle the score with 'Cuse will be few and far between from here on out, so here's hoping for one final parting shot. For 1992, 2011, and all those rivalry-filled years between.
Hate will never die.