Now that the West Virginia basketball team is in the Final Four, Mountaineer fans are experiencing a golden moment in time, a wave of euphoria and pride for which most of them are relatively unfamiliar.
The last time the Mountaineer basketball team went this far was 51-seasons ago, 1959, the year I was born. It goes without saying that I don’t remember any of it firsthand.
My father, another long-time Mountaineer fan, used to regale me with tales of Jerry West, arguably the most famous athlete ever produced in the Mountain State.
The man was a legend in our state; he is now the logo of a national sport.
But other than Jerry West, and a few brief appearances in the Elite Eight or Sweet 16, Mountaineer fans have generally been a wallflower at the Big Dance.
But that was the past. Now our dance card is full.
The Mountaineers are only two games away from a national championship; they are only 80 minutes away from glory. By walking out on the hardwood, they stand on the precipice of greatness.
To claim that remarkably elusive title would place all of their names in the annals of sports history.
But in the state of West Virginia, it would truly make their names immortal!
The day Kennedy was assassinated, when man first walked on the moon, when the space shuttle exploded, and when those towers tumbled to the earth—those memories are indelibly etched in the minds of Americans everywhere.
In much the same way that people never forget where they were those historic events took place. West Virginians will never forget the names of those who brought this notoriety and honor to their state.
But in the Mountain State, our proud, loyal, hard-working residents will forever embrace these young men who have lifted our program to the mountaintop of the sports world.
From Parkersburg to Martinsburg, from Weirton to Bluefield, from the Big Sandy to the Potomac, on every porch and backyard gathering, you will hear their radios, blaring the play-by-play. In businesses, homes, and classrooms, televisions and radios have been loudly tuned to not miss a detail of their beloved Mountaineers.
Their broadcasts are being pumped deep within the heart of the earth, down into the mines, so coal mining companies will have enough people to fully man their shifts.
In the pages of West Virginia lore, the names of Da’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks, and every single member of this team will be known. They will assume their place alongside those of Jerry West, Chuck Yeager, Sam Huff, Major Harris, Check Howley, Pat White, Steve Slaton, Owen Schmitt, Ed Etzel, James Jett, and Mary Lou Retton.
Not every person in this list was born in the Mountain State; but they are all West Virginians!
These young men and their coaching staff, eighty minutes from glory, their pictures will adorn the walls of homes and businesses throughout the state.
Expectant mothers will chose to call their children Truck, Devin or Cam. Their names and memories will be discussed around dining room tables, water coolers, and watering holes for years and years to come.
But for now, we can only imagine what it will actually feel like should we prevail in those 80 minutes to glory.
The swell of pride would be nothing like the state has ever witnessed.
The people of this state have followed Mountaineer sports for much too long to ever think West Virginia has no chance whatsoever. Over those years, they have endured many disappointments; they have rejoiced over so many great victories.
Yet it was those same disappointments that made these times so special!
The people here love the state of West Virginia; they worship their flagship university. And they have cherished these special moments with this outstanding team and its exceptional coaching staff.
Eighty minutes from glory, this may finally be our time for an NCAA championship in basketball.
Perhaps it is fate; perhaps it is redemption. After all, Jerry West’s son, Jonnie is on this team.
The people of West Virginia, Almost Heaven , are no strangers to the mountain top; but like Moses, we have never entered into that sacred land. We have always seen it afar off.
This time, those country roads may take us home. Coach Bob Huggins, one of our own, may finally lead us there.
Just eighty minutes to glory.