I'm a novelist. Novelists are schizo folks. We create and destroy, sometimes in the same stroke of the keys. So, in this piece I'm going to create the premise about West Virginia's road trip to play Marshall in Huntington on Friday September 10, then destroy the entire experience for you by giving you the ending first.
I think you'll want to know how Marshall is going to get the Friends of Coal Bowl Trophy this year. And, as you would guess, I'm telling you this is the season The Herd makes that four-hour bus ride back to Morgantown a very long one for West Virginia.
Now, I'm not much on the Xs and the Os. Match-ups are important, but I'm going to give you everything but.
Marshall - West Virginia is not won on the chalkboard. It's tempting to draw Tavon Austin cruising down the sidelines, and Noel Devine's guard trap works once a game.
That's cool. But, you have to realize that this game is purely a psych job. In the previous four games, the team with the lesser head case in the fourth quarter got that trophy.
The Mountaineers won with their legs, sure, and they have power and speed in those legs. WVU is indeed smart, getting a lot of help from upstairs.
I'm not talking Upstairs, as if The Man Upstairs favored West Virginia. In fact, a short perusal through The Bible proves that The Big Guy would pick Marshall if He picked any team at all.
More about that later.
I'm talking upstairs, the brains as well as the confidence, as Joe Paterno preached every year when his Nittany Lions played West Virginia. JoePa told his guys in the white hats and black shoes that WVU finds a way to lose, every time, as they did for 28 consecutive years.
Well, insert The Thundering Herd in WVU's slot in what is now Marshall's game of futility, The Friends of Coal Bowl. Marshall has also found a way to lose, dropping the last four in four different ways:
2006: In Morgantown, where Marshall just got manhandled 42-10, despite Herd running back Ahmad Bradshaw showing that he was NFL quality, even while running behind a I-AA quality offensive line.
2007: In Huntington, where The Herd rendered Pat White and Steve Slaton ineffective in the first half. In my humble opinion, Herd coach Mark Snyder was rather ineffective himself at the end of that half by landing a body blow of a 19-13 red zone field goal instead of stepping on the Mountaineers' neck by going for a very doable seven. Snyder could have sent his team into the locker room with a 10-point belief statement at home in the Joan C. Edwards viper pit.
More on that viper pit later.
2008: Mark Snyder's career in Huntington was a roller coaster dip waiting to happen. Bill Stewart's gazing in the skies against East Carolina along with his overtime confusion at Colorado were cracks in the blue and gold dike. Both coached uneventful games in Morgantown that the Mountaineer fans were praying for an ending, any ending, and Marshall was about as anemic as the couple hundred Herd faithful who made the trip. In my history as player/fan/writer, that was one of the worst football games I have seen.
2009: This was Mark Snyder's last gurgling gasp while Bill Stewart was using spackle on the dike. When you have two desperate men smacking it around, something is bound to happen. Uhhhhh...yeah. WVU got started late as Marshall gave up any early momentum. The fans were treated to a) a vicious, unethical tackle on Mountaineer quarterback Jarrett Brown as his head was placed between the dynamic vise created by two Herd hats, and b) Brian Anderson. The Thundering Herd quarterback delivered the worst quarterback in Morgantown performance since a guy named Dutch pulled the trigger for the Mountaineers in 1978.
I promised to revisit The Man Upstairs.
This season is the 40th anniversary of the worst sports disaster in the history of the United States. On November 14, 1970, a Southern Airways charter jet with 75 players, coaches, boosters, and crew crashed on landing at Tri-State Airport in Huntington. There were no survivors.
No survivors, except for the Marshall spirit.
"The Crash," as it is called, has been the subject of books, documentaries, and a feature film starring Matthew McConoughey and Matthew Fox. More importantly, "The Crash," and still more importantly, the Marshall spirit, live in anyone who has been associated with the University. I spent four years there. Believe me, it's real and it's powerful.
However, Marshall has carried its spirit to the line of scrimmage for four years against West Virginia and has solidly gone down to defeat in each of the four years. What's different in 2010, you may ask.
a) Marshall went 6-6 last season and won their bowl game, the Little Caesar's Pizza-Pizza. Nevertheless, for a team that has been on the rocks for a few years, the Pizza-Pizza Bowl victory is a big deal.
b) So, Marshall finished 7-6, the first winning season since 2004, and fired its coach. Whoa!
c) Marshall knew they could get as head coach John 'Doc' Holliday, West Virginia assistant coach extraordinaire, the recruiter of Tim Tebow when Doc was at Florida. Tim Tebow is the player who, when Doc is asked about Tebow's limitations, all Doc says is "Tim Tebow just wins football games."
d) Now, there's a novel idea!
e) Do it Doc's way: hard work, smart work, pride, desire, focus, and set your standards high and keep them high.
f) As in: Mark Snyder left Marshall football's academic records in shambles. The team averaged a GPA of 2.1. That's a lot of Cs and, unfortunately, a lot of Ds. That below average performance is completely unacceptable. Doc stepped in and "sold" the team on the idea of getting serious about school. At the end of the spring semester, Doc's first, the average GPA went up to a 2.8! That's some Cs and a lot of Bs.
g) Not bad at all! Add that to the fact that Marshall's president Stephen J. Kopp, Ph.D. now meets with recruits in his office to discuss "The Complete Marshall Experience." Doc, in a recent speech to the Charleston W. Va. Rotary club, said that he likes to wander in at times during Dr. Kopp's meetings. It helps him decide to whom to offer athletic scholarships, says Doc. The guys on the edges of their seats get the full rides. The guys slouched in their chairs who cannot wait to get out are shown the way out.
h) And, now to the Joan C. Edwards Stadium, commonly known as a viper pit. Nice lady, only to be associated with snakes. But, it's true. It's a tough room.
Take Doc's new outlook every coach has in his first year, add in his legendary game time focus, and consider the student-athletes who have bought what Doc brings. Factor in the typical outstanding Marshall athlete of runners, jumpers, and hitters, throw in the fact that team learned a lot about themselves against Ohio State at The Horseshoe eight days earlier, and mix this up into a frothing fervor with over 30,000 crazed fans smelling blood in that tough room, and…you tell me.
i) Marshall by a field goal.