West Virginia's New Uniform Pays Tribute To Coal Miners

Tim McGheeCorrespondent IIISeptember 2, 2010

Coal Miners: The toughest.
Coal Miners: The toughest.

One look at the new West Virginia football uniform, and, in the words of Bill Stewart, they "leave no doubt".

Nike's design pays tribute to the biggest, baddest football fans any college football team can have.

As described by Zack Herold of the Charleston Daily Mail, the charcoal gray headgear has the flying WV logo on both sides as well as a golden "beam of light down the middle", signifying the beam of light coming from a coal miner's head gear.

It's coal miners all the way.

Continuing with Zack Herold's reporting, the white jerseys and white pants are smudged with charcoal gray to represent the coal dust with which the miners are covered at the end of his shift.

Two words: awesome and appropriate.

The message: you think it's tough playing football?  Try a few hours underground...daily.

West Virginians, especially those who have had the honor of being around coal miners, know how much the uniform will mean to the state. 

From the 1950s, the days of WVU linebacker Sam Huff and the coal excavator named for him by the miners, to the recent tragedy at a mine in Upper Big Branch in Raleigh County, W. Va. in which 29 miners lost their lives, the tribute is a tearjerker.


I played football in the early 1970s for the high school in Mullens, W. Va, deep in the heart of coal country.  Mullens' biggest rival was Oceana High, the school from a coal mine community also in Wyoming County.  These schools don't exist now, but during football season, when Nixon was president, they were talented mid-majors among the West Virginia preps.

This is my favorite coal miner story:

As a 5'10", 160 pound outside linebacker, I was a junior in a 6-3-2 scheme.  Oceana was in town in 1972 with their mastery of the wishbone; it was late in the fourth and they were up a touchdown and driving. 

The play I remember most was an option right.  The quarterback faked to the fullback and ran down the line my way.

The pitch back, as we called him, was a running back signed to WVU.  He was a man among boys.  In track, he was state champion in both hurdle events and runner-up in the shot put and the discus. 

A fast brute.

Hitting him was going to be challenging, but the really dicey part became significant because the play had taken place right in front of where coal miners by the dozens congregated every game. 

If I hit Cyborg Back high, I may not have made it through the night, either from him or the coal miners jumping me for missing a tackle.


That was not a good situation.  If you're branded by coal miners as a sissy, you may as well move to some genteel yuppieville.

I slid in low and tripped him up.  Cyborg went down hard.  The miners went crazy.  I relished in their approval.

The following day, I was at the field house loosening up.  The game had been wild, as I was sick to my core that night and barely got out of bed that morning. 

But, it was worth being there.  One of the toughest coal miners I knew told my teammates and me that the Mullens-Oceana game was the hardest hitting high school game they had ever seen.

In West Virginia, there is no higher plaudit than to have a tough coal miner call you tough.

I was too small to play college ball, but it meant the world to me that for one weekend the coal miners looked up to us.

I was humbled.  I couldn't imagine how underground miners, men of great physical courage, could admire guys who just play a game when they lay it all on the line daily.

Coal miners.  They are the definition of "man up."