For those of you who pay attention to college basketball — and we do only when one certain blue-and-gold team is playing — there’s something going on that’s a lot like what went on during the 2009 NFL postseason.
A team is making a run at the top, and it’s carrying the rest of a state with it.
The Mountaineers are West Virginia’s answer to the New Orleans Saints, a squad around which everyone can rally, a group that fully understands the impact it has on every West Virginian.
Dan Wetzel of Yahoo! Sports paints an excellent picture of the place where life is older than the trees, explaining that the head coach who grew up in West Virginia wants to do exactly what Sean Payton plans to do with the Lombardi Trophy. Bob Huggins intends to take the NCAA Championship hardware and the team to every corner of a state with a unique geography that makes the journey from Martinsburg to Bluefield not much shorter than the trek from San Francisco to L.A.
And Wetzel accurately captures the mindset Huggins has brought to the state. No longer is it an upset or a fluke when things go well for West Virginia. We’re now beginning to expect that good things can and will happen — and getting a chance to share in a national title would very well do more for the well-being of this state and its people than anything else ever could.
The irony, of course, is that the WVU football team was supposed to make West Virginians and the rest of the nation simultaneously realize that there’s no difference between us and everyone else, providing the moment at which we can look in the faces of those from other states who resort to easy jokes about bare feet, missing teeth, and/or incest, smile at them, and say, “How do you like our trophy?” (It also might prompt more than a few folks from west of the Mississippi to finally realize that, yes, there actually is a state called West Virginia and, no, we’re not from Western Virginia.) The fact that Rich Rodriguez didn’t understand (or, perhaps more accurately, was persuaded by his agent to ignore) the value of that achievement has opened the door for Huggins and the basketball team to nudge football out of the limelight, and to give all West Virginians — native sons and adopted ones like Mountaineers play-by-plan man extraordinaire Tony Caridi and PFTV’s Joe Brocato — a chance to have their pride be met not with ridicule, but respect.
So thanks, Coach Huggins, for finding a way to harmonize your career objectives and your heritage, and for giving all of us a chance to finally persuade those who would otherwise mock us that, in English, in German, or in any other language, West Virginia is a special place, and West Virginians are a special breed.