The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

June 19, 2013

Special moments, players and coaches in state sports history

From Staff Reports

BECKLEY — In celebration of West Virginia's 150th birthday, our sports staff decided to take a look at some of the athletes, coaches and venues that make sports in the Mountain State special.

Sports editor Cam Huffman, sports writers Dan Stillwell and J. Daniel Rollins and sports clerk Rusty Udy all answered five questions about sports among the beautiful West Virginia hills. Here are their answers.

1) What’s the best game you’ve ever seen in West Virginia?

Cam: The 1993 West Virginia University football win over Miami was a game unlike any Mountaineer fans will probably ever see again. For starters, the record 70,222 fans that filled Mountaineer Field that frigid night were electric. And the game lived up to the hype. Robert Walker’s late touchdown gave the Mountaineers a 17-14 victory over the No. 4 Hurricanes, handing them their first Big East loss. The celebration following the victory was unmatched, and WVU went on to post an undefeated regular season.

Dan: I’ve seen so many great games, but I’ll go with Wyoming East’s come-from-behind victory over James Monroe in the 1999 Class AA football semifinals. Ben Thornton had played brilliantly for the Mavericks, and had given them the lead with a couple of minutes to play. Wyoming East quarterback Robert Gunter told coach Kevin Grogg, “No problem, Coach. We’ve got it.” Gunter then engineered a fantastic drive to give the eventual-state champion Warriors the 31-24 win.

JDR: There aren’t many high school basketball games that live on almost 20 years after they happened. The 1994 state tournament game between Woodrow Wilson and DuPont is one of them. I wasn’t there in person, but I’ve watched the game on television and the Internet many times.  The game was full of excitement and drama with the Randy Moss and Jason Williams led Panthers knocking off Dave Barksdale’s Flying Eagles.

Rusty: The 1975 “Backyard Brawl” is clearly the best game I have ever seen in West Virginia. The highly ranked Pitt Panthers led by hall of Famer Tony Dorsett and legendary coach Johnny Majors rolled into Morgantown looking for a win in front of a sell-out crowd of rowdy WVU Mountaineer fans. WVU held Tony Dorsett in check and entered the fourth quarter up 14-7. Pitt however tied the score in the middle of the fourth and the game looked destined for a tie. With time running down, quarterback Dan Kendra faked a draw to Artie Owens and hit Randy Swinson at the Pitt 22 yard line with just seconds left in the game. In stepped Warwood native Bill McKenzie to drill a 38 yard field goal and upset the Panthers setting off a mob scene on old Mountaineer field that I will never forget. It truly was a great day to be a Mountaineer.

2) Who’s the best West Virginia-born athlete you've ever watched in person?

Cam: I'm not old enough to have seen Rod Hundley, Jerry West or Sam Huff, but Randy Moss was certainly special. His raw athleticism in football, basketball and baseball was incredible. He'll be a Hall of Famer in football, and he possibly could have been at any one of the three sports.

Dan: Moss was special, but Big Creek’s Danny Abercrombie was incredibly talented, and a better person. His senior year, Danny was first-team all-state in football and basketball, second-team in baseball, and he won the long jump, 100 and (I think) 200 at the state track meet. He played four years for Marshall and led the Southern Conference in kick returns as a senior. The only thing that held Danny back was his lack of size (he was 5-foot-6). Runner-up: Mullens’ Herbie Brooks.

Josh: Without a doubt, it’s Randy Moss. I wasn’t very old when Moss was playing for DuPont, but I vividly remember traveling with my family to see them play Hurricane in football. Moss caught a punt return within the 5-yardline and waited for the Redskin defenders to get to them. He blazed past all of them for a touchdown.

Rusty: Nobody I have seen in person could match Randy Moss. His athletic ability was far above any of his competitors. Noted for his football ability, he was an outstanding basketball and baseball player also. In a game I watched, DuPont had the ball at midfield with seconds remaining in the half. Everyone knew where the ball was going as did the defense who promptly put three defenders on Moss. Moss streaked down the sideline easily out jumping three defenders draped all over him for a touchdown. He was a special athlete and I won’t mention the terror he caused WVU in the lone game he played in Morgantown.

3) What's your favorite venue in West Virginia to watch a sporting event?

Cam: There's nothing like a fall Saturday at Mountaineer Field, and as a baseball fan I love covering games at Linda K. Epling Stadium. But my favorite is taking in the action of The Greenbrier Classic on The Old White TPC Course at The Greenbrier. You can almost feel the history of the game as you stand along one of the fairways that Sam Snead called home, and the scenery of the Greenbrier Valley is unmatched anywhere on the PGA TOUR. When the sun begins to set behind the mountains, watching the game's best in our own backyard is an unforgettable moment.

Dan: A tie, between the WVU Coliseum and the original Baileysville High School gymnasium. Crowds weren’t always big in the 1970s in the Coliseum, but we made a LOT of noise. As for high school sports, you can’t go wrong with the Armory, the Civic Center or ANY Wyoming County high school gym. But the beloved BHS “Crackerbox” (not to be confused the RiderDome) was something else. Even if you were sitting in the back row, it was like you were on the court. The basketball, boys or girls, was intense and the fans were deafening.

Josh: If you weren’t in the former Raleigh County Armory during the Dave Barksdale era of Woodrow Wilson basketball, you were missing out.  I have many childhood memories of attending the games with former Woodrow assistant principal, the late Carlton Spicer and his son Chip. There’s nowhere else I would have rather been.

Rusty: This is easy for me, old Mountaineer Field was absolutely the best venue ever to me. The great view on the open end of the bowled stadium of the hills of West Virginia and the Monongahela River was a picture straight out of Southern Living magazine. The awesome acoustics that amplified the “Pride of West Virginia” marching band, where I would watch games with my family while we were in Morgantown, are priceless memories for me.

4) What four athletes/coaches should be on West Virginia's Mount Rushmore?

Cam: Jerry West is the NBA logo and a wonderful ambassador for the state. He is the face of athletics in West Virginia. Sam Huff is an NFL Hall of Famer and the son of a coal miner. He embodies the work ethic and determination that defines the Mountain State. Mary Lou Retton was the first female gymnast from outside Eastern Europe to win the Olympic gold medal in the individual all-around competition. If she can make in on a Wheaties box, she certainly belongs on our Mount Rushmore. The fourth spot goes to Nick Saban. When all is said and done, the Marion County native will be known as one of the greatest coaches in the game's history.

Dan: The Mount Rushmore: Jennings Boyd (Northfork basketball), Dave Barksdale (Woodrow basketball), Don Nuckols (Mullens basketball) and Wayne Ryan (Summers County girls basketball): Basketball championship after championship for each.

Josh: You can’t put together a Mount Rushmore of the Mountain State without “The Logo” himself, Jerry West. He really needs no further explanation.  Hal Greer was the first ever African-American to have an athletic career at either WVU or Marshall.  Greer was a 2nd round draft pick out of Marshall to the Syracuse Nationals (who later became the Philadelphia 76ers), where he became a 10-time all-star and an NBA champion. He finished his career with 21,586 points and had his number 15 retired by the Sixers. Randy Moss will go down as one of the top 3 wide receivers in NFL history. He’s a 7-time Pro Bowler, 5-time All-Pro and holds the NFL record for most touchdowns in a single season (23) and as a rookie (17). Finally, my final spot is reserved for “The Grey Eagle” Jerome Van Meter. Van Meter is one of, if not the single most successful high school coaches in the country. Van Meter coached Woodrow Wilson to three state championships in football and six in basketball during his 30-year coaching career.

Rusty: Jerry West, the NBA logo has to be there. Nick Saban, clearly one of the greatest college coaches from a small West Virginia mining town, Monongah. Pat White, because he has been matched by no others in bowl wins and his great line, “once a Mountaineer, always a Mountaineer". And my final choice is clearly personal, Owen Schmitt. He embodies West Virginia. A hard working under appreciated athlete that worked hard and became a Mountaineer legend. The runaway beer truck will always be one of my favorites.

5) Who's the best athlete from outside the state to play at a West Virginia college?

Cam: Pat White may never have a professional career of any real merit, but he is one of the best college quarterbacks to ever play the game. His record speaks for itself. He won four bowl games as the WVU signal caller, two of them BCS bowls. He's college football's all-time leading rusher as a quarterback — I'm not going to acknowledge Denard Robinson, who played most of his senior year as a running back and wide receiver — and he's one of only nine players to rush for 200 yards and pass for 200 yards in the same game. His 34-8 record as a starter is simply incredible.

Dan: Pat White.

Josh: I agree with Cam. It has to be Pat White. White was one of the most dynamic playmakers in college football history and helped re-establish the Mountaineers as a national power.

Rusty: Pat White, Pat White, Pat White, Pat White. The only quarterback to lead his team to four bowl game victories and the most exciting, clutch player to put on a Mountaineer football jersey, with slight apologies to Major Harris. My mom would totally agree with my choice.