Some of the Greatest Of All Time Have Played Against The Mountaineers
In a bold stroke of genius, West Virginia opted this Saturday morning to hold its 27th annual Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony, guaranteeing that fans will have a chance to see some star athletes even if the noon game’s opponent, Delaware State, may be among the worst teams ever to come into Mountaineer Field — old or new.
The ceremony will be held at 9:30 a.m. in the Caperton Indoor Practice Facility and is free of charge, perhaps as such a mismatch as this game figures to be should be, with the 2017 class including Chrissie Abbott (women’s soccer), Eddie Becker (men’s basketball), Willie Drewrey (football), John Havlik (men’s swimming & diving), Charles Hickman (baseball), Dan Mozes (football), Kevin Pittsnogle (men’s basketball) and John Spiker (administration/athletic training).
All of this set one wandering mind off in search of a story idea that would let you know not only that playing Virginia Tech at a neutral site and Delaware State at home is something of an insult to such a loyal and winning fan base, but that would remind them of just how great the opposition often is that comes to town.
Perhaps, this idle mind thought, a list of the Ten Greatest Players ever to face West Virginia — home, away or in a bowl game — would fill the void.
We began researching the great players who have faced the Mountaineers and quickly realized that it would be easier to fit Kim Kardashian into Nicole Ritchie’s underthings.
The list was mind-boggling.
You wonder why the move to the Big 12 has hurt the Mountaineer program? Perhaps thinking about those who WVU no longer faces and the players they brought against WVU over the years will catch your attention.
Syracuse alone sent fullback Larry Csonka, who ran for 113, 146 and 216 yards in three consecutive games vs. WVU; quarterback Donovan McNabb, running back Floyd Little, wide receiver Marvin Harrison, tight end John Mackey and some guy we’ll get to shortly of whom you may have heard.
And Pitt? The list is scary, starting with running back Tony Dorsett and tight end Mike Ditka and wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald and offensive lineman Jimbo Covert and quarterback Dan Marino and … well, you kind of understand now what Pitt leads the Backyard Brawl 61-40-3, at one point winning 15 straight and holding WVU to single-digit scoring in 17 consecutive renewals.
Then there was a series with Miami that saw then bring the likes of Michael Irvin, Vinny Testaverde, Kellen Winslow Jr., Russell Maryland and Warren Sapp to the line of scrimmage against WVU, resulting in 17 wins in 20 games.
And Penn State? Well, do we have to run down that list or should we simply tell you that Penn State leads that series 48-9-2 by running backs Lydell Mitchell and Franco Harris of the Immaculate Reception fame and another Pittsburgh Steeler great, Jack Ham, along with Mike Reid and David Robinson of the great Green Bay Packer teams.
Ten? Are you kidding? You couldn’t narrow it down to the 10 greatest quarterbacks, not with Doug Flutie and Michael Vick on the list, to say nothing of the Heisman Trophy winner from Navy, Roger Staubach.
We’re talking here of Heisman Trophy winners, Hall of Famers, players who did things so great against WVU that you had to marvel at them … Winslow’s catch, Vick’s run, Thurman Thomas’ Sun Bowl when he was the starting Oklahoma State running back ahead of Barry Sanders.
Dorsett rushed for 196 yards against WVU in the ‘76 Pitt game, Harrison caught a 96-yard touchdown pass among his 213 receiving yards from McNabb in 1998.
These were great players who made up great teams, unbeaten national championship teams, some of them, teams that would lay 58 points on the Mountaineers.
But they also didn’t win them all. Flutie, in fact, played WVU four times and never beat the Mountaineers.
And then there was that fellow we skipped over, the greatest running back of all time, Jim Brown of Syracuse, who faced WVU in 1955 and 1956 as one of the great rivalries in football history was born… Jim Brown vs. WVU’s Sam Huff.
The first year Huff stopped Brown quite well, the second, Brown broke loose for 165 yards against WVU … and those two battled for years through the professional ranks with Huff on the New York Giants and Brown on the aptly named Cleveland Browns, who featured him under the Hall of Fame coach and founder of the team, Paul Brown.
The two men were superheroes who fought as hard as any, but Jim Brown once pointed out to Huff that “in all the tough games we had we never had a harsh word for each other.’’
They did have harsh battles, though.
‘I think I’m the only guy ever to put Jim Brown out of a game,’’ Sam Huff once recalled. ‘’We were playing the Browns at Yankee Stadium, and they were at our 20-yard line in the closed end. He was running to his left and he stumbled, and I hit him with my shoulder and my helmet, and Dick Modzelewski hit him, too. Jim got up and went back to the huddle, but he didn’t know where he was.’’
And Huff has always carried a reminder of what tackling Brown was like through a scar on his face.
“I showed him the scar on my nose at Houston,’’ he said. ‘’Most people don’t realize that I first played against Jim Brown when he was at Syracuse and I was at West Virginia in 1955, before the Giants drafted me.
“On one run, he hit me so hard he drove my helmet down across my nose. That’s how I got the scar. And he shattered some of my teeth. Knocked the enamel right off them. Knocked me out, too. I woke up on the trainer’s table.’’
So Saturday, if you don’t see the next Jim Brown out there on the opposing sideline, understand that you’ve had it pretty good as WVU fans over the years, seeing not only your own stars but those who went on to make football history in college and the NFL.