Bulger Background Evident in Success
This has been a week that belonged to his sister, Kate, as she was elected to join him in the West Virginia University Sports Hall of Fame, but it also can be time to look back and appreciate what Marc Bulger brought with him when he came into Don Nehlen’s Mountaineer football program.
Bulger was a tall and lanky kid with a good arm and a bad back.
He originally committed to Virginia Tech, but his mom put the kibosh on that thought.
The conversation, according to Bulger this week, went this way:
“What are you thinking?” she asked him on signing day.
“I’m kind of leaning toward Virginia Tech,” Bulger answered.
“We had a great time there and that’s a great school,” Patricia Bulger said, “but you’re going where Coach Nehlen is.”
And that was that.
“I said ‘OK,’” Bulger recalls with a laugh. “I didn’t really have a vote.”
Go ahead, I know what you’re thinking comes next… the rest is history, and certainly Marc Bulger wrote his own history, leaving West Virginia with six records built off his passing — total offense, passing yards, attempts and completions, completion percentage and touchdowns.
Oh, yeah, and just to put a cherry on top of it he tormented WVU’s Backyard Brawl rival and his hometown Pitt Panthers, throwing for 1,088 yards and 11 touchdowns in 3 games, including a memorable appearance in his final collegiate game, upsetting Pitt, 52-21, by throwing for 331 yards and three touchdowns in just three quarters.
But the qualities he had on the field, and they were enough to get him drafted in the NFL and to become a Pro Bowl player and string together a long career, didn’t match the kind of qualities he brought forward as a person.
And, as he points out, it became with his parents, his father, Jim, a backup quarterback at Notre Dame to Joe Theismann, and his mother, Patricia.
“A lot of what we became had to do with my upbringing and my parents. My mom is one tough cookie,” Bulger said.
And, he notes, it wasn’t a privileged or plush upbringing.
“We grew up, it wasn’t the easiest. My grandmother was with us. There were four of us in the bedroom at a time,” Bulger said.
But no one ever was allowed to feel neglected or sorry for themselves.
“There was no complaining. You just worked. It’s a lot like Pittsburgh and it’s a lot like West Virginia,” Bulger explained. “I tell people, you look at guys in the NFL, a lot of them came from nothing. We didn’t have any other options. You worked your butts off or you would fail.
“You could see kids, I don’t want to name names, but kids who were pretty highly recruited who just got outworked.”
Bulger was, in other words, the perfect quarterback for Don Nehlen and Nehlen knew it.
“He’s the best,” Bulger said. “I love coach Nehlen. I know his players loved him. He was willing to take underdog players, players who just needed a chance… or a second chance. I know there are so many of us out here who are grateful.
“I had the back issues and he stuck with me. They brag on him running the draw, but the fact that he let me throw the ball, that was the reason I got to the NFL.”
There’s none of the braggadocio that comes with today’s athletes … “I did this” or “I did that”. Instead there is humbleness when Marc Bulger speaks, reverence when he speaks of his parents and coaches and real feeling to his brothers and sisters.
And he hasn’t forgotten others, either. He has founded his own foundation — The Marc Bulger Foundation — whose mission statement is as follows:
“The Marc Bulger Foundation’s mission is to find innovative ways to create awareness and provide funding to a diverse range of programs designed to benefit our courageous men and women in uniform, AS WELL AS those courageous children battling life-threatening conditions.”
This has become an important part of his life, in part because of Nehlen.
“My first year, we had 115 kids from all walks of life and he would tell us, you have to look in the mirror and realize you are blessed to live in this country,” Bulger said. “It’s relevant nowadays. That has always stuck with me.”
And sometime in the near future there will be an announcement of project that brings Bulger and Jeff Hostetler together to make things better for the children being treated in WVU Children’s Hospital.