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A chance to thank Don Nehlen for the memories

A chance to thank Don Nehlen for the memories

The reason I put together these blogs is to tug at my friends, my readers, to check out Wheelhouse Creative in Wheeling. (Check out the website you’re on! You’ll be impressed.)

Spreading word of Wheelhouse is also why I put together the “Off the Record” series. Yet putting on the Thursday live show at Generations is also a labor of love. And I’m hoping this week’s show features an outpouring of love from you, from West Virginia University football fans, from the Ohio Valley, for my April 11 guest.

Because my guy Don Nehlen deserves to feel that outpouring of love.

He certainly produced many “good feels” for Mountaineer fans for 20 years.

I know. I lived it. I saw it. As a former sports writer and columnist, I covered it. But most importantly, in this case, I felt it.

See, I was at WVU in 1978. My parents gave me four years to graduate. And in the first of those four years, I watched the Mountaineers go 2-9 in football. They got beat by Richmond. They finished the season by losing 50-14 to Colorado State. Not quality memories.

Yet in 1980, WVU brought in Donald Eugene Nehlen. And by the end of my four years of study, he had the Mountaineer program cooking. The good memories were there. And throughout his 20 years at the helm of WVU’s football program, Nehlen provided many, many of them to Mountaineer fans everywhere.

I felt the good vibes at the end of my schooling when I watched the Peach Bowl celebration at Fulton County Stadium. The Mountaineers had gone from that 2-9 to 9-3 and a win over Florida. I watched the smiles on the faces of quarterback Oliver Luck and running back Mickey Walczak after they stunned Florida 26-6. I felt the joy.

Of course, that was just the beginning. Nehlen, with the help of his future son-in-law Jeff Hostetler, engineered the 1982 upset of Oklahoma. It was an I-remember-where-I-was moment for Mountaineer fans. (I was walking into the Beckley Newspaper newsroom after covering a high school football game.)

Nehlen and his team would then churn out many, many special memories.

There were the wins over Boston College star Doug Flutie. (His teams never beat WVU.) There was the “Finally” victory over Penn State.

There was the stunning Darren Studstill to Ed Hill touchdown in Chestnut Hill that sealed a 17-14 win over then-No. 11 B.C. to complete an undefeated 1993 season. That came right after a victory over No. 4 Miami in Morgantown before the largest crowd (70,222) in stadium history.

Of course, there was the 1988 Fiesta Bowl journey, when West Virginia made it to the national championship game against Notre Dame.

I went to that game. I covered it for the Morgantown Dominion-Post. I remember it all. Sun Devil Stadium. Dick Enberg and Merlin Olsen calling the game. I remember Tempe.

Yet what I remember most about that journey was how the regular season ended.

I remember the joy on the faces of WVU fans after the Mountaineers defeated Syracuse at home by 31-9.

After the final seconds ticked off, the celebration started. The players lapped Mountaineer Field. They high-fived the fans in the stands.

It was a sight to behold. It was a moment to remember.

All orchestrated by Don Nehlen. And all cleanly orchestrated by Don Nehlen.

Which is why it would do my heart good to see a nice turnout this Thursday for Nehlen, now 83. He was born on a Jan. 1. Which is appropriate. Because he ushered in a new era for West Virginia University football fans.

And, more importantly, he provided a couple decades filled with good memories. Now, on Thursday, let’s give him one. See you there.

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The “Off the Record” show featuring Don Nehlen will be held at 7 p.m. on April 4 at Generations Pub in Wheeling. For reservations, call 304-232-7917. You can follow Wheelhouse Creative on Twitter at @Our_Wheelhouse as well as Facebook. You can follow Mitch Vingle on Twitter @MitchVingle.

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