I forget exactly how John Antonik, WVU’s fine director of athletics content, phrased the question.
But the New Martinsville native asked via Twitter for the best WVU football play call of all time.
I didn’t have to ponder. I knew immediately.
Because the best WVU play call was also the best overall play call I’ve seen. That includes the NFL’s “Philly Special” and others.
See, the best play call I’ve seen caught everyone by surprise. And more importantly, it won a game. Specifically, the 2006 Nokia Sugar Bowl.
Yes, I’m referring to the punt fake by the Mountaineers’ Phil Brady. It sealed a 38-35 WVU victory over favored Georgia played in, basically, the Bulldog’s home, the Georgia Dome.
To refresh, here’s a quick rundown before the meat of this blog. Freshmen Pat While, Steve Slaton, Darius Reynaud and the rest of the Mountaineers shocked Georgia and the college football world by rolling to a 28-0 lead with a minute gone in the second quarter.
Yet the Bulldogs came storming back, first to within 31-21 at the half and then, as time was winding down, to within three points. WVU, though, had the ball with 5:13 left in the game and drained the clock with six straight runs to 1:45.
It was then the TV cameras pivoted to Georgia kicker Brandon Coutu. It seemed destiny was on the side of the Bulldogs as West Virginia faced a fourth-and-6 situation.
But WVU, with Rich Rodriguez as the head coach, lined up in a wide spread look with three blockers to the left of center – including fullback extraordinaire Owen Schmitt.
“I noticed this before,” said TV commentator Bob Griese. “And when West Virginia was punting, everyone was running down the field. Georgia was running with them.”
Except this time Brady took the snap, tucked the ball and ran – straight for a first down.
“And that might just sew up the Nokia Sugar Bowl for the Mountaineers!” said play-by-play man Brad Nessler.
Indeed it did.
“It’s a gutsy call by Rich Rodriguez,” said Griese.
Yet was it Rodriguez’s call? Antonik suggested via Twitter it might have been then-offensive line coach Herb Hand, now at Texas.
So I texted Hand. I’ve always wanted to know about that play. And the words came tumbling back on my phone.
“There’s a lot of mythology around that call,” Hand said. “Here is how I remember the entire sequence of events.
“After the third-down play, we let the play clock run down to :01 and we took a timeout. As the clock is winding down, I said to Rich, [Bill Stewart], Butch [Jones] and Calvin [Magee] — who are all on the headset – ‘What do you think about Hammer?’ That’s what the fake was called.”
At this point, Hand said, Rodriguez spoke up.
“Do you think it will be there?”
Stewart, who coordinated special teams, answered “it was there earlier.”
As Griese said, WVU indeed ran out of the same formation earlier in the game and the opening was there.
“So Butch Jones, who was in charge of Punt Team, says ‘Herb, go to Line 2,” Hand said.
Line 2 on the headset, he explained, was for coaches to discuss situations without a lot of background noise and chatter.
“I clicked to Line 2 quickly and Butch says ‘If it’s not there, you’ve got to get us out of it.’ I said, ‘I will.’ I then looked at Calvin, who was in the same coaching box with me, and said ‘If you don’t think it’s there, let’s get out of it.’ He answered back, ‘It’ll be there.’”
All the WVU coaches then switched back to Line 1.
“We are now all back on Line 1 and Rich says, ‘Ok. Let’s run it. Herb, if it’s there let me know; if not, we’ll kick it.’”
The Mountaineers lined up in the formation.
“It was the perfect look we wanted to run the fake against and I said ‘Hammer, Hammer!’” Hand said. “Bill Stewart signaled the call in, we snapped the ball and Phil Brady started toward the line of scrimmage.
“I said, ‘Run you sumbitch run!’ He got the first down and we moved the chains.”
It sealed the game because Georgia only had two timeouts left and but 1:34 remained.
“That’s the best I can recollect the situation,” Hand said. “Ultimately, Rich Rodriguez made the call because he was the head coach and it was an HCD (head coach decision). But the play itself was well executed by the men on the field and that’s what really matters.”
Indeed it sewed up the 2006 Nokia Sugar Bowl.
And provided some sweet memories for WVU fans.
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Mitch Vingle covered sports in West Virginia for 38 years. Follow Mitch on Twitter at @MitchVingle and be sure to check out the rest of Wheelhouse Creative’s website for your marketing and advertising needs. If interested, call us at 304-905-6005.