When it comes to being a WVU sports fan, I’m reminded of an old Sam Kinison standup comedy bit.
The one where Kinison emits a tiny, cute voice that’s supposed to lure him to the door of love – for the ninth time.
The bit in which he opens the door.
And the bit in which he finds dragons – again.
“Oh, oh, OHHHH!,” he screams in that legendary voice, as if punched in the gut.
I think of it, of course, because every Mountaineer fan has felt that gut punch. Many, many times. The setup. The hope. The punch.
On Sunday, we know WVU sports fans felt it again, albeit from a new source: the baseball program.
As you might know, I’m referring to the Mountaineers’ incredible 11-10 loss to Texas A&M in the NCAA tournament regional in Morgantown.
A walk-off grand slam for the Aggies. A blown 9-1 WVU lead.
“What if I’m speechless?” Mountaineer coach Randy Mazey asked to begin his postgame press conference.
Good question. Tough to speak after a punch to the gut.
That said, however, level-headed WVU fans understand what a great season the baseball team – including reliever Sam Kessler – had. The Mountaineers won 38 games, second-most all-time. (“All-time,” folks, is a long time.)
Yet the sting of the loss was more painful because of, well, everything. Because of where the game was played. Because of how the loss happened. Because the state was tuned in. Because the nation was taking notice. And because, afterward, ESPN continued to run the highlight.
Make no mistake, it ranks up there in Mountaineer “oomphs.”
But I wondered how high it ranks. And I did a little research.
Here’s my list. Let me know what you think.
No. 11: 49-14 football loss to Texas Tech in the 2012 regular season.
The reason this game was crushing: WVU had routed Clemson 70-33 in the prior season’s Orange Bowl and reeled off five straight victories. It seemed the Mountaineers might be walking the path Clemson ultimately did. Yet the loss to Texas Tech was the first of five straight for the Mountaineers. The season ended in a Pinstripe Bowl loss to Syracuse. And the program didn’t recover until the 2016 10-3 season. Some would argue it never truly did recover under Dana Holgorsen.
No. 10: 83-56 women’s basketball loss to Maryland in the 2017 NCAA tournament.
The reason this was a gut punch was because Mike Carey’s Mountaineer women were en fuego, on fire, before the loss. They had slayed Big 12 powerhouse Baylor in the Big 12 tournament finals, sending hardware to Morgantown. And then the Terrapins unceremoniously sent WVU back to Morgantown.
No. 9: 42-19 football loss to Georgia Tech in the 1954 Sugar Bowl.
All I can do is speculate, but I’m sure this was a kick in the pants to Mountaineer followers who watched their team roll to an 8-1 regular season record under Art “Pappy” Lewis. A crowd of 71,666 at Tulane Stadium and an ABC television audience watched Tech QB Pepper Rodgers pepper WVU. Ouch.
No. 8: 11-10 baseball loss to Texas A&M in the 2019 NCAA tournament.
The stunning way the Mountaineers lost the game cannot be topped. As ESPN sportscaster Randy Scott said, it was backyard stuff. Full count. Bases loaded. Down by three. Grand slam. “That doesn’t really happen,” Scott said. Yet it did.
No. 7: 41-7 football loss to Florida in the 1994 Sugar Bowl.
Most West Virginia fans knew the Mountaineers had pieced together an undefeated 1993 season on grit and determination. They half-heartedly argued WVU should have been in the national championship with an unblemished record. But the Gators – literally and figuratively – unmasked the Mountaineers. It was a beatdown that was tough to watch.
No. 6: 3-1 women’s soccer loss to USC in the 2016 NCAA College Cup finals.
Mountaineer coach Nikki Izzo-Brown had her team all the way to the national finals. And, not only that, the game projected as a WVU win, a Mountaineer national championship. Brown’s fine team had defeated No. 5 Duke and No. 6 North Carolina to get to the finals. All it needed to do was knock off No. 7 USC. Instead, WVU was knocked off and finished 23-2 and No. 2. So very close.
No. 5: 93-85 men’s basketball loss to Louisville in the 2005 Elite Eight.
WVU fell in love with this John Beilein team. Mike Gansey. Kevin Pittsnogle. Tyrone Sally. Jo Herber. As a team, they took out Chris Paul and Wake Forest in the NCAA tournament. They were a win away from the Final Four. They had Louisville in a 20-point hole. Yet the Cardinals wouldn’t quit and crushed the Mountaineer hopes in overtime.
No. 4: 78-57 men’s basketball loss to Duke in the 2010 Final Four.
Mountaineer fans were flying high after Bob Huggins’s team of Da’Sean Butler, Devin Ebanks, Kevin Jones, Wellington Smith, Joe Mazzulla and company downed Kentucky in what I consider the greatest single-game WVU sports performance. West Virginia had made the Final Four. Celebrations were many. Yet the Blue Devils, led by Jon Scheyer, quickly doused the Mountaineers’ championship hopes in Indianapolis.
No. 3: 34-21 football loss to Notre Dame in the 1989 Fiesta Bowl/national championship.
It wasn’t so much the veteran WVU team lost to a skilled Notre Dame team. The circumstances around the loss are what made it tough to take. The Mountaineers finally had a true Heisman Trophy candidate in Major Harris — yet he hurt his shoulder on the game’s third play. The proverbial air went out of the team and all the WVU followers in Tempe that January day. The Fighting Irish created separation and that was the ballgame. At the doorstep, but not through the door.
No. 2: 13-9 football loss to Pittsburgh in the 2007 Backyard Brawl.
I always thought it stupid Pitt was a 28-point underdog to WVU (that should never be the case in the rivalry), but the Panthers were. Meanwhile, the Mountaineers were No. 1 in the coaches poll and No. 2 in the A.P. poll and BCS rankings. They were one home win away from playing in a national championship. Somehow, some way, Dave Wannstedt’s Panthers stunned Rich Rodriguez’s high-flying West Virginia team. The sting has never left. It is the stingiest of stings. It is simply known as “13-9.”
No. 1: 71-70 men’s basketball loss to California in the 1959 NCAA championship.
What can top this, right? The Mountaineers were right there. Right THERE. They had Jerry West. They had California, which traveled all the way to play in Louisville’s Freedom Hall. West was even named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player. Also, Cal’s Benny Fitzpatrick missed a free throw with two seconds left, giving WVU one final desperation possession. West even got the rebound. Yet there wasn’t enough time to get off the shot. Heartbreak in overdrive.
Argue among yourselves if “13-9” should be No. 1. My contention is WVU was IN the ’59 national championship. The Mountaineers were thisclose. One-point close. That had to hurt like hell.
Whatever the case, though, WVU fans are indeed like lovers.
They’ll always go back for more.
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