You would not have to say that West Virginia University looks for inspiration in adversity, but that ship's mast that occupies such a conspicuous place on the campus is off the battleship
, which was sunk at Pearl Harbor. The classic example of a West Virginia alumnus, General Anthony C. McAuliffe, said "nuts" to the Germans at Bastogne while looking down the gun barrels of about 20,000 German soldiers who had him surrounded. And West Virginia football fans take an almost perverse delight in the nonsuccess of their team, particularly the two 17-year periods during which the Mountaineers could not beat their most hated opponent, Pittsburgh. The Mountaineers also consider it worth mentioning that Marshall Goldberg, the best football player the state ever produced, went away to Pitt and that Paul Bryant, then at Kentucky, and General Bob Neyland of Tennessee used to steal in regularly to recruit the state's better players.
It is further pointed out with approbation that Spartan West Virginia has never had an athletic dorm, has not red-shirted a player in 10 years and has never, never made a concession on a player's classroom schedule. When the team starts practice—on a field 1� miles away that the players get to by bus—as many as a third of the players are liable to still be in class. The players do not pretend to be glamorous. Unglamorous as can be is the star quarterback, Allen (Coon) McCune, a miner's son who apologizes in the huddle for incomplete passes, talks with his head down and not often, and rides around in a convertible only when he is with someone who owns one.
The so-called "golden eras" of West Virginia football are more or less recognized as mistakes. The team has gone undefeated one time in 72 years and has had capacity crowds exactly five times in about 350 home games. Its fans have been conditioned not to get too excited. Until now.
This year West Virginians are so excited they don't know what to do except rush to the ticket office, where tickets are getting scarce. The goody-goody student Daily Athenaeum has found it necessary to caution its readers concerning their stadium manners. Publicist Ed Barrett is considering installing a tranquilizer dispenser in the press box. Coach Gene Corum says he is fast becoming the oldest 44-year-old coach in the business. In his nightmares Corum thrashes through 0-0 ties, though logic tells him his team is not likely ever to be shut out—or to shut out anybody. The Mountaineers are not just undefeated (the 25-2 victory over The Citadel on Saturday was their fourth straight), they have averaged 44.5 points a game. They average 259.8 yards a game rushing, 222 yards passing and 200 adjectives per sportswriter's story in Barrett's press box. They are the most explosive team in college football. They are also one of the most exploded on: even William and Mary pushed them around for 345 yards. However, the defense made at least a token comeback against The Citadel, intercepting five passes, recovering two fumbles and forcing a safety.
Two weeks ago at Morgantown, before that fifth capacity crowd, West Virginia beat rival Pittsburgh 63-48. West Virginia scored more points in the first half (28) than it had in 57 previous games with Pitt. Coach Corum, with a West Virginian's eye for negativity, noted that the key play of the game was a defensive one—End Bill Sullivan slid across the line to stop the Pitt quarterback at the goal on a two-point conversion play. It was one of the few tackles made all afternoon. The score then was 49-48. Quarterback McCune knew exactly what to do to protect the one-point lead; he threw a 59-yard touchdown pass. An alumnus told Corum afterward that he was living dangerously—if he kept this up the fans would start taking football as seriously as they do basketball—and that's real trouble.
It is mostly Corum's fault, of course. He is a native son who played for the Mountaineers before and after World War II as a 178-pound guard and should know better. He was called Cocky then, because he was such a stoic sufferer. He would probably deny that he once played a game with a broken arm, but West Virginians believe it. Cocky Corum was an assistant to the late Art Lewis for 10 years and is now in his sixth year as head coach. He has accomplished a painstaking rebuilding program. The first year he did not win a game; Saturday's victory over The Citadel finally pushed him over .500 at 27 wins, 26 losses. Corum appreciates the university's low-key approach to the game, but he does not let it stop him from getting things done. During that first year he gathered his coaches together and made goodwill trips to every high school in the state—all 254 of them. The staff has been doing that ever since, in August, when other coaches are busy preparing for fall practice. The result: not many good West Virginia players pack off to Kentucky or Tennessee anymore. "He wraps the flag around you," says one. "How can you refuse?"
A deliberately positive effort was also made to bring in good Negro athletes. The first two—Fullback Dick Leftridge and Guard Roger Alford—are seniors now. They call themselves The Pioneers and Leftridge says that when their sons go to West Virginia they will be known as The Sons of the Pioneers. Leftridge is a high-humored, powerfully built 220-pounder from Hinton, W. Va., one of 10 children in a railroader's family. He once asked Corum for permission to go home for the weekend. "Be back by 10 a.m. Monday," he was told. At 10 on Monday Leftridge phoned. "It's snowing, and I don't have a way back," he said. Corum exploded. Five minutes later Leftridge walked into his office. "When I heard how mad you were, Coach," he said, "I took a jet."
Leftridge is in shape for the first time in his life. Previously he had a problem with tables—he never wanted to get up from one. When he is in shape he is a slashing runner (369 yards in 66 carries so far this fall) and an even better blocker. "I love to hit the big guys," he says.
The man Leftridge is usually hitting and blocking for is a sophomore halfback from Washington, D.C., a handsome Negro with cow eyes and a self-deprecating manner. Conservatively speaking, says one WVU official, Garrett Ford should make All-America this year and every year until he graduates. The nation's third-leading rusher, he is averaging 8.5 yards a carry, has four runs and a pass reception of 50 yards or more and has scored six touchdowns. He wears number 32, because he is a great believer in Jimmy Brown, the Cleveland star. Ford wanted to go to Syracuse, Brown's school, but never even paid it a visit, because one trip to Morgantown and he was sold—"I guess it was the southern hospitality."
Still, the man who makes this splendid attack go is Quarterback McCune, who comes from the same high school—East Bank—that sent West Virginia its finest basketball player, Jerry West. McCune passes well (for touchdowns in seven straight games) and is just quick enough on sprint-out passes to get the ball away under a rush, though he is no scrambler. He gets help from the bench on 30% of his play calls, which he says is fine, because in the huddle he sometimes draws a blank. Corum moved him from defense last year after West Virginia had gone scoreless in 13 straight quarters and the coaching staff was casting about frantically for someone to pull them out. "I wouldn't have asked for the job," McCune says, typically unpresuming, "but I am glad they made the change."