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The Mountaineers Sure Know How To Climb
Douglas S. Looney
October 29, 1984
By beating BC and the redoubtable Doug Flutie, West Virginia showed it's ready to scale its way into a major bowl
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October 29, 1984

The Mountaineers Sure Know How To Climb

By beating BC and the redoubtable Doug Flutie, West Virginia showed it's ready to scale its way into a major bowl

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But the day belonged to the defense, particularly Daniels, who intercepted Flutie last year to preserve that win. Although other Mountaineer defenders were more visible than Daniels, who had only four solo tackles and no interceptions on Saturday (he had four going into the game), he kept the BC offense under control with his leadership, steady play and subtle ploys, such as faking coverage to throw off Flutie. "It's mind-baffling playing against Flutie," said Daniels. "You never know what he's going to do. The minute you take your eye off your man to see where Flutie is, he'll throw to your man."

For Flutie, however, the day was an enormous disappointment, partly because he'll end his college career without having beaten West Virginia. Still, he remains the choice to win the Heisman. That's mainly because, with the possible exception of Ohio State running back Keith Byars, the nation's leading rusher, and Bernie Kosar, the brilliant Miami quarterback, nobody else has emerged. But Byars is only a junior, and with the Buckeyes hardly dominating the Big 10, he hasn't had the benefit of intense media focus. Kosar is throwing for 278 yards a game and completing 63% of his passes, but he has the grave disadvantage of being only a sophomore, so he, too, can wait his turn.

Flutie could have virtually wrapped up the Heisman on Saturday when BC got the ball following Gay's TD. This was Flutie's kind of situation. And for one fleeting moment, the magic lived. Facing fourth-and-four with 3:26 remaining, he scrambled to his right. No one was open. What would he do? Simple. Still on the run, he tossed a little jump pass to Stradford, who was down on his knees. First down on the Mountaineer 38.

But the Eagles' dreams of another remarkable finish turned into a nightmare as Flutie was sacked on first down before completing one pass to Stradford for a loss of three yards and missing on his final two tries. On the last one, he overthrew tight end Scott Gieselman, who was open up the middle. Afterward, Flutie, who has handled the Heisman pressure in the classiest of ways, was graceful in defeat. He pleasantly answered every question, including those about how he'd screwed up. Typically, he didn't shift the blame. "I should have done much better," he said. "I wasn't setting my feet as well as I should have. And I should have stood there and thrown the ball and taken some hits instead of scrambling."

In a game that was erratically officiated, Flutie pointed no fingers. He wouldn't even complain about the time in the fourth quarter, with 12:59 left, when the officials inexplicably robbed Boston College of a down. "Somebody just messed up," he said. "It's just one of those things." Indeed it was. Earlier, West Virginia had been zinged when a ref blew his whistle at the wrong moment. That gaffe helped set up an Eagle TD.

While Flutie is always the center of attention, the Mountaineers in fact stole his show, and much of the credit must go to Nehlen. He arrived in Morgantown in December 1979 after spending nine years as coach at Bowling Green and three as a Michigan assistant under Bo Schembechler. The first thing he didn't like about West Virginia was the negative attitude toward football—on the part of the students, faculty, coaches and players. "Football," he says, "is 90 percent from the neck up." By that criterion, the Mountaineers were seriously lacking. Up went signs about Positive Mental Attitude. Lights were turned off in team meetings, and the players were told to visualize doing something positive.

After finishing 6-6 in 1980, the Mountaineers went 9-3 and beat Florida in the Peach Bowl in '81. Before the '82 season, which would open with a visit to Oklahoma, the coaches sent a postcard to each player. It read in part, "We defeated Oklahoma because...." It went on to list all the terrific things the players had done to win the game. Talk about positive thinking. West Virginia then went to Norman and won 41-27. The Mountaineers finished 9-3 again, losing to Florida State in the Gator Bowl. Last year they beat Kentucky in the Hall of Fame Bowl to wind up 9-3 once more.

In this chaotic season, teams with two losses, and conceivably even three, will be in major bowls. West Virginia and BC may both qualify.

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