The last time the West Virginia Mountaineers played a football game, they won. By 33 points. In the Orange Bowl.
The next time the Mountaineers play a football game, they will do so as a member of the Big 12 Conference.
One of the monumental victories in school history converges with elevation to a high-profile conference.
Can anyone say perfect storm?
Jed Drenning can. “It's unlike anything we've seen,” said the sideline reporter for West Virginia's radio network. “It really is the perfect storm of events for fans.
“Under ordinary circumstances, Big 12 or not, the fans would be lathered up. But throw the Big 12 in as well, with some of the biggest brands in the game …”
Not since John Denver penned “misty taste of moonshine, teardrop in my eye” has West Virginia been so excited.
“There's a buzz,” admitted West Virginia football coach Dana Holgorsen. “We're not talking about it, but from a fan base, yes, we're getting hammered by it.”
For good reason. Few schools mean more to their state than does WVU.
Nebraska. Arkansas. West Virginia. What other states, void of major league sports, rally around one institution in such a manner?
“We're a fairly small state, 1.8 million,” said athletic director Oliver Luck, a star Mountaineer quarterback in the 1980s. “That's probably the population of Oklahoma City nowadays.
“We're a relatively poor state, Appalachia. People still living up in the hollers. But there's enormous pride in the state. It goes back to Bobby Bowden (who coached West Virginia in the 1970s). We punch above our weight. We love being an underdog.”
Tell us about it. The Mountaineers twice have waxed the Sooners as heavy underdogs, 41-27 in 1982 and 48-28 five seasons ago in the Fiesta Bowl.
Which is why you'll see blue and gold dominate the state, whether you're in a bank in Wheeling or a gas station in Beverly or the capitol in Charleston. The Mountaineers unite the state.
“It's the only show in town,” Drenning said.
He should know. Drenning was an all-state quarterback at Tucker County High School, then has lived out the ultimate Mountaineer history.
Drenning went to Samford University in Alabama and played for Terry Bowden, son of the first iconic West Virginia coach. Drenning transferred to WVU and played for the Mountaineers' greatest coach, Don Nehlen.
Then, Drenning moved on to Glenville State, 90 miles south of Morgantown, and became an NAIA All-American QB under a young coach named Rich Rodriguez, who would go on to fame as the Mountaineer coach in the 2000s.
“In West Virginia, you kind of grow up, you have to be thick-skinned,” Drenning said. “Because when you hear about us nationally, invariably it's something ranking low in this, ranking low in that.”
But along comes West Virginia athletics, winning the Orange Bowl or making the Final Four, and “it makes everybody proud. You really wear it on your sleeve, not as a Mountaineer fan, but as a West Virginian.”
That's a little bit of the Oklahoma/Grapes of Wrath story from 65 years ago. Sooner football helped change the state's self-image. Now the Mountaineers are doing the same.
“That's the kind of culture we have,” Drenning said. “The Mountaineers are one of the things that really bind people together. They see that as an opportunity for us to be at our best, and we don't get a lot of those opportunities.”
West Virginia long has excelled in the athletic arena. Now the Big 12 offers the Mountaineers the chance to tell that story on an even bigger stage.
Beware the country roads, Big 12. They're lathered up in West Virginia. For good reason. The Mountaineers punch above their weight.
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at firstname.lastname@example.org. He can be heard Monday through Friday from 4:40-5:20 p.m. on The Sports Animal radio network, including FM-98.1. You can also view his personality page at newsok.com/berrytramel.
Berry Tramel's six-part series on the Big 12's newcomers:
— West Virginia pride
— West Virginia football
— West Virginia basketball
— TCU pride
— TCU basketball
— TCU football
Located: Morgantown, W.Va. (metro population 129,709)
Conference history: Independent 1891-1924, 1928-49, 1968-90; West Virginia Conference 1925-27; Southern Conference 1950-67; Big East 1991-2011.