No horses died the last time the West Virginia Mountaineers graced Owen Field. That was contrary to prognostications on Sept. 11, 1982.
“All we heard the whole time was we were gonna kill their horse,” said Jeff Hostetler, who made his West Virginia quarterbacking debut that day. “They were going to score so many points, he was going to die of heat exhaustion.”
And sure enough, in the first quarter alone, OU scored 14 points and gained 168 yards.
But the ponies survived. West Virginia crashed college football's inner sanctum. Hostetler began not only the process of becoming a Mountaineer icon, but marrying the coach's daughter.
All in all, not a bad day's work as West Virginia stunned the ninth-ranked Sooners 41-27. And now the Mountaineers come to Owen Field for the first time since. No matter what happens, it can't match the events of 31 years ago.
Hostetler is making the trip, along with his father-in-law, Don Nehlen, who delivered West Virginia into the national spotlight during his 21 years (1980-2000) coaching the Mountaineers.
“For our program, maybe I'm biased, but I think it put us on the map,” Hostetler said.
The Mountaineers flew back to Pittsburgh and bused the rest of the way. West Virginia troopers met them at the state line and escorted them to Morgantown, where 10,000 fans awaited.
“It was my first game as a Mountaineer,” Hostetler said. “I just think it was the beginning for us. We put together a string of victories after that, people started having to take us seriously.”
Today, it's no big deal for a quarterback to complete 17 of 37 passes for 321 yards and four touchdowns. WVU's Geno Smith had eerily similar numbers last November against OU, in that wild 50-49 Sooner victory — 20-of-35, 320 yards, four TDs.
But in 1982, those numbers were from another planet. Two years earlier, Stanford's John Elway had carved up the Sooners 31-14 — by throwing for 237 and three touchdowns. Legend only makes it seem like 737 yards.
Hostetler pinned the Sooners with a reputation of deficient pass defense that lingered for years. Some might say decades.
“He could throw the hell out of it,” said Barry Switzer.”
No kidding, say NFL defenses. Hostetler quarterbacked 14 pro seasons and led the Giants to victory in Super Bowl 25.
Hostetler had transferred to West Virginia from Penn State, where he started three games for the 1980 Nittany Lions. But Joe Paterno eventually benched Hostetler in favor of Todd Blackledge, a pretty fair country quarterback himself.