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.
Hostetler's two older brothers had been Penn State linebackers, and another brother then was the third baseman on Penn State's baseball team. But Hostetler grew restless at the thought of sitting behind Blackledge; Hostetler transferred to West Virginia and sat out the 1981 season.
Switzer remembers the Sooners knowing beforehand what a threat Hostetler was. But Bobby Proctor, the defensive backfield coach all 16 of Switzer's seasons, said OU didn't prepare for West Virginia any differently.
“We didn't know he was going to be that kind of player,” Proctor said.
It showed. In the '82 season opener, Hostetler had a game for the ages. Six of his completions went for at least 30 yards, and the Mountaineers wiped out that 14-0 deficit with 20 points in the final 6:05 of the first half.
“Just one of those days,” Hostetler said. “I think it was the type of offense we had. We felt like we could throw the ball against 'em. Type of team they had, types of teams they played. We were able to spread the field.
“Sometimes when you get somebody on their heels, and they're not real confident, get hit a couple of times, their confidence starts to fade.”
That wasn't a bad OU defense. It held Southern Cal to 12 points. Texas to 22. Only Nebraska (28) scored more than 14 against OU in Big Eight play.
But those Sooners, with Rick Bryan at tackle, and Kevin Murphy at end, and Jackie Shipp and Thomas Benson at linebacker, and Scott Case and Keith Stanberry in the secondary, had no answer for West Virginia.
“We couldn't get to him,” Proctor said. “You know what they say. If you can't rush, defend. If you can't defend, rush. Hell, we didn't do either.”
Hostetler became a West Virginia star. He married the coach's daughter, Vicky; they're still together, living in Morgantown, where Hostetler has a construction company and coaches Trinity Christian's fledgling high school football program.
And now his Mountaineers come back to Norman, this time as fellow members of the Big 12. It's not hard to make the argument that a certain game in 1982 helped lay the road for West Virginia to find its way to this conference.
“Once it gets going, it's contagious,” Hostetler said of big victories. “That's kind of where we're at. I'm proud to be part of what I think was a program-changer.”
Berry Tramel: Berry can be reached at (405) 760-8080 or at email@example.com. 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.
Born: April 22, 1961, Hollsopple, Pa.
High school: Conemaugh Township (Pa.)
College: Penn State (1979-80), West Virginia (1982-83).
NFL: Giants (1985-92), Raiders (1993-96), Redskins (1997).
W-L record as starter: 51-32.
Playoff record: 4-1.
Pro Bowl: 1994.
Current residence: Morgantown, W.Va.