Monday, December 19, 2011

Goodbye to Eddie: Until We Are Reunited

Eddie Paws
Feb. 24, 1998 - Dec. 17, 2011

On Saturday morning, at about 7:30 a.m., Eddie Paws went into full respiratory failure. We rushed him to the vet and were told there was nothing that could be done for him and that he would slowly suffocate. We did the only thing we could for our little boy to keep him from suffering.

We held him as the vet administered the drugs and I whispered to him that his beloved Grandmother, Doris, liked him much better than she did his brother Yorick.

The truth is that most people liked Eddie better than brother. Yorick was a bit of a snob and was quite happy to restrict his affections to my wife and myself, but Eddie’s heart was big enough to love everybody; and it was easy to love the bear-cub-sized Muppet. Everyone was taken with his abject desire to love and be loved and returned the affection Eddie so freely shared.

All you need to know about Eddie is said in the picture included with this post—Eddie rolling in leaves with the warm sun on his belly. Eddie enjoyed life. He was simply the happiest dog I’ve ever seen. He was so happy and carefree that his rehab Vet once remarked that he seemed almost simple.

Eddie wasn’t simple, but he was innocent. He knew that the simple joys in life, the love of your family, good food, and plenty of affection were all that was needed to be happy.

Eddie was fond of going to bed early and barking until someone joined him.  At bedtime Eddie has a strict "lights out" policy and would loudly complain if the lights were not out once he was settled. He was also very fussy about sleeping and liked his pillow just right. He would spend a good five minutes arranging his pillow and “blankie” to his liking before settling down. He was quite the funny fellow.

Unlike his brother, Eddie hated exercise. At the mere mention of a walk he'll drop to the floor, roll on his back and throw a paw in the air and use it to wave us away like he's pleading "please no walk!.  And if we could coerce him to walk he'll fake an injury to cut it short. Funny how his limp would disappears within sight of the house. Once through the door he's bouncing around for his treat.

Eddie, the Portuguese Water Dog who was afraid of water, learned to swim this year.  Lucky for us he seemed to like swimming more than he did going for walks. Still, he preferred to float about the pool on small raft than to actually swim.

The house is silent now. Eddie’s labored panting has gone still. His bowl sits empty in the corner and all that I have left of my little boy are memories. Yet I know that death has no power over love. I know that Eddie is always attached to us through the love we shared.

Rest in playfulness my boy until we are reunited. 

Friday, December 9, 2011

The Velveteen Despot: Eddie Bear

It’s Wednesday December 9th, 2011 and the Mountaineers are in the Orange Bowl, “The Product” is reuniting with some old friends way out in Arizona and wants Jeff Casteel to be among them, WVU and the Big East are set for some legal wrangling in the courtroom and sports is the furthest thing from my mind.

Earlier this week we found out that Eddie, our beloved Portuguese Water Dog, has lost ground in his fight with malignant melanoma. The cancer has metastasized to his lungs.

His prognosis isn’t good and our treatment options are now focused on palliative care and maintaining his quality of life for as long as we can.

Eddie will be 14 in February and we are determined to see that he reaches it.

I’ve written a lot about Eddie’s brother Yorick, who we lost last April, but relatively little about Eddie.  My omission wasn’t deliberate. Yorick had been battling IMPA for years and he just seemed closer to the end than his brother.  I just thought I would have more time.

Eddie’s nickname is  “The Velveteen Despot” and for good reason.  He is the sweetest, most loving and kind-natured dog that ever walked upon the Earth—He is also the most beguiling manipulator dog-kind has ever produced. 

This sweet and extremely loveable dog   uses his talents of persuasion and cuteness to procure food—and as much as can get.

Portuguese Water Dogs are supposed to be medium sized dogs averaging about 65 pounds; Eddie weighs in at almost 87. 

He’s worked long and hard to be fat and spends almost every waking minute  of his day plotting how to get tasty treats into his tummy.  Eddie’s  definition of tasty treats means anything that is not a  banana or lemon. This long list of items includes wrappers, popsicle sticks, paper towels and the occasional kibble of actual dog food.

Eddie has talents other than begging or foraging—he’s also an accomplished thief. Name it and Eddie has swiped off the kitchen counter. The list of stolen items is so long, and so varied, that an accounting of them would be impossible, but  Eddie would want you to know his greatest accomplishments in kitchen thievery:  an entire rasher of bacon and a whole pizza.

The Velveteen Despot’s thievery is legendary, his tricks, used to district and sometimes outright deceive, have to be seen to be believed.

Consider Eddie’s dilemma when there is food on the table protected by killjoy humans.  Eddie runs to the front door and begins to bark frantically as if he needs to go outside RIGHT NOW or he will whiz all over the floor. The human recognizes the “bathroom bark” and hurries to let him out. As soon as the door is opened Eddie wheels about and runs back to the table and steals whatever he can.

Another favorite  trick of Eddie’s is the plate flip. This cute and adorable dog will humbly saunter up the table and place his head in the lap of a human. The human begins to pet Eddie and relaxes. Eddie somehow senses his victim has relaxed and uses his head to bump the table hard enough to knock the plate off and onto the floor.

Eddie is certainly the scoundrel, but he is a lovable one. I don’t think I would have endured Yorick’s passing without Eddie’s calm and loving presence.

The tragedy of this all is very simple… we live longer than our canine friends. The pain and remorse we feel at their passing is both real and profound. I admit that I have struggled with depression since Yorick passed and I feel the pain of his absence on a daily basis. Yet having dogs such as Yorick and Eddie in my life has made it far better than it would have been otherwise. The joy and comfort they gave me is worth the pain.

As for Eddie, both my wife and I will be with him as he makes this journey. We will not let him suffer, but we will not give in to the cancer that threatens to take him from us. We will do everything we can to make Eddie happy and comfortable while fighting the cancer with an antigenic diet and heavy doses of curcumin.

Wish us luck.  

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Isaiah Pead Wins Big East POY Award - Give Me a Break!

Big East coaches voted Cincinnati's Isaiah Pead the conference "Player of the Year"—Yea right. Pead certainly had a good year—no question about it—but did he have a year worthy of being singled out as the best player in the Big East?

Not by a long shot.

Pead wasn't the Big East's leading rusher—long considered the hallmark for a running back to win POY—and most argue that Pead wasn't even the best player on the Bearcats roster.

I realize comparing the stats of quarterbacks and running backs is like comparing apples and oranges but still the numbers show how Big East Player of the Year award actually was totally out-of-wack.

Geno Smith 483 314 3,978 25 7 331.5

Isaiah Pead 186 1,102 11 94.7 33 305

Geno Smith, on the other hand, clearly earned the Big East "Player of the Year" award.

Geno set career records for WVU in Passing Yards (3,978), Pass Completions (314), and Pass Attempts (483). Smith also lead the Mountaineers to a Big East championship and BCS berth while leading the Big East in passing yards (3,978), passing efficiency (148.4), touchdown passes (25) and total offense (3,919).

So what happened? How did Pead win the award over Smith?

Maybe it had something to do with West Virginia bolting the Big East for the Big 12; or maybe it was that WVU sued the Big East.

The vote was clearly rigged no matter the reason and Geno Smith was cheated out of an award that should have been his.

Smith, much to his credit, points out that Stedman Bailey may have been WVU's most valuable player and deserved the award as much, if not more, than he did.

Geno went on to say via Twitter that his goal isn't individual accolades but winning games.

Good for Geno and bad for the Big East for rigging the post-season awards.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Rumors and More Rumors

I’m always hesitant to write about coaching staff rumors—there’s just too much volatility and deceit in the profession to  stifle any rumor definitively.  Rich Rodriquez is an example—from the moment Rodriquez was named Don  Nehlen’s successor he began flirting with other schools (Kentucky, Alabama, and Michigan just to name a few) and most of his dalliances were behind the scenes and out of the public eye.

It’s the secret behind the scenes part that makes any coaching staff related rumor quashing a dangerous game. I can go out on a line and say a particular rumor is false and wake up tomorrow morning and read that the coach in question has snuck out of town to setup shop at his new school.

Yet, I’m confident enough to put myself on a line to hopefully quash at lease one of the two particularly bothersome rumors  floating about cyberspace.

Jeff Casteel may join Rich at Arizona. Casteel has an offer and WVU will make a counteroffer--but I don't expect it to be enough. Whatever Jeff decides will be all about his desire to be a head coach someday and has nothing to do with his relationship with Dana Holgorsen.

Rumors about Dana and Jeff having disagreements are overblown and completely out of proportion. Do they disagree sometimes? Certainly. Have these minor disagreements impacted their working relationship to the point that Casteel would leave WVU for Arizona—absolutely  not. Dana respects Casteel and considers him to be one of the premier defensive minds in all of college football.

The rumors about Dana Holgorsen are false… Hugh Freeze is the new ball coach at Ole Miss and Dana was never in contact with them, or anyone else.

I think Dana Holgorsen will be a great coach, but he hasn’t earned his coaching spurs yet and would be considered a “risky” hire by a lot of “blue blood” programs. I’m not sure exactly how to put this but let’s just say WVU has a lot of people who make sure Dana’s leisure activities don’t make it into the evening news. 

My bet is that Holgorsen stays at WVU a long time. He likes West Virginia. He likes that the can be a young head-coach with a lot of expendable income and be able to enjoy life without being the scandal of the day. Dana is a lot like his mentor Mike Leach, he prefers a small, football crazy, atmosphere where his eccentricities contribute to his reputation rather than detract from it.

I just don’t see Dana leaving anytime soon.

But what if Dana would leave? Who would be in-line to replace Dana if he left? How about Rich Rodriguez? I know Rich is still the most unpopular man in West Virginia and many Mountaineer fans have called me delusional for even suggesting “The Products” return, but consider this: as long as Rich has big-dollar boosters behind him the door will be open for him to come back.

Mountaineer fans tend to panic when a coach leaves under his own power. We immediately think we’re not good enough and don’t even stop to consider other factors that may come into play when a coach leaves. So, just for the sake of argument, let’s say Dana is successful at WVU and suddenly leaves for someplace like Texas or USC.  If Rich is successful at Arizona, a panicked Mountaineer fan base would   welcome him back as the savior of WVU football.

Go ahead and laugh, call me crazy and prepare the rubber-room but Rich Rodriquez wants to coach at WVU again.

We don’t have to worry about that right now. Neither Dana or Jeff is leaving and Rich still needs to win at Arizona and continue to rehabilitate his image in West Virginia, but mark my words… Rich Rodriguez will return. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Remembering Yorick for the Holidays

The wind, unseasonably warm for early April, was howling out of the southwest.  Yorick sat in the yard watching as I put my mountain bike on the back of the Jeep. There was time, only two short years ago, when the sight of my bike would have excited him. He loved going biking -  always the perfect trail dog – but now he just watched.

IMPA and Degenerative Myelopathy had robbed Yorick of the use of his rear legs and limited his mobility, and after consultation with his orthopedist, we ordered a cart from Eddie’s Wheels.

The past year Yorick’s disease had slowly progressed despite our best efforts. Physical therapy, acupuncture,  Chinese medicine – whatever offered hope we tried. We took him to see traditional specialists at Ohio State Veterinary Hospital, Naturopaths in Pennsylvania and physical therapy in central Virginia.

Yorick was doing well. We knew that cart was in his future but we were doing all we could to keep his rear legs working.  At first we held the disease at bay, we hated it into submission and Yorick’s spirit was such that his force of will kept him mobile.

Despite our efforts the disease slowly gained ground, but we adapted. A harness with conveniently placed handles gave Yorick the extra help he needed. Can’t jump on the bed anymore? Gander at the bed, bark once or twice and wait for your human to help you up.

And so it went. The disease would progress and we would adapt and the cycle would repeat again and again.

Yorick was a stout soul and despite his illness he enjoyed life. He won admirers everywhere he went. Each and every doctor that saw him was impressed by his  strength and intelligence. They marveled at his bright eyes, curiosity and how he seemed to be appraising them as they evaluated his condition.

Now Yorick sat in the April sunshine. His hair, long and somewhat disheveled, flowed in the wind like a lion’s mane; and he was majestic.

Yorick lifted his head and put his nose into the wind. His nostrils flared, collecting scents carried on the breeze. I wondered what he smelled. A cat, something good to eat, maybe a deer carcass to roll in…

Something about his demeanor made me pause, there was a melancholy there I had not seen before. I moved over to my friend and sat next to him in the grass. He looked at me and for a brief moment and his eyes locked with mine. He held my gaze a moment longer and then placed his head in my lap and gently drifted off to sleep.

Six days later my friend of 13 years and 8 months had passed on.

The Grief of Yorick’s passing hit both my wife and myself extremely hard. We loved him without question and his absence is profound and tangible. 

My wife  and I tried to eulogize Yorick but we could not. The grief was too real, the pain much too raw. Attempts were met with failure as we became lost in the ocean of memories and drowned in the realization that our boy was gone.

August 2nd was Yorick’s 14th birthday.  We miss him dearly and grieve for him yet, but it seems so very much fitting to his indomitable spirit that we mark the occasion of his birth rather than eulogize him on his death. 

Where to start? Yorick was a Dog with a capital D. His intelligence was legendary as was his ability to get into trouble. Present Yorick with a  problem – say a treat hidden in a Tupperware container – and you could actually see him think of solutions.

Solutions came to him sometimes in inappropriate ways. He reasoned methods of stealing food from the kitchen  no matter how high it had been placed.

We thought the loaf of bread stashed on top of the refrigerator to be safe from the leaping ability of Yorick and his brother Eddie. It should have been – except that Yorick figured out how to push a chair out from under the breakfast bar and use that same chair to hop onto the counter. The counter then provided easy access to the loaf of bread cowering on top of the icebox.

We learned quickly that nothing was safe. I watched Yorick stand on his hind legs, use a paw to knock the lid off a pot and hook the same paw over the lip of the pot and drag it off the stove and onto the floor.

It was a classic game of point and counter-point. Yorick was devise a way to defeat our attempts to safeguard our food and we would adapt.

It took us some time but we actually managed to outsmart our Dog – then came that black day when Yorick learned how to open the refrigerator.

One day we came home to find the icebox door standing wide open. The kitchen looked like a bomb had went off with food remnants and containers scattered everywhere.

My wife was certain I had left the fridge open no matter how much I protested my innocence.

A few hours after the cleanup was completed we heard a nose coming from the kitchen and then Yorick came waltzing into the living room carrying a ball of mozzarella cheese.

My wife and I looked at each other in astonishment and we began to suspect that another culprit was responsible for the chaos in the kitchen.

We took the cheese from Yorick (just as he began to rip up the packaging) and replaced it back in the icebox and sat down in the living room to see what would happen.

Yorick got up and marched into the kitchen. We followed and spied on him from the doorway.

He stood to one side of the refrigerator and used a paw to bat at the icebox door until it opened just a crack. The crack was all he needed. He stuck his nose into the opening and used his head to fling the door open.

Then something even more amazing happened. Yorick paused to appraise the contents of the icebox. His nose was working overtime and his gaze went from shelf to shelf.

This time he choose a can of dog food. It must have been the most appealing (aromatic) item because he deftly plucked the can from a shelf on the door.

What he did next is a great illustration of Yorick’s confidence and spirit. He brought the can to my wife and dropped it at her feet as if to say “okay… I’m hungry, open that thing up so I can eat.”

Reasoning wasn’t Yorick’s only strength. His memory was excellent.

One of Yorick’s favorite games was hide-n-seek. We would take turns hiding and when we were ready Yorick would begin to frenetically search the house. The amazing aspect of Yorick’s search pattern was that he remembered our previous hiding spots. Like some flop-eared Sherlock Holmes he would methodically check each known hiding spot. Stymie him and he would resort to his nose to find you and when he eventually discovered your hiding spot he would leap on you with joy. 

Yorick’s ingenuity always amazed us. On many occasions a thirsty Yorick, when traveling in the car,  would deftly pluck the straw from the fast-food drink and then nibble the lid off before drinking my soda.

That was Yorick. And I’m not ashamed to say that I loved my dog with a passion reserved for children.

I will never forget him and I will always love that scoundrel.

This is my first holiday season without him in nearly 14 years and the Christmas lights just don’t seem as bright or the holiday spirit so joyous.

I miss you Yorick. Merry Christmas buddy. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Reflections of the 2011 Season on Brawl Day…

 It’s been an odd and frustrating year for the Mountaineers; a season once full of promise and expectations of Big East dominance have fallen flat and left WVU fans scratching their heads and wondering what the hell happened.

When the season started the Mountaineers were the consensus pick to run away with the Big East championship and now, 10 games deep into what was supposed to be an easy schedule, the Mountaineers sit at 7-3 and preseason hopes of a BCS berth depend on winning their remaining two games at home against Pittsburgh and on the road at South Florida.

Win out and hope for at least a 3-way tie atop the muddled Big East and WVU wins the BCS berth because it will be the highest ranked BCS team.

WVU’s BCS hopes are just another crazy indicator of  what has been one hellishly unpredictable season. 

We should have known the season was going to a wild and crazy ride; we had enough warnings and portents of the craziness to come in the offseason antics that saw the resignation of Bill Stewart and Dana Holgorsen’s ascension to Head Coach.

And what better harbinger of the wacky 2011 season than the opening game with Marshall—thunder and lightening, numerous delays, special teams problems and obstinate negotiations with hostile forces were  all omens of what was to come.

We should have known to expect the unexpected.  Games played in monsoons and snowstorms, conference affiliation madness; special teams mishaps, dynamic play and uninspired errors and official incompetence all have made 2011 the season to remember for all the wrong reasons.

We’ve seen records fall and a conference fall apart and WVU’s improbable move to the Big 12 conference is just the cherry on top of the sundae.

West Virginia in the Big 12 – how’s that for crazy? How about dueling lawsuits or that WVU would lose to a team that lost to Marshall.

Nothing would surprise me this season.

But if you’re like me and care more about the play on the field than the off-the-field drama you want to know why the Mountaineers are 7-3 instead of 9-1. 

Let’s pause for a moment and think about my previous statement—the irony of discussing  a 7-3 season as if it were a failure isn’t lost on me. Yet amidst a season with high expectations WVU has legitimately lost only one game, failed to show up for a game and gave one game away.

Only the LSU loss was legitimate. The Mountaineers were in the game, and had the momentum, until the end of the 3rd quarter when the Tigers used a kickoff return for a touchdown to end any hope of a Mountaineer upset.  LSU was just flat out better than WVU—no surprise there as the Tiger’s have shown they’re the nation’s best time week in and week out.

Syracuse simply embarrassed WVU in what could be the worst on-the-field performance by the Mountaineers in my lifetime.  The failure was complete –offense, defense, special teams and coaching all underperformed and underwhelmed.  West Virginia’s performance in the Syracuse game baffled me. The Orange dominated WVU then promptly lost three in a row and looked pathetic doing so. 

The Louisville game made me angry. A lackadaisical performance by the offense was overshadowed by special teams problems that gift-wrapped at least 17 points to the Cards. It was a game the Mountaineers should have won but decided to give away.
Yet all three Mountaineer loses have commonalities we can look at to better understand why WVU is 7-3 instead of 9-1.

In each loss we’ve seen the same problems time and time again:

  • Horrible special teams play;
  • Inconsistent offensive play;
  • Defensive mistakes;
  • Lack of leadership;

On the offensive side of the ball it’s abundantly clear to me is that the Mountaineer’s have gifted skill players but not much else.

The offensive line is at best average. They’re often dominated at the line of scrimmage and seem to have drive killing penalties at the most inopportune times. Sure WVU’s line play has improved, but I’m beginning to doubt the talent is there to improve beyond what we’ve seen this year.

Line play has also been hindered by young, inexperienced running backs.  True freshman Dustin Garrison and Andrew Buie have the talent  and  no clue what to do with it. Ryan Clarke and Shawne Alston add more experience,  but Clarke isn’t trusted to carry the ball and is limited to blocking.  Alston has contributed but he doesn’t have the break-away speed Holgorsen requires to be an every down back.

West Virginia’s receiving corps is talented. Tavon Austin is a game-breaker and Stedman Bailey is becoming a star with his crisp routes and great hands. There have been disappointments and plenty of dropped passes to damper the enthusiasm. Ivan McCartney was supposed to have a breakout year yet he seems to have trouble getting separation.
Geno Smith has been the best QB in the East and assaulted the Mountaineer record book all year, but he too has struggled at times with reads and composer. Opposing teams have learned you rattle the young quarterback. Hit him a few times and he starts to hurry throws and miss reads.

Maybe all the above can be attributed to the first year in a new system. Hopefully the inconsistency we’ve seen all year is nothing more than growing pains, but I can’t help but think the offensive line lacks the talent to give Geno and the receivers the time they need to execute Holgorsen’s offense.

On the defensive side of the ball youth, inexperience and a lack of depth have conspired to make the Mountaineer defense nothing more than slightly better than average.

The defensive line lacks the big bodies it needs to stop the run. WVU’s linebackers are woefully thin too and appear to lack the speed to cover backs and tight ends properly.

And it’s WVU’s trouble with stopping the run that reverberates throughout the defense.  Linebackers and safeties are needed in run support and that puts our young and inexperienced corners on an island.

WVU’s key to defensive success has always been stopping the run and that just hasn’t come easily this year.

Special teams, inconsistent play from the offense, defensive shortcomings and inexperience and a new system have all been problems for the Mountaineers this year but when its all said I done I think the primary reason why WVU has lost two games they should have won and struggled in their victories is simply a lack of leadership.

A young team is naturally inconsistent. A young team without vocal on-the-field leaders is guaranteed to be inconsistent. If you want to blame something for the stretches of lackadaisical play by the Mountaineers you can point your finger at that fact.

Teams without leaders play up or down depending on the level of their competition and we’ve seen plenty of that by the Mountaineers.

Teams without leaders are hard-pressed to recover from bad luck or bad officiating. We’ve seen that from the Mountaineers too.

Holgorsen is receiving “on-the-job training” about being a major college football head coach. He’s beginning to realize what it takes to motivate his lads to play hard every down but true leadership has to come from the players.

We’ve all read the stories about Geno’s rants at halftime at Rutgers. We’ve also seen his defeated body language against Syracuse and heard his tirade about Big East officials (while true); Geno needs to learn that first you lead by example and then with your words.

 I’m afraid the Mountaineers will continue to struggle with inconsistent play until they find the on-the-field leaders they need.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Petunia's Revenge Part 3

Yancey Stubbs sat in his favorite chair sipping on a coke and reading Harper’s Magazine. Normally Yancey didn’t hold much with magazines as he considered them dim cousins to books. Harper’s was different. Instead of light and fluffy prose suited for toilet reading, Harper’s was serious and thoughtful. He liked that, serious thought required him to concentrate and concentration was calisthenics for the mind and  kept him sharp.

Stubbs had subscribed to Harper’s beginning at the age of 12. He payed for the subscription himself by harvesting discarded pop bottles for the 10-cent return fee. His quest for bottles consumed his life that summer. Every bottle, whether found on the side of the road or liberated from a back porch, was needed.

It wasn’t easy—the worst was resisting the lure to dip into his growing savings for $1 model airplanes and Fantastic Four comics sold at the drug store.

Yancey stayed true to his crusade despite all the temptations available to a 12-year old with a few dollars. The model airplanes, the comic books, the candy, the matinee movies, they had no power over him. He was Percival and a subscription to Harper’s Magazine his holy grail.

Only once did Yancey raid his growing Harper’s fund.  His best friend,  the unfortunately named Jupiter Nelson, fell out of a tree and broke both his legs. Yancey used nearly a third of his savings to order a leather-bound edition of The Complete Works of H.G. Wells from the Montgomery Ward catalog as a gift to his bedridden friend.

His small act of kindness was worth the effort. Jupiter happily devoured the book and loaned it to Yancey who did the same. The book had a profound effect on the two boys and they enjoyed many discussions about the ethics of Dr. Moraeu and the struggle of humanity to defy the inane animal instincts.

The day finally came when Yancey had enough money to pay for his subscription.  He purchased a money order from the post office and sent his subscription card in the mail.

Three weeks later his first issue arrived. Yancey took the magazine and climbed his favorite tree, nestled himself in a comfortable branch, and read it from cover to cover.

Much of what he read was outside the understanding of a 12-year old, even one as smart as Yancey, but he enjoyed reading it just the same, it gave him sense of satisfaction and it made him feel wiser--as if the magazine opened up a window to worlds otherwise inaccessible from his family’s West Virginia farm.

Yancey was deep into a very interesting article, “The Pharmacology of Zombies”, when the phone rang.

He answered on the first ring and was astonished to hear Mathias Conway’s voice on the other end.

Mathias was excited and in his excitement his words tumbled out and became jumbled. He was talking so fast that Yancey couldn’t make sense of what he was saying.

The words continued to flood out of the receiver. Yancey closed his eyes and wished Mathias would put Caesar on the phone. He let Mathias talk until he ran out of steam and was quiet.

Yancey opened his eyes, took a deep calming breath and said:

“Settle down Mathias and tell me what’s wrong.”

This time Mathias spoke clearly into the phone and kept it to the point.

What Yancey heard made him drop the phone.

Yancey buckled his overalls, laced up his boots, and rushed out of his house in such a hurry he forget to shut his front doo and he ran all the way to Mathias's convenience store.

The Incredibly True (Probably) Story of WVU’s Courtship of (and by) the SEC

The rumors were everywhere – on message boards, radio talk shows, in newspapers, and even tweeted about on Twitter. WVU  was headed to the SEC.

 The consensus in West Virginia was the deal was nearly done. SEC officials were in Morgantown and the financial paperwork prepared  for the SEC was accepted. WVU, the crown jewel of Big East football, would defy the odds and win the day.

It would have been a great story—the “little program that could” defies modern corporate TV’s greed to win over the mighty SEC and earn a spot in the fabled conference—except it wasn’t true.

Mountaineer officials are not talking. They refuse to discuss the SEC, at least not on record. They story they tell in private is a glimpse into the fascinating dog-eat-dog world of conference realignment featuring moves and counter-moves of deception and positioning that would make Niccolò Machiavelli blush.

I’ve been able to piece what I believe is an accurate account of WVU’s efforts to get out of the Big East and into a more prestigious BCS conference, but for the sake of this post I’ll restrict the story to WVU and the SEC.

Despite the rumors and leaks to the contrary WVU was never close to being in the SEC. Not as 14, 15 or even 16. 

Many Mountaineer fans will take issue with that statement and claim WVU was so close to being a member of the SEC that you could actually see Birmingham from Morgantown—yet the facts tell another story. One that is surprisingly straightforward for the convoluted conference realignment fiasco.

WVU was destined to play second-fiddle to Missouri in terms of SEC expansion.

Commissioner Mike Slive was authorized to approach both Missouri and WVU to round out the conference at 14 after Texas A&M was accepted into the SEC.

Missouri was the SEC’s first choice and they said yes.

And that was as close as West Virginia came to membership in the SEC – waiting on deck in case Missouri said no.

Why Missouri?

Missouri was chosen for several reasons. First and foremost the Tigers had the television market to make expansion palatable to the SEC.

The SEC is a conference that values tradition and is slow to embrace change. SEC presidents had to be convinced by their television partners to expand and would only do so if the economics of expansion justified the change.

The 6 million households in Missouri, when combined with the huge designated market area (DMA) of Texas A&M, made SEC expansion extremely profitable and therefore worthwhile.

Mountaineer fans can take some comfort (or angst) from knowing that Missouri wasn’t the SEC’s first choice. Six other schools were on the SEC’s expansion list before Missouri.

Virginia Tech and Oklahoma were preferred but both said no. Other top candidates for SEC expansion—FSU, Clemson, and Georgia Tech—were in the footprint of existing SEC schools and North Carolina State had political ties (and other issues) that would keep them bound to the ACC.

Missouri’s candidacy for SEC membership was a product of elimination.

In the SEC’s expansion plan West Virginia was 8th on the list.

Mountaineer fans shouldn’t take this as an insult to WVU. The SEC’s expansion agenda was driven by television and television alone. The SEC respected WVU’s football program and thought the Mountaineers would make a great fit. Television was the deciding factor, not strength of program.

The SEC approached Missouri and the Tigers quickly said yes and West Virginia was no longer under consideration.

So what about the continued SEC rumors?

And what about those rumors of SEC officials in Morgantown?

The SEC rumors continued unabated despite all credible reports to the contrary. Why did the rumors persevere? Were they deliberate?


Some believe the continuing SEC chatter was part of a deliberate disinformation campaign to try and force the ACC to grab WVU before the SEC did.

The stakes were certainly high enough for WVU to try and manipulate the ACC. The potential ramifications of West Virginia remaining in the Big East required Oliver Luck to act decisively to protect WVU’s interests.

No one at WVU will outright deny that disinformation was used and the only conclusion I can make is that a majority of the SEC rumors were encouraged by WVU.

How I learned to Stop Worrying and Love the F-Bomb

 Rocker Joan Jett might not give a damn about her bad reputation but WVU does.

West Virginia’s fans are well known for their rowdy behavior and couch burning, but do we deserve our bad reputation?

If you read Internet message boards and didn’t know better you would be convinced that Morgantown is like Beirut during the Lebanese Civil War.

In this mythical Morgantown, fans from opposing teams are forced to run the gauntlet of the Blue Lot, risking verbal assault and drunken slurs as they fight their way to the visitor’s section inside Mountaineer Field.

Once seated these bastions of civility from far away places like Pittsburgh and Louisville find themselves surrounded by beer-swilling, musket waving, Mountaineer fans who stare them down with murderous eyes.

Their fear grows and every curse or insult hurled their way does nothing but convince them they will be lucky to get out of town alive.

We’re known for being the rowdiest, loudest, most fired-up bunch of fanatics in the Big East.  Our raucous nature gives the old Gold-n-Blue a true home field advantage and makes Mountaineer Field a place where others fear to play.

We earned that reputation way back when the Big East was a viable football conference and Pitt was still a relevant football program. We earned it when Penn State was on the schedule and Virginia Tech made our blood boil. Our shenanigans even caused  a “gangster” program like Miami to fear coming to Morgantown.

Warranted or not, our reputation for bad fan behavior harms WVU.

Over-the-top fan behavior was one of the arguments Louisville used  to convince the Big 12 they were a better choice than West Virginia and Frank Beamer cites fan behavior as the primary reason why Virginia Tech will not schedule WVU.

I’ve always tried to be part of the solution. I’ve done my best to be a good Mountaineer fan and went out of my way to be nice to the visiting team in victory or defeat.

I’ve urged others join me in being the “12th man” at Mountaineer Field, I’ve pleaded with my fellow Mountaineers to cheer on our lads in old gold-n-blue with vim and vigor all the while showing respect and civility to our visitors.

I’ve defended our honor on message boards and testified to all who would listen how we, as Mountaineer fans, have cleaned up our act.

And on Saturday afternoon, with less than a minute left on the game-clock, I failed.

I let loose the dreaded F-Bomb.

To be honest it was more like an F-Cruise missile aimed straight at the Cardinal mascot as he celebrated another Louisville touchdown.

I have no excuse. My frustration at the Mountaineers gift-wrapping at least 17 points to Louisville is no excuse. My frustration at seeing  two 12 yard punts, a missed FG, and a blocked FG attempt returned for a touchdown can’t excuse my cursing.

All I can do is ask for forgiveness. It happened so quickly. The Cardinals had scored a late touchdown to move their lead back up to 10 points with under 2-minutes remaining. The Cardinal mascot, in celebration of the score, ran into the endzone and seemed to somehow preen. He paused, looked straight at me, and as impossible as it sounds, there was an unmistakable smirk on his beak.

Before I knew what I was doing the F-Bomb rumbled up from somewhere deep inside me and with a volume born of primal hatred I loosed my hate-arrow straight for the Cardinal’s heart.

And just like a Tyler Bittencourt FG attempt it was wide-left. The Cardinal, seeing how my hate-arrow missed the target, smirked at me again and ran to safety behind the Louisville cheerleaders.

I just about to go after that red chicken with the smarmy smirk on his beak and pluck his cowardly feathers one-by-one, my wife pulled me down into my seat and let me have it with a world-class guilt bomb.

Her bomb hit its mark. I was ashamed, but not as much as my wife. She was mortified at my outburst and pointed out children were around us.

I know what I had done was wrong but I attempted to save face and tried a defense as weak as a Mountaineer punt.  “If that’s the first time those kids have heard that word they better grow-the-hell-up and stop being such babies.” I said.

The cold stare from my wife let me know I was quickly burning the couch I would have to sleep on that night.

She was right though -- I was perpetuating the stereotype I had tried so hard to dispel. Despite that damn smirk on that damn bird I had failed. Just like the Mountaineers I had handed the cardinal a victory. 

I’m sorry Mountaineer Nation. I let you down on Saturday. I promise to be better in the future.


 WVU’s special teams are beyond bad.

The Mountaineers continue to kills themselves with mistakes. Fumbles, dropped passes, and missed assignments can’t be blamed on inexperience any longer. I’m beginning to question the character and desire of a lot of the Mountaineer players. They play like they don’t want to win.

I keep telling myself this is a young team on both sides of the ball. The Mountaineers lack leaders on the field and play down to the level of their competition.

Leadership can’t be coached. It has to be authentic. Someone needs to step up, especially on defense, and become a leader.

The Mountaineer defense can’t find a way to stop short throws to the backs or contain the TE. The problem is the defensive line shortcomings and the need for the linebackers to commit to stopping the run.

The young linebacking corp doesn’t have the speed or experience to handle the backs or tight-ends on pass routes.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Intentional Deceit of PossumPete

“If the traveling salesman comes to town and sells a passel of snake oil, sleeps with your daughter and knocks up your cow, you can bet he was up to no good.”

The Big East was doomed.

And in the state of West Virginia, the crown jewel of Big East football, the people were in a state of panic.

They understood what the death of the Big East meant for the West Virginia program – a slow slide into obscurity.

Down south PossumPete saw an opportunity. He saw a entire state of football crazy fans hungry for information.

PossumPete was smart possum and did his research. He read the Mountaineer message boards. He scanned #WVU hastag on twitter. He saw the Mountaineer fan’s desire to be in the SEC and took advantage of their fear.

He knew they feared being left out. He knew they expected to be left out, and he knew he could make a profit on that fear.

So he started to lie and pander. His “SEC sources “ told him WVU was the choice not Missouri. He tweeted, and he tweeted, and he tweeted – WVU was 14.

And when it was clear that WVU was not 14 he calmly changed his story.

WVU was not 14, but wait they were 15!

His SEC sources told him of plans to add WVU and FSU. The SEC would soon be at 16!

They assured PossumPete that the deal was done and the only delay was the gentleman’s agreement between the SEC and ACC. The ACC would be allowed to find a replacement for FSU before making the announcement.

When confronted about the absurdity of his information PossumPete lashed out and called his critics flip-floppers. Having no defense for his bogus information he did the only thing he could do. He went on the attack.

PossumPete said WVU impatient. He said his sources were astounded!

He did everything but admit he was wrong.

But he was more than wrong.

He was lying.

Lets look at his Tweets.

All of these Tweets are from October 24th, 2011 to the present day.

Still waiting on Mizzou, but smart money says yes. RT @DubVii Can we safely predict that #UL not #WVU will join B12 in the next two weeks?

PossumePete’s sources tell him Louisville to the Big 12. Funny how everyone was saying that  on Oct. 22.

Talked to my guy. No news yet, but he did confirm that while WVU might have B12 invite, Louisville would get the nod (better fit for sports)

Great insight by Possum’s source. WVU had actually been speaking to the Big 12 since Oct. 7th and finalized an agreement to join the Big 12 on Oct. 21.

My guy is still solid on #WVU being #15 or #16 in SEC. Slive still has gag order in on ALL schools/staffs for leaks/rumors.

His source again was wrong.  WVU had not been talking to the SEC for over two weeks and had accepted a Big 12 bid already.

I'm seeing more and more people on Twitter reporting that WVU is going to the Big 12. #WhoaNotSoFastNelly

Here PossumPete tries to counter the growing knowledge that WVU is in the Big 12. He just can’t let his deception go.

#WVU 'Eers, y'all need to be hoping that Louisville gets the invite (and accepts). Trust me on this one. #WVUWillBeFine

This tweet was beyond comprehension and spurred me to write this story. The conceit and either stupidity or foolishness of this statement angered me and it angered many WVU fans.

Keep beating the SEC drum, guys. It definitely ain't over.

This tweet came the Oct. 26th after the press conference WVU planned to announce its Big 12 membership was canceled. PossumPete uses the opportunity to continue to assert he is right.

Nothing that I haven't said before. SEC wants WVU as #15, plain and simple. WVU panicked a little too soon. @Eerfan64Mike care to elaborate?

This tweet came after it was confirmed WVU would be in the Big 12. Notice how he deflects his complete and utter inaccuracy and blames WVU.  WVU spoke to the Big 12 before accepting the Big 12’s offer and was told they were not in the SEC’s plans. PossumPete’s sources apparently knew something Mike Slive and WVU didn’t.

#Big12 is cooling on #WVU, heating up on #Louisville. #SEC interest in #WVU has never waned, just needed #Mizzou to fall into place first.

If you ever needed any proof that PossumPete was simply making stuff up this one is it. The SEC had told WVU it had no interest and the Big 12 had offered.

Yep, and #Cincy too! #Rutgers, #Uconn, #USF to ACC. #Mizzou, #WVU, #FSU to SEC. @erikmorgan Does L'ville head to B12 in your scenarios?

PossumPete continues to dig his own grave and he continues to lie. Here he gives false hope to other Big East schools.

WVU's SEC invite is not a matter of "if", but "which #". @Green6315 Mizzou like that girl that doesnt want to give it up #putoutorgetout

PossumPete’s insistence that  the SEC wants WVU is quickly become pathetic.  He continues to insist, despite everything – that WVU is in the SEC.

If Mizzou misses deadline, WVU to SEC; SEC holds at 14 for now. If Mizzou makes it, SEC will stagger announcements, but WVU should be in.

What makes you think that already hasn't been done? RT @WVUBummy then why doesn't the SEC Brass (Slive) let WVU officials in on the plan

Since so many of you asked, I believe #Mizzou's deadline is Monday. Deaton leaves on Int'l trip on Tuesday. Yes, I still believe #WVU2SEC.

These three tweets are more fantasy. Missouri, as we all know by now, didn’t have a deadline. But he insists WVU would be in even if Missouri goes. Why to cover your lies Possum. Notice how he says Slive let WVU know about the SEC’s expansion plans. Remember that one.

Got off the phone with my source about a half hour ago. WVU's move even caught him & my other guys by surprise. #COMPLETELackOfPatience. :(

This was Possum’s last tweet after WVU was announced to Big 12. Notice again how he deflects the blame to WVU?

PossumPete was lying. He didn’t have any sources feeding him information about WVU to the SEC. How could he? Not one of his predictions based on information given to him by his sources actually happened.

In one tweet he says Slive let WVU know about the SEC’s plan to expand to 16 but then he says WVU’s move caught his sources by surprise and was due to a lack of patience.

How stupid does he think we are? Does PossumPete really think that WVU would pass up a bid to the SEC for the Big 12? That’s what he expects us to believe. He’s said so in his tweets.

He’s on record as saying the SEC would expand to 16, that Slive told WVU they were expanding to 16 and that WVU got impatient and signed with the Big 12.

Now really PossumPete do you think we just fell off the turnip truck?

No doubt PossumPete  will counter with some excuse, some myth about the SEC, but his record is there for everyone to see.

So the next time the snake-oil salesman rolls into town with information that’s too good to be true remember this tale of PossumPete and send him down the road. 

Friday, October 28, 2011

The End of All Things Big East

The long dark night finally has a dawn. Thursday afternoon the Big 12 conference, for the second time this week, extended an invitation to West Virginia University to become the conferences 10th member.

The Mountaineers accepted and in a 7:00 am conference call Friday morning the Big 12 Board of Directors voted unanimously to add WVU.

Morgantown celebrated and poor Louisville hung its head in shame.

The Big East postured by releasing a statement saying WVU would be held to the 27-month waiting period as required by league bylaws.

Oliver Luck, showing no fear of the Providence Meatball, boldly stated WVU would not play in the Big East next year despite what Big East commissioner John Mariantto says.  

The Mountaineers are gone!

The Mountaineers will buy their way out of the waiting period using the buyout blueprint given to Pittsburgh and Syracuse by the Big East.

Marinatto can complain and threaten but WVU has a copy of the proposed buyout  and plans to use it to force the Big East to allow them to get the hell out.

West Virginia had notified Marinatto about their impending departure from the Big East last week before Louisville used Mitch McConnell to slow down the process in hopes of turning votes against WVU.

Louisville’s delay tactics didn’t work, but it did make an enemy of WVU almost overnight.

Interim Big 12 commissioner Chuck Nienas denied Louisville was a factor in the delay but leaks to the media by the few Louisville supporters in the Big 12 offset his assertions.

Louisville was a factor, but not the only one.

The delay was in part due to squabbling between Missouri and the Big 12 over the exit fee the Tigers will pay.  The Tigers reasoned that WVU’s inclusion reduced the amount of damage their departure would cause. The Big 12 disagreed.

And it was during the discussions between the Tigers and the conference that McConnell made his move on behalf of Louisville.

It didn’t work. Louisville never had the votes.

What the Cardinals had was Oklahoma. The Sooners stood up for Louisville on the principle of opposing Texas.

Nienas, ever the consensus builder, was also a strong supporter of WVU but decided to try and add both WVU and Louisville.

WVU would have none of it.

The Big 12 pitched to WVU the idea of adding Louisville with each school taking a reduced of revenues until the TV contract can be redone.

WVU said no and the Cardinals were left to fend for themselves in the Big East.

Clements and Luck played hardball and they knew Fox Sports and ESPN had their back.

ESPN desperately wants Big East football to go away. And what better way to kill the conference that dared to tell them no than by stripping it of the most important football member?

Greed ruled the day.

Don’t shed too many tears for the Cardinals; they did it to themselves.


WVU had been on track for a full share in 2012 but the Big 12 decided instead to put the Mountaineers on the same revenue sharing scale as TCU. Instead the Big 12 will help WVU pay the buyout for the 27-month waiting period in the Big East. 

The money funneled to WVU to help cover their exit costs will come from the exit fee paid by Missouri.

WVU contacted both the SEC and ACC on Sunday to give each a last chance of signing WVU. Both passed.

The SEC told WVU it had no plans to expand to 16 in the foreseeable future.

Many rumors are floating about the Internet claiming WVU was tapped to get an SEC invite when the SEC went to 16 later this year. There is no truth to that rumor. If the SEC had such plans it would have told WVU on Sunday and the Mountaineers would not have accepted the Big 12 offer.

According to WVU sources any rumors of WVU having talks with the SEC at anytime during the past three weeks are completely false.

WVU and the Big 12 began serious talks the night of October 7, 2011 and the Mountaineers almost exclusively focused on Big 12 membership since then.

The grant-of-rights required by the Big 12 will be signed by WVU by the middle of next week. Hopefully this will put an end to any SEC talk.

I’m surprised the SEC theorists haven’t claimed WVU will pull a TCU and withdraw from the Big 12 before ever playing a game in the conference. Once WVU signs the grant-of-rights even that claim will be certifiably bogus.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Louisville Plays Dirty

 Chuck Neinas had a vision for the Big 12. Where others saw  a conference in turmoil Neinas saw the potential for the Big 12 to challenge the mighty SEC for college football supremacy.

Oklahoma State, Oklahoma, Kansas State, Texas and Baylor were all in the top 20 and conference power rankings had the Big 12  at the top. The spotlight had never been brighter for the Big 12.

Questions about conference stability were soon to be a thing of the past.  Big 12 members agreed to a grant of television rights that would secure members anywhere from 6 to 10 years.

The dysfunctional conference of bickering programs seemed to be growing up and its members acting like adults.

Even the impending departure of the Missouri Tigers didn’t seem like a problem. The Big 12 had the answer waiting in the wings… the West Virginia Mountaineers.

On Tuesday when the news began to break that the Mountaineers had been invited to the Big 12 the national media hailed the news with widespread approval.

Big 12 members bragged the Mountaineers were an  upgrade over the Tigers in both football and basketball and from coast to coast journalists agreed.

Chuck Neinas even made plans to fly to Morgantown to welcome the Mountaineers into the conference.

And then WVU issued a press release stating that no press conference would be held.

Louisville’s AD Jurich and Kentucky Senator Mitch McConnell had tampered.

They caught the ear of Oklahoma President David Boren and began to slander WVU. They touted their Olympic sports and easy access to airports while whispering words of WVU fan misconduct into Boren’s ears.

The vote of Big 12 Directors that was supposed to formally approve WVU’s membership hit a snag.  WVU didn’t have the votes for approval.

Oklahoma voted no.

They were supposed to vote yes.

Earlier the Big 12’s Board of Directors had approved WVU’s invitation. The formal vote was supposed to be perfunctory.

Oklahoma voted no.

WVU was embarrassed.

The Big 12 was embarrassed.

Embarrassment aside the move by the Big 12 was completely bush league.

WVU officials are angry and reached out to West Virginia’s senior Senator Jay Rockefeller for help.

Rockefeller had served in the Senate with Boren and phoned his long-time friend. Their conversation was private but Rockefeller pointed out to Boren that the Big 12 had selected WVU on the merits of the Mountaineer program and political interference was would not be tolerated.

Oliver Luck, who himself has close ties to the University of Texas, contacted his friend Longhorn Athletic Director DeLoss Dodds  to secure his support.

Texas is firmly behind WVU – maybe that’s part of the problem.

Senator Joe Manchin was incensed with the rumors of tampering by McConnell and promised to call for a Congressional investigation.

Manchin, a WVU alum and former Mountaineer player, held a press conference and said:

“The Big 12s commitment was stronger than just verbal to WVU.”

Chuck Neinas scrambled for damage control. The national media criticized the Big 12 for resuming its dysfunctional behavior and their reputation took another hit.

WVU expects to be a member of the Big 12 period. The allusion Senator Manchin made about the Big 12’s commitment to WVU being more than verbal is one reason WVU is confident.

Another reason WVU is confident is the public relations nightmare the Big 12 would suffer if they reneged on their promise to WVU.

The Big 12 is scheduled to have yet another Director’s meeting on Monday. The topic is expansion and WVU will be discussed.

Texas will make the case for the  conference staying at 10 with WVU. Oklahoma reportedly wants Louisville and the remaining members want to expand to 12.

With the agreement, and possibly legally binding agreement,  between WVU and the Big 12 already in place it would be nearly impossible for the Directors not to approve WVU on Monday.  

The real battle will be between Texas and Oklahoma to stay at 10 or to add Louisville and have an odd 11 members.

The safe bet would be to count on both WVU and Louisville.

Louisville doesn’t have the votes. West Virginia is one short. A compromise avoids more embarrassment and a guaranteed legal battle with WVU if they don’t honor their agreement.

Adding both WVU and Louisville hurts the bottom line of Big 12 members. Texas is unhappy about the pressure to add Louisville and just doesn’t see the value the Cardinals would bring to the Big 12.

Oklahoma doesn’t see the value in the Cardinal program either. The only advantage Louisville has over WVU is geography and that’s debatable since only 30 minutes separate Louisville and Morgantown by air.  The Sooners switched their vote to foil Texas.

Once again the Big 12 is suffering from the ego-driven infighting that has the conference on the brink of extinction.

Another casualty of this fiasco is the relationship between Louisville and WVU. WVU believes Louisville underhandedly dealt with the Big 12 and possibly slandered WVU by warning Big 12 schools about the very SEC-like behavior of the Mountaineer fan base.

And to show how desperate and pathetic Louisville was it proposed to the Big 12 to take considerably less than the equal share of conference revenue from between 3-5 years.

Even the Louisville media admits the Mountaineer football program is considerably more attractive than the Card’s. Louisville doesn’t come close to matching up with the Mountaineer program.

Louisville knew they couldn’t earn the Big 12 spot on merit. So did the only thing a desperate program can do – they played dirty.

They offered themselves at a discount.

Greed rules college football so maybe a cheap team would be appealing to the Big 12.

But the Big 12 would do well to remember a little bit of sage advice – you get what you pay for.

And as for the Big 12’s TV partner Fox Broadcasting?

They advised the Big 12 that WVU was preferable over both Louisville and BYU.

They still feel that way.

Louisville comes to Morgantown on November 5th.  Cards fans may want to stay at home.

The massacre will be historic.