I am finally coming to grips with the fact that I am a Nebraska fan. Or an Alabama fan. Or a Michigan, Ohio State, USC, LSU, etc. fan. I might not wear the colors of those teams (well, except Michigan, but that’s a coincidence), but I have much in common with their fans. We all have unreasonably high expectations.
This is a departure from my expectations growing up as a Mountaineer fan. I was only 6 in 1988, so while I have some memory of the Fiesta Bowl, it’s not vivid enough to truly register. In 1993, at the age of 11, I was officially really into the Mountaineers. But 1993 jumped out and surprised us all. If 1988 was the planned pregnancy, 1993 was the accident. Still a welcome addition but not quite sure how or why it happened.
Both 1988 and 1993 were the rewards for putting together one good team, not a program. Most WVU fans knew that it was only a fleeting moment of glory — that WVU hadn’t quite reached the promised land of college football programs. This was quickly confirmed by the down years that came after each undefeated season.
Even in years when we were supposed to be good — 1996 and 1998 — there was always something in our way. Whether it was Tremain Mack in 1996 or vastly underachieving in 1998, WVU was just not meant to get back to a major bowl. Each time we got to the door, we simply weren’t able to knock it down. And each time we got close to that door, we were repelled even further away. Finally, with 1993 just a faint glimmer in the rear-view mirror, Coach Nehlen succumbed to the up-and-down nature of Mountaineer football. Coach Nehlen had done all he could with the program. He had done a lot — even put WVU on the map — but after 20 years, the act gets tired. We needed a fresh start.
Then came Rodriguez and expectations reached a fever pitch. Here was the coach that would finally take us to the heavens of college football. Then came 3-8. The hopes of Mountaineer fans returned to the ground. 2002’s record of 9-4 restored hope, but starting the season 1-4 in 2003 dashed that progress. Of course, finishing that season with 7 consecutive wins got hopes up again. So much so that 2004 was finally going to be our year. But, yet again, the Mountaineers failed to live up to the lofty hype and finished with 8 wins. The same pattern seemed to be repeating itself.
Well, a funny thing happened in 2005. Just when we were least expecting it, the Mountaineer program we had all hoped for was finally born. Walking into the Georgia Dome that Sugar Bowl night, I had hoped we would win. Did I believe we would? Not necessarily. Only the truest of homers would have been sure of a Mountaineer win. But as the dust settled, after the Slaton runs and the Georgia bombs and the fake punt, I walked out of that stadium with a new view on Mountaineer football. No longer would I be satisfied with 7, 8, or 9 wins. No, after that performance and with this talent, we need to hit the stratosphere.
It’s November 13, 2007, and we’re almost there. Closer than we’ve ever been before. The current talent is there. The recruiting is there. The attendance and support is there. But now, on this same day, we sit 8-1 and I’m not thrilled. Even after those years of suffering through mediocre seasons, tormented by flashes of brilliance. Finally, we seem to be one of the elite programs in the country. In my dreams, it’s all I ever wished for growing up. To be consistently counted on in national championship and Heisman previews. Finally, we’re there. And I can’t get over the fact that we only won by 7 against Louisville. Frankly, this scares me.
What will I do if we actually do win the MNC? What will my expectations look like then? If we never get there, will I be a sad, depressed, curmudgeon of a fan for the rest of my life? Shouldn’t I enjoy BCS bowl games when over 90% of schools don’t get there?
The truth is, I won’t be truly happy until we win that national championship. If/when that happens, WVU will finally be legit. Until then, you’ll find me continually bitchy and irritable.