2012 Letter from the Editor
SIGNAL CALLING: A LETTER FROM THE EDITOR
I was in Parkersburg when I got the news.
On May 21st, former West Virginia Head Coach Bill Stewart – at just 59 years of age - had been lost to an apparent heart attack. Like Mountaineer fans everywhere, it hit me like a bag of bricks.
Over the ensuing days we saw and heard the evidence of a state gripped by sorrow. It began with the endless stream of calls into Hoppy Kercheval’s Talkline radio show from listeners reaching through the airwaves to touch us with their personal interactions with Stew. It wasn’t Bill Stewart the coach they spoke of, it was Bill Stewart the man. They talked about his benevolence, his sincerity, his infectious personality. They spoke of the unassuming way he walked through life – or through local restaurants, or the grocery store. Always shaking hands. Always smiling. Always endeavoring to brighten the day of those he encountered.
Sure he made some mistakes but in the end if Bill Stewart wasn’t the better angel of our blue and gold nature, he was probably the closest thing we will ever encounter in a person matching that standard. Perhaps nothing captures it like this excerpt from “A beautiful life” – the verse that was included in the literature handed to the legions of mourners as they filed into Stew’s viewing to pay their final respects: “A beautiful life that came to an end, he died as he lived, everyone’s friend.”
It was a tragic end to an otherwise uplifting stretch for the Mountaineer football program. And now it’s time to move forward. West Virginian’s are nothing if not a resilient lot with an uncanny ability to pick themselves up and forge on.
As we do so, consider all that has played out in and around WVU football. We’ve seen an invitation to a power conference followed by the announcement of a new commissioner to that conference; a record-setting Orange Bowl blowout for the ages; a new defensive staff; a top 15 pick in the NFL Draft and news of an impending season opener in 2014 on a national stage against the Crimson Tide.
No matter how you stack it, one thing is certain: since we last went to press in early June of 2011 it’s been an eventful year for West Virginia football.
I recall where I was when one of the major gusts from this cyclone of realignment swirled across the WVU landscape a few days before Halloween.The Mountaineer football team and support staff had just landed in Newark when we hopped on the buses en route to the hotel in Piscataway. In the back of one bus many of us were listening with interest as Tony Caridi had his cell phone on speaker mode, connected to the media conference call in which interim Commissioner Chuck Neinas was officially welcoming West Virginia University to the Big 12. There we were on our way into the heart of Rutgers – a northeastern gridiron outpost as emblematic of WVU’s past (the Big East) as any program in the conference – as we listened in on the details which would shape a very different Mountaineer future.
As a WVU fan I remember it well. Our uncertain yesterdays and our promising tomorrows had been tossed together into one fantastically surreal moment in life as we made our way south on I-95 with a police escort helping us cut through New Jersey traffic.
I get the sense many more surreal moments are still to come.
Considering the preseason buzz surrounding the Mountaineers as they transition into the Big 12 Conference to spar against some of the most recognizable brands in college football, this season promises to pack quite a wallop as well.
Imagine the spine-tingling sensation that will overcome Mountaineer Nation when it watches West Virginia step onto the field in Austin or Stillwater for the first time, whether that sight comes firsthand or from 1,000 miles away through a television screen somewhere in the Mountain State. Imagine the frosty greeting WVU fans will muster for the Sooners in November when they’re first spotted in their road-whites preparing to emerge from the visitor’s tunnel at Mountaineer Field. Imagine once again going head-to-head against ranked teams on a very regular basis.
All of that is almost upon us. There’s no escaping the reality that an exhilarating new era of West Virginia football is right around the corner. The risks will be high but the rewards even higher. Something tells me the Mountaineers will be up to the challenge.
See you at the fifty.