homepage logo

It’s off to Memphis for Mountaineers

By Bob Madison - For the Chronicle | Dec 25, 2020

Army head coach Jeff Monken will lead his team against the Mountaineers in the Liberty Bowl on Thursday. Courtesy photo

SHEPHERDSTOWN — Bowl game experiences are supposed to be muted this year, and without many of the normal perks gifted to their players. Normally there are lavish dinners with surf and turf, filet mignon platters and thick steaks seared according to the players’ individual tastes. Other party-like shindigs bring the players cherished mementos and more food they don’t get at the school dining halls.

The organizers and sponsors dote on the teams and make them feel the game wouldn’t be the sure-success it will be without them.

Not this year. Teams are opting out of even attending a bowl game. Individual players are staying away to be with their families for the Christmas season.

About a dozen projected bowls have even been canceled.

However, West Virginia will soldier on, grabbing a nifty post-season brass ring that is the Liberty Bowl in Memphis, Tenn. Positive COVID-19 tests from Memphis’ football team have led to them being replaced by Army in the upcoming game.

With its scheduled season finale against Oklahoma coronavirus-ruined for a second time, the Mountaineers finished with a 5-4 overall record and awaited an invitation to go bowling.

After the semifinalists for the play down to the national championship were confirmed early last Sunday, teams waited patiently to be notified of just where they would be going.

West Virginia received one of the invitations reserved for a Big 12 team.

The subdued bowl “season” is a planned experience of fewer days/nights at the bowl site, a much-curtailed slate of local trips, food tasting experiences and outings at night. It’s unlikely Beale Street will be visited. Maybe even a venture to Graceland and Elvis Presley’s mansion will be left out. The Mississippi River courses by Memphis and the state of Arkansas is just across a long bridge from the city. Simple parties won’t be completely left at the scheduling curb, but the toned-down atmosphere will be felt by everybody.

But it is a bowl game. West Virginia did not qualify for any sort of bowl trip last year, after a 5-7 record.

If there are no watches, tie pins, belt buckles or athletic clothing doled out to the players, it won’t be much of a letdown.

Some veiled disappointment will be shown.

But in 10 years time, the players will look back on the 2020 Liberty Bowl and embellish the experience like it was the national championship game. And when 20 and then 25 years have slid by, the memories will be so cherished that even most of the jumbled and scrambled 2020 schedule won’t be any impediment to what happened in Memphis.

Time (and years) away from the playing field reduce the inconveniences, enhancing what can no longer be had, as age advances toward only alumni memories.

So on Thursday at 4 p.m., the Mountaineers will probably bound out of their dressing room and follow their rifle-toting mascot onto the field. The crowd will be sparse and the encroaching darkness will soon prevail.

But this is a bowl game, and an opportunity to wash away the stench of a regular season-ending 42-6 loss to Iowa State from their collective systems.

All too soon these players will shed the college experience. And that’s when this kind of moment will increase in importance to them, as they look back and see what they accomplished when they were 18-to-24 years old.