Loyalty runs deep for Mountaineers

State of West Virginia has strong bond with university's athletics

The Associated PressApril 3, 2010 

— Hundreds of feet below the surface, in the skin-shriveling chill and squinting-dim light of West Virginia's coal mines, the voice of Jay Jacobs echoes in the tunnels.

The radio analyst of the Mountaineers and a Morgantown native, Jacobs is the link to the basketball team that has formed a just-like-us bond with the blue-collar people of its home state.

"It's unbelievable," Jacobs said Friday, a day before West Virginia's first Final Four game since the 1959 team he was on made it this far. "They're on the wagon. They're really on it now, and it's a big thing."

This thing has roots that run deeper than the mines dotting West Virginia's rugged landscape.

The people of West Virginia have always been fervent sports fans, living through the university's football and basketball programs and Pittsburgh Pirates baseball as a means to escape what can sometimes be a tough life.

"It's hard to explain if you've never spent time in West Virginia," Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins said. "It's not like any place I've ever been. Once you go to school here, once you become a part of it, you start to understand the passion the people of West Virginia have for Mountaineer athletics."

"There's just a loyalty here," said Jacobs, a lifelong West Virginian. "This is a state that just rallies around its own."

That's how Huggins got this homespun run started.

A West Virginia native and alum, the former castoff in Cincinnati made a triumphant return to West Virginia, where an entire state wrapped its arms around him like proud parents.

What Huggins has done is create a winner in his image, which puts it in the same likeness as his home state.

"There's just a toughness there, a willingness to the dirty things needed to win," Jacobs said.

Strictly blue-collar stuff, just like the people in the mines.

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