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February 3, 2014

Irvin the latest in WVU Super Bowl lore




It was a heartwarming moment for Mountaineers fans, broadcasted on the biggest stage of them all.

Following the Seattle Seahawks crushing 43-8 victory over the Denver Broncos in last Sunday's Super Bowl, Bruce Irvin, former West Virginia defensive end turned Seahawk, was shown soaking in the postgame celebration holding his infant son while confetti rained down over MetLife Stadium. Anyone could see the pride and adulation in Irvin's eyes as he shared in this remarkable moment with his child; a moment that is the culmination of one remarkable ride for Irvin.

By now, we all have heard the extraordinary story of Irvin's rise to Super Bowl Champion. The once troubled youth from Atlanta beat the odds to escape a life of criminal activity, thanks to the gridiron.

Since then, Irvin has stayed on the straight and narrow, leading him to a successful career in Morgantown, first round NFL Draft selection, and now a Super Bowl ring.

For those in the Mountain State who do not consider themselves Broncos supporters, the consensus leading up to the game for Mountaineer Nation seemed to back the 12th Man. This, as expected, had to do with the love and support Irvin has shown to his alma mater in the past, and West Virginia's continued backing for its own once their careers in the Old Gold and Blue come to a close.

But Irvin is not the first Mountaineer to find his way into the big dance. Despite not having a significant pedigree of NFL stars, West Virginia has placed a number of its own into the big game throughout the event's 48-year history.

Perhaps the most noteworthy West Virginia alum and Mountain State-native to make a Super Bowl impact was Chuck Howley. A historic athlete, Howley competed in nearly every sport his schedule allowed during his time in Morgantown, lettering in five sports from 1955-1958. But of all his athletic accomplishments, Howley found his calling at Old Mountaineer Field.

Following a successful career at West Virginia, Howley would be drafted in the first round of the 1958 NFL Draft by the Chicago Bears. Through 15 seasons and two teams, the Wheeling-native would rack up a number of accolades. However, none would be bigger than his Super Bowl V performance.

In a 16-13 defeat to the Baltimore Colts, Howley helped keep his Dallas Cowboys in the contest, intercepting two passes and recovering a fumble in the loss. This performance helped the Mountaineer legend earned Super Bowl MVP honors. To this day, Howley remains the only player in NFL history to earn this award while playing for the losing Super Bowl team.

Other Mountaineers have also made a tremendous Super Bowl impact in past games. Who can forget the gutsy performance of Jeff Hostetler in Super Bowl XXV? After leading West Virginia to an 18-6 record in his career as starting quarterback for Don Nehlen, Hostetler was drafted in the third round of the 1984 draft by the New York Giants.

In his early career at New York, Hostetler primarily saw spot duty as the backup for all-pro Phil Simms. This earned him his first Super Bowl ring in 1986, as Hostetler looked from the sidelines while Simms cut up the Broncos secondary in a victory.

A injury to Simms leading up to the 1990 Super Bowl, however, gave "Hoss" his opportunity to earn a ring on the field. With this chance, the West Virginia-alum took the reigns of a potent Giants offense, putting together an efficient performance from behind center, inching New York to a 20-19 victory over the Buffalo Bills.

From backup to champion, another Mountaineer cemented his name in Super Bowl lore.

There are others whose journey to the grandest stage in football began with a pit stop in Morgantown. Most recently, Mike Compton with the New England Patriots in 2004 and Mike Logan with the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2006 have hoisted the Lombardi Trophy.

So Irvin is not the first Mountaineer to win a Super Bowl, but for my money there has never been a more positive reaction from West Virginia over a victory.

But whether it is a phenomenal performance from a linebacker, stealing the show despite his team's loss, a backup quarterback taking over for a legend on the biggest stage in football, or a rags-to-riches story of a Atlanta boy finding life redemption on the football field, the Mountaineers have made a tremendous impact in Super Bowl history.

Just another classic journey to Super Bowl history, again built out of the West Virginia hills.


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