Three like you’ll never see again
Published: Monday, December 3, 2012
Updated: Monday, December 3, 2012 00:12
A clear, December sky was distorted by the haze of musket gunfire as smoke lingered above Mountaineer Field during a Senior Day victory lap for the three most prolific offensive players in West Virginia history.
The trio of Mountaineers: quarterback Geno Smith and wide receivers Tavon Austin and Stedman Bailey, circled the stadium to pose for pictures, slap high fives and sing "Country Roads" with the berth of West Virginia fans who stayed to witness their last song following Saturday’s 59-10 victory against Kansas.
If you’ve followed this team this season, you’ve accompanied players and coaches on a roller coaster ride of dizzying heights and sickening lows.
For the senior class, this was supposed to be the year West Virginia showed the Big 12 Conference it was the real deal; as crazy as it sounds, an appearance in the Fiesta Bowl might not have been ambitious enough at season’s start.
Now, though, with the memories of a top-five ranking and illusions of a national championship long-gone, fans are sulking in the departure of the most powerful offense to ever play at this University.
Talking to a student, you can tell it’s difficult to appreciate. Heck, I’ve watched these players up close – seen them after wins, after losses and after breaking records – and I don’t even know how to put it into proper perspective.
Records older than I am that took four seasons to set were falling in a fraction of the time.
Geno Smith had more passing touchdowns in this season’s first four games than former Mountaineer quarterbacks Greg Jones, Jake Kelchner, Jerry Yost and Jarrett Brown had in their entire careers.
Stedman Bailey, a redshirt junior who could potentially leave early for the NFL draft, has caught 23 touchdown passes this season – almost double the previous single-season record of 12.
Tavon Austin has gained 7,141 career all-purpose yards – 1,380 more than the existing record – and he still has a bowl game to play.
Imagine you are a West Virginia fan of more than three decades; you’ve seen Jeff Hostetler, Major Harris, Marc Bulger, Rasheed Marshall and Pat White play quarterback. You’ve watched Cedric Thomas, David Saunders, Chris Henry and Jock Sanders catch passes.
The absolute very best players in West Virginia history are watching three guys completely rewrite every page of the offensive history on the same team, in the same year, on the same field.
Are you seeing how remarkable this is yet?
Statistically, these three are the best in history at their respective positions. How long, if ever again, will it take for a West Virginia fan to say that?
How long will it take for any fan to say that about any team?
It’s truly unbelievable what the triumvirate of Smith, Austin and Bailey has been able to accomplish. Yes, this season may have been a disappointment in the record column, but individually, each player has given fans memories they will never forget.
Tavon Austin gained 572 all-purpose yards in the Mountaineers’ 50-49 heart-breaking loss to Oklahoma – six yards shy of the best performance in FBS history and 216 more than the previous, 47-year West Virginia record of 356.
Geno Smith and Stedman Bailey shattered more than a handful of records in the Mountaineers’ 70-63 win against Baylor. Smith’s 656 passing yards and eight touchdowns were a full 193 yards and two touchdowns better than the previous records – records he set last season.
Bailey’s five touchdown grabs and 303 receiving yards in that game bested his previous touchdown record (4) he shared with Austin and shattered Chris Henry’s nine-year single-game receiving yards record by 94 yards.
The statistics don’t seem real, but neither does the idea of having three players on the same team with the offensive prowess Smith, Austin and Bailey possess.
All things considered, the figures that accompany the lines in the record book are not as important as the fact that the three of them played together.
I have to imagine the odds of something like this occurring are astronomical; you would be hard- pressed to find another team at any level of play – college or professional – that could say the same thing West Virginia can.
Maybe one day, many years down the road, I’ll be able to view these records through a broader scope – and will appreciate exactly how special and rare what I have watched truly is.
Until then, I’ll enjoy watching the last game these three will play together, because there’s no telling what they’ll do or how long it will be until you or I see it again.