The End of the (Country) Road

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Jan. 7, 2012

The End of the (Country) Road

Since the Big East’s founding more than three decades ago, the backbone of the conference has been positioned along – or closely parallel to – the I-95/Amtrak Northeast Corridor.  Georgetown, Villanova, Rutgers, Seton Hall, St. John’s , UConn, and Providence (and, once upon a time, Boston College) all fall within the Northeast megalopolis.  A substantial proportion of Georgetown’s student and alumni base also calls this stretch home, so it is not surprising that Georgetown fans naturally think of schools ‘up the road’ when they list the Hoyas’ regional rivals.

In reality, West Virginia University is the second closest Big East neighbor to Georgetown, a fact that is usually most apparent every other year, when hordes of Mountaineers invade the Verizon Center.  Relatively few Hoyas reside in the Mountain State, and though country roads have been replaced by I-68 as the primary route from the District, the travel options between the two remain more limited and austere than those found along the Eastern Seaboard.  For its part, WVU itself is more oriented toward its fellow Backyard Brawler to the north and fellow football schools to the south and west.

In a way, all of this is now moot, since the Mountaineers are seceding from the Big East and joining the Big 12.  We will never know if a truly established and recognized rivalry would have ever emerged.  Not that long ago, however, it looked like it just might happen.

Recall, for instance, 2008’s Instant Classic in Morgantown, which was not decided until fractions of a second before the final buzzer sounded.  Patrick Ewing Jr.’s game-winning rejection of Da’Sean Butler would go down as one of the most memorable blocks of the decade and perhaps the defining moment in the series up to this point.  Most of those in attendance at that game saw its climactic ending a bit differently, of course, and take it from me as someone who was there – they were not at all shy about expressing their opinion.  In fact, I briefly feared for the Hoyas’ safety – and my own – in the immediate aftermath of the disputed block/goaltend.  Where most venues would have only a thin yellow line of CSC Event Staff to prevent the situation from escalating, however, a squad of West Virginia state troopers quickly secured the court and maintained order.  Joint exercises with the Beijing police may be worth looking into.

That particular was the follow-up to another memorable meeting, a decisive Hoya victory in 2007 that was made famous by a confrontation between then-WVU head coach John Beilein and Georgetown’s Patrick Ewing Jr.  The former was thereafter dubbed “Grabby,” while the latter earned a special enmity from Mountaneer fans that only made “The Block” that much sweeter.  Throw in a classic showdown from the 1974-75 season that Derrick Jackson won for the Hoyas on an 18-footer with two seconds left for historical cred, and you had the potential for a real rivalry to evolve.

But though the two schools did combine for a hard-fought and hard-to-forget Big East Tournament Final in 2010, for the most part the meetings since Ewing Jr.’s block have been one-sided, predictable affairs.  The nadir came in March 2010, when the minds of Hoya Nation were focused not on the game, but on the health of team leader Austin Freeman, who had just been set home with an undisclosed illness.  I was there for that game as well, and the visceral, gut-wrenching feeling the hung in the air (for a Georgetown fan, anyway) was every bit the exact opposite of the jubilant delirium of 2008.

Georgetown and West Virginia have long been bound together by a particular song, the unofficial hymn of Mountaneers everywhere: “Country Roads, Take Me Home.”  WVU fans cherish it as the song they sing together at key moments, often after sporting events.  Georgetown fans know it as the work of Bill Danoff (I’68), who wrote the song before John Denver had ever stepped foot in the Mountain State. 

Nowadays, though, a different song feels more appropriate: The World Turned Upside Down.  It applies most fittingly to the dizzying – not to say nauseating – process of NCAA conference realignment.  It applies to a college basketball landscape in which Villanova and Pitt sit at 0-3 in the Big East, even as a team picked to finish tenth in the conference chugs along, leaving in its wake stunned supporters and opponents alike.  It certainly applies to whatever it was that West Virginia’s football team did to Clemson in the Orange Bowl; there’s a very good chance the Hoyas will hold the Mountaneer hoopsters to fewer points than the 70 WVU rung up in Miami this week.

The Country Road has come to an end.  It’s time to walk a new path and chart a new course.  Full speed ahead!

Dmitriy Zakharov (F’09, G’09)
Proud Member of Generation Ewing Jr.

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