Pat and I really did bring out the best in each other.

Someone asked me recently if we ever had to deal with jealousy of one another, and that was honestly never the case. We were both in the contention for the Heisman Award, but because we played on the same team, we both probably ruined the other's chances of winning the trophy. The thing was, we didn't really care, because we were winning games.

Things were going exactly as I had hoped.

 
 

(Those years weren’t just good for the football team. Here’s me with WVU basketball legend Mike Gansey)

We went through the first four games of our junior year undefeated, and even though we suffered an early setback against South Florida, we weren't all the way out of it. We dropped all the way to No. 13 after the loss, but with each passing week one team after another started losing. USC lost. Then Oklahoma lost. Next it was Boston College's turn.

With two games left we had climbed all the way to No. 4, and then it happened: No. 1 LSU and No. 2 Kansas lost on the same day, and with one game to go we were now the No. 2 team in the country. All we had to do to reach the National Championship was to win on Senior Night at home against our rival Pitt. And since the Panthers were only 4-7 that year, this really did look like all the cards were stacked in our favor. This was our year.

The game was going to be played on National Television, and we were listed as 28-point favorites.

When the game actually got started, something just started to feel off. We couldn't move the ball, and even though Pitt was already out of bowl contention, it became pretty clear that this was their Super Bowl. They wanted nothing more than to knock us out of the national championship.

We only scored one touchdown in the first three quarters, but with our defense holding them to just 10 points up to that point, we still had a chance. Pitt added a field goal to go up 13-7, but a touchdown was still going to win the game. We drove down into Pitt's side of the field with four minutes to play, only to turn the ball over on downs. We got the ball back after a quick three-and-out for Pitt, and we drove down into Pitt territory one last time. We drove all the way to the 21-yard line, where our offense suddenly stalled again. With 1:40 remaining and our season on the line we faced a 4th-and-17.

Rich called for Pat to throw it near the corner of the end zone, and Pitt read it perfectly. The pass was incomplete, and with it our national title hopes went out the window.

The funny thing was, even after that, I still wasn't convinced we were going to lose. It wasn't until Pitt ran the clock to 0:00 that I realized we had lost.

(Pat and I sat there trying to make sense of what had just happened)
(Jeff Gentner/Associated Press 2007)

Reality set in as we walked off the field. It's a Mountaineer tradition to sing John Denver's "Country Roads" after each home win, and for just the third time in my life I walked to our locker room in silence.

And yet even after that, I was still hoping we could sneak into the National Championship. I checked to see if the other top-5 teams lost, and it was only then that it truly sank in that I wouldn't be playing in the title game.

With that performance of just 11 yards on 9 carries, two dreams died that night. Not only would I not be a national champion, I wouldn't be a first round pick anymore.

I still had a year of eligibility left, but I needed to enter the draft that year. You see, for the first time in my life, there was somebody else depending on me.

I had become a father.


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Thomas Hager