Frank Giardina

Frank Giardina

On Oct. 5, when WVU hosts Texas in football, the Mountaineers will turn back the clock and host a reunion of the 1969 Peach Bowl champion football team.

Has it really been 50 years? For many fans, the memories of that season come flooding back.

The fall of 1969 was an interesting season for football fans in our region. It was a time of local and statewide excitement.

Locally, it was a big year in high school football. Charleston High School won the Class AAA state championship with a 6-0 win over Buckhannon-Upshur in a game played in Ripley.

In Class AA, fans in Putnam County followed Winfield, which lost the state championship game 21-20 to Keyser. It was especially frustrating for the Generals as their star quarterback Steve Cooper was injured and unable to play. Monongah, from Marion County, defeated Paden City 26-0 in Class A.

Across the state, fans were loving coach Jim Carlen and the 1969 Mountaineers. It was one of the most successful teams in WVU history. The Mountaineers went 10-1, with the only loss coming on the road, 20-0 at undefeated Penn State.

Everyone knew the WVU stars such as quarterback Mike Sherwood, running backs Jim Braxton, Bob Gresham and Eddie Williams, wide receiver Oscar Patrick, linemen Mickey Plumley and Duke Henshaw, linebacker Carl Crennel and defensive backs Leon Jenkins and Mike Slater. Crennel is the brother of former Cleveland Browns head coach Romeo Crennel.

In those days, there were more in-state players on the roster. Jenkins was from Weirton. Plumley was from Mount Hope. Slater was from Williamson. Patrick, Gresham and Randy Flinchum were from Big Creek. Dickie Roberts was from Welch. Charlie Fisher and Jack Hammond were from Charleston. John Hale was from Huntington and running back Pete Wood and back up QB Dick Ward were from Bluefield.

It was an era when West Virginia was transitioning from the old Southern Conference into the days as an eastern independent. Admittedly the schedule was not as nationally challenging as it is today. WVU defeated Cincinnati (57-11), Maryland (31-7), Tulane (35-17), VMI (32-0), Pitt (49-18), Kentucky (7-6), William & Mary (31-0), Richmond (33-21) and Syracuse (13-10).

Bowl bids were hard to get. In 1969, WVU had only been to only one bowl since 1954. At 10-1, WVU earned a bid to the relatively new Peach Bowl to play South Carolina. On a rainy, muddy night in Atlanta, WVU offensive coordinator Bobby Bowden surprised everyone by installing the wishbone. The Mountaineers emphasized the running game with Braxton, Gresham and Williams and won the game 14-3.

WVU football was not on the national radar much in the 1960s. However the 1969 team gave fans in our state a boost of self-esteem.

After the win, Carlen left WVU for Texas Tech. He eventually became head coach and athletic director at South Carolina. He died at the age of 79 in 2012.

Bowden followed Carlen as head coach at WVU. He took the Mountaineers to the 1972 and 1975 Peach Bowls before leaving for Florida State, where he won two national championships and become regarded as one of the top five coaches in the history of the game.