CLARKSBURG, W.Va. – We continue our “West Virginians on the Gridiron” series — our journey through the history of college and professional football, and the accomplishments made by West Virginia natives, picking back up in the same era of the game that we were in last time.
We resume in the 50s, with two of the most decorated Mountaineers of all-time.
Wheeling, West Virginia’s Chuck Howley was a three-time All-Southern Conference player from 1955-1957, and was the conference’s Player of the Year in his senior season.
Howley is the only athlete in school history to letter in five sports.
After graduation, Howley was a standout for the Dallas Cowboys under legendary coach Tom Landry.
At the pro level, Howley was a six-time Pro Bowler, and five times was selected as a First Team All-Pro member.
“Howley was one of the few guys that Landry allowed to freelance as a linebacker. Because he was athletic, he was fast, he was smart, and he was able to gamble and do things that other players weren’t permitted to do for the Cowboys,” said John Antonik, Director of Athletics Content at West Virginia University.
Howley is forever in the history books as the first and only player in NFL history to be named Super Bowl MVP while being on the losing team, similar to what another former WVU great had done on the hard court two years prior when Jerry West was named NBA Finals MVP despite his Los Angeles Lakers not winning the series.
Howley got his Super Bowl ring the following year in 1972, and is part of the Dallas Cowboys Ring of Honor.
From a great, to one of the greatest Mountaineers ever – Robert Lee “Sam” Huff.
Huff was a three-year starter at guard and tackle, a first team All-American in 1955, and helped WVU go 31-7 during his college career.
“He was a good player, first of all, but he was very smart. I think the thing about Sam Huff, is he was a very intelligent player. And he knew – and you mentioned marketing – he knew how to market himself,” Antonik said.
And then he turned pro. As a linebacker, Huff was somewhat of an Iron Man, playing in 150 straight games after nearly walking away from the game. He was an NFL Champion with the Giants in 1955, was a five-time Pro Bowler, and six times was named to an All-Pro team as a standout linebacker.
He was part of the 1950s NFL all-decade team. And was the first NFL player to be featured on the cover of Time Magazine.
“Defensive players have never had that before. It was always offensive players. But I know for a fact that there were a lot of defensive players that credited Sam with raising their salaries for the first time there was an importance, and a value, to defensive play,” Antonik said.
Huff was inducted into the College Football Hall of Fame in 1982, the same year he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton. And his No. 75 is retired by the Mountaineer football program.
“They used to tell this story that people on the West Coast, you could be in California, and you could mail a post card and put ‘Sam Huff, New York Giants’ and it would end up at his locker. You didn’t have to put the address. That’s how popular and famous he was at the time,” Antonik said.
Fayette County-native Gino Marchetti was another standout defensive player of this time, and put together a decorated NFL career, as well.
A member of the Baltimore Colts of the 50s and 60s, Marchetti won back-to-back championships in 1958, and 1959.
He was named a Pro Bowler for 11 consecutive seasons, and was a nine-time first team All-Pro player.
Marchetti was named the NFL’s Top defensive end of the first 50 years of the league by the Hall of Fame, and inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1972.
He was also named to the NFL 50th Anniversary All-Time team, the 75th Anniversary team, and was a unanimous choice for the NFL 100th Anniversary team in 2019.
In the mid-70s, another Fayette County product was having a record-setting career in Morgantown.
Defensive back Tom Pridemore held multiple school records when his college career ended, some of which still stand today. Pridemore graduated with the most career interception return yards, most single-game interception return yards, and most career INTs in school history.
He also tied the official NCAA record with his 100-yard pick-six against Penn State in 1977.
Pridemore was inducted into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame in 2001.
Pridemore’s end zone-to-end zone pick-six wasn’t the only long interception return of his career. He had three INTs that he took back at least 83 yards during his time in Morgantown.
Next time on “West Virginians on the Gridiron”, we take a look at the best West Virginia-born players of the 1980s and 1990s.