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Philip Maramba: I left in a time of loss

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - I believe Mr. Kenny Rogers said it best when he sang, "You've got to know when to hold 'em and know when to fold 'em."

And last weekend, I had to know when to walk away from Mountaineer Field.

On Saturday night, as West Virginia University's football team fell further and further behind No. 4 Kansas State's Wildcats, there was a decision I had to make: Am I going to sit until the end of this beatdown or am I going to try to beat traffic?

When you're a WVU fan, you grow accustomed to losing in some fantastic ways.

Like when Syracuse's quarterback set off a bench-clearing brawl after he caromed a football off the head of one of our defenders. Everyone got ejected except the offending quarterback, who went on to throw the game-winning touchdown.

Or, with the game in hand, we were forced to punt with seconds left against then-powerhouse Miami. Then their guy blocked the kick and his teammate scooped up the ball and ran it in to steal the victory.

So I know from heartache. Over the years, you grow accustomed to last-minute heartbreakers as well as accepting of competitive games where we fall behind and time runs out before we can close the gap.

When I was a callow student, walking out on a futile effort wasn't a big deal. I mean, as far my wallet was concerned, it wasn't costing me anything.

But once we started paying for tickets, I'd stick around until the bitter end — partly out of loyalty (after all, I'd stay if the team were winning) — but also to make my stay worth the time it took to drive up. I wasn't going to leave after two hours if I was going to be on the road for four.

Besides, I've joked, staying until the end is kind of like making sure they don't die alone.

Depressing and agonizing as they are, losses strengthen our sports DNA and make for tough calluses on our hearts for the next time our team disappoints us.

They also make wins in magic seasons all the sweeter.

But I'd never sat through a thrashing like the one we suffered last week.

(While I was at WVU when the No. 1-ranked Hurricanes tanned our hides 58-14 back in 1986, I wasn't at the game. I may have had a girlfriend at the time, so, well, you know, a guy's got priorities.)

So there I was last week, hoping like the rest of the stadium that this would be the bounce-back game we needed after getting upset by unranked Texas Tech the week before.

But as the punts piled up for us and the points for KSU accumulated, we all became disbelieving passengers on an air raid in a death spiral.

I began thinking about three hours of sitting in my car before I'd reach my bed.

So some time after the half, as the game slipped out of reach, I started making a deal with myself. When the Wildcats passed 50, it was time to go.

I was on my way out of the stadium at the 2:52 mark of the third quarter with the score 52-7.

Looking forward, I know there's still plenty left to play for. A winning record. A bowl game. Who knows? Maybe there's still a Heisman Trophy waiting for quarterback Geno Smith.

But walking into the dark with other disappointed fans, I still felt like a heel.

Contact writer Philip Maramba at 304-348-4815 or philip@dailymail.com.


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