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The people’s guide to Pat White

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He was exactly the player college football needed, and that might be all we’re ever meant to know.

Pat White runs in the 2008 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma. Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images. Banner Society illustration.

Pat White mastered time and space in a way I’ll never understand.

For one thing, it’s never made sense how defenders couldn’t simply ... catch him. I know the West Virginia quarterback is fast, but he doesn’t often look like it on the field. He’s not classically quick. I feel like I’ve watched many players put one foot down in front of the other more rapidly. His agility isn’t sudden. We’ve all seen quicker players who move more gracefully.

I’m not alone here. Defenders think they should get him. They should. And yet, they just don’t.

Here, he’s in the lap of at least four defenders ... until he isn’t.

White’s a long strider who isn’t very long, just six feet tall. He’s a juker who takes a full beat to change directions. He just runs, and defenders just don’t catch him. It is a demoralizing display.

He’s slippery without looking slippery.

I mean, look at this. He basically walks through a mass of humanity in one of the most circuitous runs you’ll ever see. Time stops and he’s in control of the chaos, even when he’s jogging parallel to the goal line.

I think a lot about this linebacker who is profoundly fucked and knows it, all because of one false step he made 10 yards away from White.

I think about these three UConn defenders, whom White somehow puts on their asses without touching? Finely tuned college athletes, reduced to a rubble of limbs just because they thought they could catch that guy wearing #5.

And I think of Louisville. Poor, sweet Louisville, which he just leaves behind.

LSU didn’t get Pat White. At one point White was committed to the Tigers. They wanted him to be a wide receiver.

Bill Parcells didn’t get him, but I must admit he tried to find an NFL mold to fit White into. Parcells’ Dolphins took a chance on him because they needed something.

In what passed for offensive innovation at the time, Miami had ridden the wildcat to one of the weirdest seasons in league history. To see if they could make lightning strike more than once, they grabbed a short, nimble QB with decent passing numbers in the second round.

It’s fair to assume White would not have gone anywhere near that highly if he’d left college just a few years earlier or later. But he’d so tantalized all of football at a specific moment, right when the NFL began paying attention to college’s latest revolution, that he earned a pro contract anyway.

In college, White was the right quarterback for the right team with the right coach at the right time.

He never had the total output of peers Tim Tebow, Colt Brennan, Colt McCoy, Sam Bradford or Dennis Dixon. Most of White’s passing stats aren’t that impressive.

Few pre-spread QBs can touch what he did on the ground. Still, he’s since been eclipsed in talent by any number of brilliant dual-threats.

However, in this tiny moment in college football history, he was all-time special. We knew he was unique. What we didn’t know was that he was the future.

White was the vanguard of football’s smashmouth spread era, showing zone read inventor RichRod’s offense could not just win games at Tulane and make star QBs of guys like Woody Dantzler, but also seriously compete at the elite level.

We’ll have to explain to future generations just how perfect it was that White showed up when he did. Luckily, he is preserved as one of the dearly departed NCAA Football series’ preeminent cheat codes, befitting his exact window in history.

White led an enclave of misfit toys in the middle of coal country, a legendary attack assembled from everyone else’s spare parts.

Remember, he helped redefine a sport while based out of West Virginia. A three-star recruit from lower Alabama starred in a place that produces almost literally zero blue-chip talents.

Rodriguez had stumbled upon game-changing innovation while coaching an NAIA school. Wisconsin native Owen Schmitt was a Division III player and walk-on, best described as “a runaway beer truck.” Steve Slaton had his offer pulled by Maryland, then repaid the favor with 195 yards and two touchdowns as a sophomore against the Terps. Noel Devine featured in one of the greatest highlight tapes ever and left South Florida not for Gainesville or Tallahassee, but for Morgantown. (Read that sentence again.)

And that team got to the doorstep of the national championship game. In a sport so averse to an upstart winning a championship, most of what White’s group did shouldn’t have happened, but we’ve already given up on trying to fully understand him.

That doorstep is relevant here.

What if White doesn’t hurt his non-throwing hand against Pitt and plays the whole game?

What if he would have converted one of those late fourth downs?

That tiny margin, 13-9, will always remain the final mystery of White’s confounding Mountaineers. A high-powered offense brought to its knees by miscues and injury against what Schmitt would call “the shittiest fucking team in the fucking world.”

Whether you’re watching White break down a bigger and faster linebacker with ease, studying how a bunch of oddballs created one of college football’s greatest offenses, or trying to understand how it all disappeared for three random hours, you always come back to the same question: wait, what just happened?

Maybe we’re trying to understand too much time and space all at once. Let’s just zoom back in on the peak of 2007.

First, forget about White for a second. Pay attention to this guy, De’Mon Glanton:

The Mississippi State defensive back is about to learn that his SEC speed doesn’t mean a damn thing.

He’s going to chase White down, right? He has the angle, right? His school profile even says he has 4.4 speed.

He is supposed to at least get a hand on White, maybe push him out of bounds. That’s what Glanton was fully expecting to happen, I’d bet. Why would he think any different? On what planet is a quarterback supposed to do this to him? A quarterback we know is mathematically slower than Glanton.

As Glanton drifts harmlessly out of bounds instead of colliding with White, you can see him do that thing with his head that sprinters do when they cross the finish line. That guy he’s watching go into the end zone just exploded everything the defender’s ever known about real-world trigonometry. Bewilderment, then acceptance.

West Virginia Pat White was constantly outstripping what we thought at the time, but the challenge comes when you watch him with modern eyes.

If he shows up in the 1990s, he’s either a pure triple option QB or a wide receiver. If he shows up in the 2010s, he’s probably not bamboozling defenses to the same degree — the sport’s offenses would’ve been better suited to his skills, but defenses would have been better at stopping him.

We can wish 2007 ended differently or that Rodriguez had stayed as his coach for one last ride in 2008. We can try to understand how White makes defenders suddenly forget how to play football.

But maybe being frustrated ain’t it. Maybe trying to understand White, a quiet and enigmatic guy when it comes to media interviews, is folly. Maybe all we can do is accept what happened.

Grasping at something in the space where you think Pat White should be, only to come away with nothing but memory, is the ultimate experience of watching Pat White.