PARKERSBURG-Gary Lombard and his former West Virginia University football teammates are accustomed to receiving letters in the mail from their alma mater.
However, one that arrived this summer caught the attention of the 1976 graduate.
"It's not uncommon for me to get letters from the university," said Lombard, a Frazier High School (Pa.) graduate who serves as a vice president for Parkersburg-based Woodcraft Supply. "But, when I opened this one up expecting to see a request for another donation, it instead was a letter informing me that our 1975 Peach Bowl team was going to be honored at the East Carolina game with rings for our win over N.C. State."
Gary Lombard of Parkersburg is one of several members of the 1975 West Virginia University Peach Bowl team who will receive their rings prior to Saturday’s 3:30 p.m. Mountaineer game against East Carolina.
While WVU has made a history of honoring its past greats during home football games, presenting Lombard and his teammates with rings 34 years after their dramatic 13-10 win over a heavily-favored Wolfpack is a first.
Making the presentation even more mysterious is the direction from which the donation for the gift came.
"An anonymous donor," Lombard explained. "That's all we were told."
Players, including locals Steve Earley, Bill McKenzie, Joe Jelich and Lombard, will receive their rings prior to the start of Saturday's 3:30 p.m. showdown with East Carolina University.
"We got watches back then," explained Earley, who is employed at Alcan Aluminum in Ravenswood. "But, when they started giving rings at the Super Bowl, the tradition kind of caught on with the college bowls."
While the presentation of rings will provide those former players in attendance some once-in-a-lifetime memories, they can never replace those on December 31, 1975.
"I remember the rain," added Earley, who was named the game's MVP. "I can't remember a game where it rained from start to finish and as heavy as it came down."
An 8-3 regular season mark earned the old gold and blue a second trip to Atlanta, Ga., and a New Years Eve showdown with Atlantic Coast Conference power N.C. State. But, little did anyone know that behind the scenes another development was occurring which would stun Mountaineer fans nearly as much as the three-point victory.
It was WVU's second trip to the Peach State in three years and they were facing a team that had humbled them by a 49-13 score in the 1972 Peach Bowl.
"None of us were aware," continued Earley. "We even went to Clemson a week early to get accustomed to the weather and no word leaked out about it."
The 'it' was a coaching job offer from Florida State University to then-head WVU coach Bobby Bowden.
"Coach Bowden said nothing," said Lombard. "We didn't know anything until we came back. He would normally meet with the players after a season and that's when he told us about the Florida State job."
After six seasons at the helm of the Mountaineers, which included a 42-26 mark and two bowl appearances, Bowden was gone, leaving a stunned football team and a coaching staff in limbo.
"We (the players) wrote a letter in support of coach (Frank) Cignetti," explained Earley. "The day after we wrote it, he got the job."
Cignetti went on to post a trio of 5-6 marks and a 2-9 record in 1979 in four years at the helm. He was succeeded by Hall of Fame coach Don Nehlen, who holds nearly every coaching mark in Mountaineer history after leading the old gold and blue for 21 seasons.
West Virginia would make one more trip to the Peach Bowl-a 26-6 victory over Florida in 1981.
"It will be nice (receiving the rings)," said Lombard. "The thing I will enjoy most, however, will be getting an opportunity to be with my teammates one last time."