INDIANAPOLIS -- Hundreds of feet below the surface, in the skin-shriveling chill and squinting-dim light of West Virginia's coal mines, the voice of Jay Jacobs echoes in the tunnels.
The radio analyst of the Mountaineers and a Morgantown native, Jacobs is the link to the basketball team that has formed a just-like-us bond with the blue-collar people of its home state.
"It's unbelievable," Jacobs said Friday, a day before West Virginia University's first Final Four game since the 1959 team he was on with NBA Hall of Famer Jerry West made it this far. "They're on the wagon. They're really on it now, and it's a big thing."
This thing's roots run deeper than the mines dotting West Virginia's rugged landscape.
The people of West Virginia have always been fervent sports fans, living through WVU's football and basketball programs and Pittsburgh Pirates or Cincinnati Reds baseball (depending on where in the state one lives) as a means to escape what can sometimes be a tough life.
It's the kind of place where people could, before the advent of television, walk down the street and not miss a pitch of a Pirates game because everyone was sitting on the porch listening to their radios. Where kids would sit on their grandfather's lap to listen to WVU football. Where miners listen to Mountaineers basketball deep underground.
"It's hard to explain if you've never spent time in West Virginia," Mountaineers coach Bob Huggins said. "It's not like any place I've ever been. Once you go to school here, once you become a part of it, you start to understand the passion the people of West Virginia have for Mountaineer athletics."
A piece of this passion comes from West Virginia's lack of a professional sports team. It's fine to latch onto teams from Pennsylvania and Ohio, but there's a difference when it's your team, from your state. There's ownership.
At the core, though, is loyalty.
A basic credo of West Virginians is: Once you're with us, you're always with us; scorn the state or its people, and you'll never be forgiven.
Just ask Rich Rodriguez. The Marion County native spent six years as head football coach at his alma mater after replacing legendary coach Don Nehlen, claiming it was his dream job.
The dream ended abruptly in 2007, when Rodriguez resigned to become head coach at Michigan, just four months after signing a contract extension at West Virginia, and having toyed with an Alabama coaching job earlier in the year. A chance to become immortalized in his home state, Rodriguez became a Benedict Arnold.