MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — During his football career, Darryl Talley accomplished things that many athletes could only dream of achieving.
Maybe it’s fitting, then, that this linebacker’s legacy began while he was asleep.
Talley redshirted in his freshman season at WVU, and one of his first memories as a Mountaineer is taking a nap on the bench during a game against Pitt. More than 40 years later, Talley became just the fourth player in WVU football history to have his number retired by the program.
So how did he go from a sideline snoozer to a consensus All-American?
“I woke up,” Talley said Saturday as he reflected on his career. “I woke up and actually started to work on my craft, and do the things that were conducive for me to win.”
Talley played for the Mountaineers from 1979-82. His 484 career tackles earned him the program record in that category, and ultimately helped him earn a permanent place in the College Football Hall of Fame.
But Saturday, Talley, who is also a member of the WVU Sports Hall of Fame, received the highest honor possible for a former Mountaineer football player: his famous No. 90 will now be displayed forever inside Milan Puskar Stadium.
“I’m just truly happy that I finally got to, as they say, the summit of what it is in college,” Talley said. “That’s what I consider this to be — the highest honor you can get — and I’m very proud of it.”
Talley was a dominant, hard-hitting linebacker. Though he lined up at a number of positions in his football career, he was, in many ways, one of the early prototypes for the future of the linebacker position in the NFL.
In the early days of his football career, Talley recalls that he learned something quickly: he wanted to be the hitter, not the player getting hit. That mentality turned him into a ferocious defender.
“That’s why I let my brother play offense. I was not doing that. I was not getting hit. I’d much rather hit you than get hit, because I figure I’m in control when I’m hitting you,” Talley said. “Everybody else says, ‘well, I get more glory when I score on you.’ Well, OK, but I’m gonna get more glory knocking you out into the middle of next week.”
Talley carried that mentality with him to the NFL, where he anchored the Buffalo Bills’ defense for a decade and played in four Super Bowls. WVU prepared him for that illustrious pro career, he said, because his coaches and teammates sharpened intangibles like leadership.
“At the next level, I learned I was a better leader than what I had previously thought, because I got guys to buy into my way or our way of playing football — for each other, not just out there holding a uniform and just being in the spot, and playing for a guy and caring about them, and wanting to know the best thing for them,” Talley said. “I took that from here to Buffalo with me, and I just so happened to run into a group of guys who had the same type of feeling.”
Later this fall, WVU football will also honor former star quarterback Major Harris by retiring his number.