You don’t just happen across Morgantown, West Virginia. Situated 75 miles south of Pittsburgh, 200 miles east of Washington DC, and 200 miles west of Columbus, you have to be intentional to find it.
For most, there’s one reason you find Morgantown, and that’s to cheer on the Mountaineers.
Take Me Home,
A Local Experience
I was fortunate enough to have two terrific hosts before kickoff that showed me the ropes of what it means to be a mountaineer. One of them embodies it so much that he was THE West Virginia Mountaineer in the late 1980s and an absolute celebrity on the grounds.
Just minutes after touring the Alumni Center, I was thrown feet-first into Mountaineer culture with a mason jar of pure, backwoods-stilled moonshine courtesy of a retired sheriff. If you’ve never had the real stuff, let me just say– it’s a good thing I took notes for the next couple hours.
Thanks to my local hosts, I was able to experience a West Virginia football game day punching entirely above my own weight class. We were treated to dinner at the Alumni Center before crashing a few tailgates.
Being attached at the hip with an alumnus that knows everyone and is known by everyone was a real treat. I rubbed elbows with a state senator, high-level donors, and former players. In Morgantown, there’s no shortage of gracious hosts ready to offer you some shine and a beer.
The other major culinary leg to a West Virginia game is the pepperoni rolls. A local delicacy, I was told to “never opt for the ones wrapped in plastic.”
The Pride Of West Virginia
On your way into the stadium, navigate to the north corner and pat the coal on the way in. The team does it and it’s supposed to bring good luck to the Mountaineers, who pay homage to the state’s heavy coal-mining influence.
It’s a good thing we all patted the coal on the way in, because WVU brought all of the luck this Thursday night.
Get to your seat early, too– the Pride of West Virginia is one of the nations’ best bands. The drumline leads things with a dance number that they call the “Boogie” cadence. Then the rest of the 340 (yes– 340!) members come rushing in. The Pride of West Virginia don capes and execute some of the most intricate and engaging routines in the country.
Halftime included a tribute to John Williams on his 90th birthday, with the band forming a whip-cracking Indiana Jones, a walking dinosaur from Jurassic Park, and the flying bike from E.T.
After a wildly entertaining pregame show, the team runs out to the newly-popular Narcos theme (see: Mets closer walk-up song).
A Shootout In Morgantown!
Milan Puskar Stadium is notoriously one of the most difficult environments for opposing teams to play in. Mountaineer nation is extremely loud, disruptive, and passionate.
Unfortunately for this Thursday game, the stadium was only about 75% full (and that’s likely a generous number). Baylor jumped out to a 17-7 lead and the crowd took a minute to recover.
But come the second half, WVU came out swinging and a 65-yard fumble recovery TD brought them right back in the game. All of a sudden the quiet and ornery crowd game alive with thunderous chants of “LET’S GO!” and echoed “MOUNTAINEERS!” from side to side.
The other big play delivered was a blocked extra point following a Baylor TD that West Virginia returned for two points. It brought the game to a 37-33 Baylor lead, which was erased by JT Daniels and WVU late in the game.
Driving late, West Virginia picked off a pass by the Baylor backup (starter Blake Shapen left with an injury). The crowd was explosive as they expected to see their Mountaineers march down the field and win the game.
And then JT Daniels threw a pick on the next play.
Baylor tied the game at 40 with a field goal on a terrific defensive stop by WVU. The ‘Neers got the ball back and kicked a field goal with seconds remaining and closed out a wild game, 43-40.
The win wasn’t just exciting for the home fans. A win in Morgantown means one thing… we all sing Country Roads.
West Virginia Game Day Grades
Stadium: B-. WVU games are really more about the atmosphere than the physical venue. It feels more intimate than 60,000– which to me is a positive– but otherwise is pretty standard. Renovations to both end zones help and the sound system is pretty killer.
Tradition: A. Country Roads is one of my absolute favorite traditions. Singing along with the 45,000 other WVU fans was a treat. This is a long-storied program with a ton of history and the 15th-winningest program in college football. The weight and local pride in Morgantown is in an elite tier.
Atmosphere: B. I was told numerous times that this game would have felt different on a warm Saturday and I totally buy that. 75% of the capacity was a little disappointing, not just for me but for the other fans. But when this crowd got charged, you didn’t notice the empty seats.
Tailgating: B. Another grade likely inhibited by this being on a Thursday night. The individual quality of tailgates is on par with anywhere else.
Fans: A-. Friendly, passionate, welcoming. Those are the words I’d use to describe WVU fans. I had a ton of fun with the entire fanbase. Why not the + grade, then? I’d like to see a little more support for a game this big regardless of it being a Thursday night. But those who were there are top-notch folks.