MORGANTOWN - It was announced on Wednesday that West Virginia's football opener against James Madison is officially SOLD OUT. Not bad for a young team with a new coach that's picked by many to finish near the bottom of the Big 12.
By Chapin Jewell
MORGANTOWN - It was announced on Wednesday that West Virginia’s football opener against James Madison is officially SOLD OUT. Not bad for a young team with a new coach that’s picked by many to finish near the bottom of the Big 12.
Not bad considering the opponent, James Madison, while a traditional juggernaut, competes in the Football Championship Subdivision, formerly known as Division 1-AA.
Back to that new coach. While recently departed head coach Dana Holgorsen enjoyed some success in Morgantown, the Iowa native really never connected to the people of West Virginia.
That’s exactly where Holgorsen and new head coach Neal Brown couldn’t be any more different.
There’s a sense that Neal Brown, a Danville, Kentucky native, is Appalachian born and bred like the rest of us. He’s adapted easily to the culture of West Virginia because really there was no adapting necessary.
Neal Brown took his Mountaineers to visit the coal mines. When asked recently if he’s tried a pepperoni roll yet, Brown responded that not only has he tried pepperoni rolls, but that to date he’s had them at youth softball concession stands and as appetizers in some of the Mountain State’s fancier restaurants.
Neal Brown’s connection to everyday West Virginians is strong, and while all signs point to a possibly rough year in Morgantown, the adaptation of the “trust the climb” mantra most have adapted has Mountaineer fans buying into Neal Brown long-term.
The excitement over the beginning of the Neal Brown era, however, is one piece of the puzzle leading to the selling out of game tickets; the other piece is the simple attraction to the game day experience in Morgantown, which, for anyone with any connection to the Mountain State, is an experience like no other.
For everyone, I suppose the experience is essentially the same, with a little variety thrown in according to one’s personal preferences.
The first thing you have to figure out is what you need to wear to the game. Is it a gold rush, white out, stripe the stadium kind of day or just regular old where whatever kind of day? By now, most people are well-stocked with every possible color combination. In the early days, of such things, I can remember scrambling to find a gold WVU hoodie the night before a game in area stores and nearly striking out.
Then on game day, after the car is packed with all the essentials, which may in fact include a dozen or so pepperoni rolls and a jar of “clear,” the trek to Morgantown from Mineral County begins. While a few will be spotted around town, it’s not until hitting Interstate 68 with every other Mountaineer fan from the Eastern Panhandle that flying WV flag after flying WV will be seen whipping from the windows of seemingly every other car. When you hit Morgantown, the same can be seen from cars traveling north and south on Interstate 79.
Upon arrival in Morgantown, everyone seems to have their own connection or preference when it comes to where to park. Regardless of where you park, the party really begins the moment you step out of your car. For some, everything you need for the tailgate is in your car, for others, the trek begins to find your favorite tailgating spots. There are Frankfort tailgates dominated by Falcon alumni and parents. There are Keyser tailgates dominated by Golden Tornado alumni and parents. Of course, there are tailgates combining the two and other friends from around the tri-state area.
Be it food or liquid sustenance you seek, you’ll find what you need amongst the friends you’ll find, or make, in Morgantown. After some handshaking, high fives, maybe a game of cornhole or two, it’s time to head inside Mountaineer Field for the game.
The highlight, by far, of pre-game festivities at any WVU football game is the pre-game performance by “The Pride of West Virginia’s” Mountaineer band. The stuff of legend, the iconic pre-game show has remained unchanged for years. There are the familiar tunes of “Fight Mountaineers,” “Hail West Virginia,” “Mountain Dew,” “Simple Gifts,” “Country Roads,” not to mention the National Anthem and the Alma Mater.
If you’re not shedding a tear as “Simple Gifts” is played then most assuredly you won’t be able to make it through ‘Country Roads” without being at least somewhat misty-eyed. If your eyes remain totally dry throughout the Pride’s pre-game show, you might very well have to turn in your West Virginia card.
Then of course comes the game. On the field, like any other team, the Mountaineers are prone to provide you with a good mix of both “the thrill of victory” and “the agony of defeat” moments. There have been triumphs, there have been moments that ripped your guts out, like Pitt, in the Backyard Brawl 2007. Through it all, however, it’s Mountaineer pride, win or lose.
Of course, in victory, there’s nothing like the celebratory post-game singing of “Country Roads” with 60,000 of your fellow Mountaineers. The same thing can be said of dancing to a little “Cotton Eyed Joe” during the game.
Rest assured, any trip to Mountaineer Field is going to produce the type of memories that will have you coming back again and again for more.
I’ve made my fair share of memories at Mountaineer Field, most good, a few bad. I’ll detail some of those moments in a future column. Nonetheless, I, like many of you, have been captivated by the Mountaineer game day experience, and those experiences have certainly kept me coming back for more and more.
It will be a much different experience for sure this year, as press credentials will allow me the opportunity to watch the game from the press box. I’m not so sure what I’m more excited about, the press box experience, or the fact that I’ll be able to watch the game from a climate-controlled environment. My experience is generally that it is either nine or 90 degrees when I’m there.
It’s no wonder that WVU’s opening game is SOLD OUT. Like me, many Mountaineer fans are excited about the familiarity and excitement that comes with the game day experience in Morgantown. Couple that with the excitement that’s come with the beginning of the Neal Brown era, and you have the perfect storm for a rise in ticket sales. “Trust the climb.”