Neither the threat of thunderstorms nor the sweat-oiled, hot day kept WVU tailgaters from engaging in their favorite game-day activities last Saturday. In fact, the intermittent, ear-ripping claps of thunder and bright flashes of lightning just underscored the electrifying atmosphere surrounding the first tailgate of the season in Touchdown City.
Laurie and Hank Schueler, our good friends from Akron, joined us for the weekend, which started Friday afternoon at the Mountain State Brewing Co. We knew we were in for an epic weekend when the server told us our bill had mysteriously been taken care of.
Later in the evening, we stopped by our favorite hangout, Mario’s Fishbowl, for delicious hot wings and frosty goblets of beer. We chatted up some Towson fans before Dave and I each tossed a quarter into the tall, glass jar above the bar, earning us a free fishbowl. It was a great end to the eve of tailgating.
After our late night, early birds Dave and Laurie were up and raring to go at the crack of dawn. They pulled into the Gold Lot at 6:50 a.m. for the night game against Towson, and nearly missed getting our choice spot. We like parking under the PRT next to the street because it gives us some cover in inclement weather – and we get to chat with passersby.
Dave also loves getting there early so he can take in all the activity as the college campus awakens. He enjoys seeing the college students on their morning runs. It gets him pumped for the day ahead.
Hank and I arrived at 9:27 a.m., and Dave and Laurie had already eaten one of his tasty ham and cheese omelettes.
Since the game didn’t start until 7:30 p.m., we had ample time to check out other tailgates after breakfast.
We started with fellow Gold Lot tailgaters Lance and Deb, of Maryland. Their setup included a large barrel of Mardi Gras beads and miniature football-shaped bottle openers. They even had a small, inflatable blimp and miniature Mountaineer on display. We told them we live in the hometown of the Goodyear Blimp.
Then, Laurie, Hank and I moved on to the Blue Lot, where we met Gene Nicholson and Jason Smaltz of The Beast Tailgating Van (@WVBeastTailgate). They grew up together in Morgantown and have been coming to the Blue Lot for most of their lives.
However, the Beast is a relatively new addition to their tailgates. Jason purchased an old Hancock County mobility van about a year ago and converted it into the blue-and-gold, rockin’ Beast. It has garnered a lot of praise and attention amongst Mountaineer Nation and opposing teams alike. They took it to Atlanta for the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game against Alabama, and some Longhorns have contacted Jason about bringing it to Austin for the Nov. 8 game.
Next to the Beast, we met the Mullens sisters, Hania and Maja, and the Ranson brothers, Travis and Scott. Their top-notch setup included a WVU bar.
When I asked whether they had a favorite tradition, they shouted, “Shot-Ski!” Then, Maja pulled out her Shot-Ski and showed us how to use it.
The shot-ski holds 4 plastic shot glasses, which they filled with moonshine that was flavored Apple Pie A La Mode. Four of us then tipped the shot-ski up together to drink our shot. (Watch my Instagram video.)
We had a lot of fun with Maja and Hania. They’ve been tailgating in the Blue Lot since they graduated from WVU in 2004. Hania is a dental hygienist and still lives in Cheat Lake, just outside of Morgantown. Maja is a pharmacist, and even though she lives in Charlotte, NC, she never misses a home tailgate.
I think Maja’s dangerously delicious moonshine can be attributed to her pharmacy degree. She always makes enough for the season and even has a koozie for a mason jar.
After visiting with the Mullens and Ransons, we headed back to the Gold Lot, where I made up Mountaineer Margaritas. Dave grilled up exotic buffalo burgers stuffed with blue cheese, which we paired with a chickpea salad with honey garlic lime vinaigrette. Dave always fixes enough to feed an army of students, so we had plenty to share.
The knot of tailgaters around us kept growing bigger, and by 1 o’clock, our lot had sprung to life like meadows of goldenrod in the fall. We even had some Towson students tailgating with the Mountaineer students next to us.
Throughout the day, Mother Nature shined upon us as we watched the strong thunderstorms in the distance swerve by us. We only got a bit of lightning, thunder and drizzling rain, which helped cool the sweltering temperatures.
As a rainbow painted the cloudy sky, I could almost hear John Denver singing, “Almost Heaven, West Virginia.”
The biggest hit on our menu was Dave’s grilled filet mignon and vegetable kabobs, served over a bed of wild rice. Dave had begun preparing the shish kabobs 2 days prior.
He ended up fixing 20 plates of kabobs and we passed them out like Clint Trickett in a sprint out drill.
The students’ faces lit up as bright as the Harvest Moon when we handed them a plate of the fresh, savory kabobs. As students, this was a rare treat since they mostly subsist on dorm food, McDonald’s and Ramen noodles.
Freshman occupational therapy student Brooke Samaritano, of Long Beach Island, NJ, even came inside our tent to eat hers so she wouldn’t have to share with her friends.
In addition to meeting new friends, we also got to catch up with some old ones. We met WVU graduate Dylan Adamek during our son’s freshman year. They lived on the same floor in Arnold Hall.
Through Dylan, we also met his brother Colin, who’s now a senior engineering student at WVU.
Given the dynamic atmosphere, it didn’t take long to reform Pitt grad Shaun Murray into a Mountaineer. He just needed to experience his first WVU tailgate.
Another Pitt grad, Austin Htfeild, has also been converted to a Mountaineer and never misses a WVU tailgate.
On the way to the stadium, we roamed through the Blue Lot again, looking for a ticket for Hank. (Laurie had gotten a free one from a Towson fan.) As we searched, we ran into my Fishbowl friend Harry, who had an extra ticket.
The half-time show was spectacular as well, with the band performing a heart-stopping Armed Forces Salute, with a full complement of brass, woodwinds, percussion, flags and feature twirlers. A brilliant fireworks display punctuated the excitement.
Our Mountaineers looked strong as they sewed up a win against Towson early in the game. The final score: 54-0.
I can’t wait for this weekend’s matchup against Maryland. If you’d like to share your pics and tailgating experience, email me at email@example.com.