The Mountaineers may be inconsistent on the gridiron, but we always win in the parking lots surrounding the stadium during our pregame festivities. In fact, our penchant for passionately celebrating our Mountaineers is second to none.
Just ask Derek LaFleur and Will Kaufman, who traveled more than 600 miles from their New England homes to Morgantown to experience the game-day atmosphere.
They don’t have any ties to West Virginia or the university. They just love to travel wherever the mood strikes them. They’ve been to a ton of sporting events, concerts and other destination events, including the Kentucky Derby earlier this year. This past weekend their sense of adventure brought them to Morgantown.
They decided to make the road trip the Monday prior to the game after watching a YouTube video of Mountaineer fans singing “Take Me Home, Country Roads.”
“The more I read about West Virginia fans and the game-day experience, I knew I had to come to a game,” said Derek, of Nashua, NH. “I was not the least bit disappointed.”
Derek and Will, who lives in Ashland, Mass., drove overnight and arrived in Morgantown at 5 a.m. Saturday. After stopping at Wal-Mart, Kroger and several other stores to pick up Mountaineer paraphernalia and tailgating supplies, they pulled in next to us in the gold lot at about 9:30 a.m.
The lot was pretty quiet at that time since the game didn’t start until 7 p.m. In fact, I was still chain-drinking cups of black coffee. But the atmosphere slowly started buzzing and humming with activity as truckloads of students and fans set up their tailgate.
The sights, sounds and smells of the game-day festivities are intoxicating, pulling you in like cowboys to a rodeo.
“I can say without a doubt that West Virginia football has the loudest and most passionate fans I’ve ever encountered,” Derek said. “It was awesome to see how many people were tailgating and making it an all-day event.”
Will and Derek weren’t the only ones to experience the Mountaineer Magic of game day for the first time. Dave and I had a few friends who came from Ohio to tailgate with us.
One was our son’s old girlfriend from high school, Vanessa Cicora, and her friend, Brandon. Vanessa graduated from Oklahoma State, where she earned her professional pilot degree as well as a degree in communications.
Our other friends, Suzi and Chris Schenkenberger, also made the trip to experience their first ace-high WVU tailgate.
Vanessa came primed to shotgun beers throughout the day and challenged those around her to join in. Of course, WVU fans accepted the challenge and even called her out on her shotgunning technique where half of her beer spilled to the ground.
While I abstained from shotgunning beers, I did partake in a couple Fireball shots with the rest of the group.
At one point during our pregame celebration, Kevin, a WVU grad, came over to say hi. Dave introduced him to Great Lakes beer a few years ago when he was a student. Today, he lives in Dayton, Ohio, where he works for RJ Reynolds. He told us he drinks Great Lakes beer all the time now. (I’m so glad we can inspire these future generations.)
Take me home, country roads
Of course, it wouldn’t be a WVU tailgate without playing Country Roads a few times throughout the day. As soon as it starts playing, everyone gathers around each other and sways, singing along with John Denver.
By the time we headed to the stadium, Suzi had learned all the words.
Dance, dance, dance
When we heard the music on our walk back from the book store, dance fever overcame us and Suzi, Chris and I headed over to cut a rug.
As we were dancing, a guy approached me to introduce himself because he recognized me from my blog. Mark Mouser has been tailgating in the gold lot for 10 years.
His friend, John Waeldhim, has been tailgating in the gold lot for 30 years. In fact, he brought his daughter to her first tailgate when she was 3. She’s now 23 and attending WVU Law School. (They’re the 2 guys in the center in the picture below.)
Our friends Larry and Melanie Butler of Vienna, Va., also stopped by our tailgate. We met them at Mario’s Fishbowl several years back and have stayed in touch.
Mountaineer fans are naturally drawn to each other like fish to water. Our spirit and passion for our beloved Mountaineers shine so brilliantly they could light up the bowels of a coal mine as bright as Times Square on New Year’s Eve.
Night games always bring an extra level of excitement. All the jumping and hollering from Mountaineer Nation cause the stadium to shimmy and throb.
They’ve been to a slew of sporting events – from major league baseball games and NASCAR races to NFL and hockey games. But none of those compared to Mountaineer game day.
“I was screaming and cheering the whole time. Everyone around me was too,” Derek said. “I lost my voice at the game, but it was worth it. Every time something good happened, everyone within reach exchanged high fives. People do that at NFL games, but Mountaineer fans had more passion.”
After our heartbreaking loss in overtime, we headed back to our cars in the gold lot. The traffic was so congested we decided to wait it out and tailgate some more.
So at midnight Dave grilled up the 2 remaining filets we had along with jalapeno-stuffed sausage.
That was the first time we’ve tailgated in the gold lot at that hour, but we had a great time. I think we’ll end all of our night games like this.