Country Roads and a Gold Rush

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September 14th 2019
Published: September 16th 2019
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This was the best game I’ve attended all season, hands down. But West Virginia University is place of big contrasts. The stadium and the game were amazing. But the city of Morgantown is one of those places that just make me want to get out of town quickly. There are several reasons for this. No trip to Morgantown is complete without driving through the winding, narrow roads that lead off into neighborhoods that are full of murder houses. That may seem like an exaggeration, but it’s happened to me every time I’ve been here. Read on, if ye dare!

This trip has been the impetus for my decision to treat the 2019 college football season as my extended vacation. Jack is with me on this trip, and it was his idea. Back in the summer, he said he wanted to go to places we hadn’t had the chance to go to yet, at least not during the football season for a game. We’ve been to most of the schools in the SEC when Georgia has played away. But he said there are a few places that hadn’t made that list yet, and for some reason, West Virginia was at the top of that list. Two months later, and here we are.

We left his house yesterday morning a little before 9 and drove almost non-stop to Morgantown, West Virginia. We did stop at the last exit in South Carolina for some lunch (Culver’s!) and a gas fill-up, and I had hoped it would be the only stop we’d have to make. Alas, some terrible drivers (going slow in the fast lane) and lots of uphill driving due to the mountains combined to make us need to fill up about thirty miles south of Morgantown, when the gas light came on. But it was truly an uneventful trip, the kind you hope to have when you go anywhere long distance.

It’s a Gold Rush at the West Virginia game today, which means fans are supposed to wear yellow stuff (instead of blue, which is the other color for the school). Since neither of us really own any yellow stuff, our first stop was the official bookstore at WVU. And we were up against a deadline, since it closed at 6 PM. We got parked (after going up a really steep road next to the bookstore that led to those aforementioned murder houses and turning around at the first opportunity) and entered the bookstore around 5:45 PM. Just in time! Yeah, we found some yellow stuff, but I was wearing a rather nondescript gray cap with a small Georgia G on it, and right after I checked out, a guy behind me leaned over to me and said, “Go Dawgs.” Unexpected, but definitely appreciated.

We were a bit confused about the layout of the school. We had to walk through the Student Center, with lots of open seating and typical college-campus restaurants, gaming areas, and information desks, to get from the parking deck to the bookstore. Across the street from this Student Center were a few cool-looking buildings with a few students outside. It looked a little like a quad, so we walked around these buildings, took some pictures, and then walked beyond, There was a cool view of the Monongahela River, not to mention a few ultra-modern buildings that housed science departments. When I looked up where we were in the GPS, it said “West Virginia University, Downtown Campus.” This seemed like we were not on the main campus. So when we got back to the car (and saw a girl wearing a red Georgia shirt nearby), I said we should look for the main campus. When Jack put it into his GPS, it kept saying that we were there, to turn around, that things were only 700 feet away, etc. So we abandoned that and just followed some people who looked like students.

Yeah, we found our way through a few of those murder-house neighborhoods, constantly going uphill from the Downtown Campus. That campus had truly been “down” town. But we found nothing. Lots of run-down houses that were probably perfect for students looking for cheap housing. So we took a detour to the football stadium and found that the parking lots out front were already full of RVs. Then it was back through more of those winding roads, but this time mostly downhill, toward the hotel for the evening—the Hampton Inn and Suites. On the way, we found the Evansville Campus of WVU, which can’t be more than three miles from the Downtown Campus. Why is there a need for such a distinction? And do these two campuses comprise the West Virginia University? Or are there more campuses in Morgantown?

At any rate, we made it to the hotel, which is nice. And there are several restaurants in the parking lot, so it made our evening plans very simple: walk to the Iron Horse Tavern (the closest eatery) and then come back and enjoy some football on the TV. Jack got to try his first moonshine at the restaurant, and I got some orange-flavored alcoholic concoction. Mine was quite smooth, whereas I almost got drunk just from taking a whiff of his moonshine.

But game day was a completely different experience. First off, we found a place offering free parking and a free stadium shuttle while we were getting lost on Morgantown’s winding roads yesterday. So we decided to leave the hotel around 9 AM to make sure the parking was still available. We needn’t have worried. We had thought it was just a bank parking lot, which was rather small. No, it was a shopping center with loads of parking available. And when we arrived, we found that the walk to the stadium was just over a mile, so we opted to do that instead of wait for the shuttle. The temperature was good—about 70 degrees—and the sky was cloudy. Great walking weather. And it was mostly downhill to the stadium.

The tailgate scene was pretty good. A large parking lot between the stadium and the West Virginia University Hospital was allocated for the RVs and any other large vehicles that stayed over the weekend. We saw lots of fun vehicles, flags, barbecues, and decked-out fans. I managed to get a few free things, including a t-shirt, cup, and window decal, before we found that the “Man Trip” was at 9:45. This is where the players, coaches, band, and cheerleaders walk from some pre-determined spot into the stadium. They walk past a big block of coal (at least, it’s supposed to be coal but is more likely a big rock painted black), and most of the people who pass by it touch it. Of course, the path is lined with fans the entire way. And when the players get into the stadium, they get to the top of the hill just inside the fence and wave across the parking lot to the children in the hospital. Pretty nice gesture.

The stadium didn’t open until 10:30, so we went to the indoor practice facility, which was open for restrooms until the game began. We walked in to find the Hall of Fame induction going on, which didn’t really interest us. So we went back to the stadium gate and awaited our entrance. We were there less than ten minutes. And before the game, we took some time to explore the stadium. Larger than expected. By the time the game started, it was packed. Except the student section, which took a little while to accumulate. Even then, it never fully filled up. This was a point of contention for the fans around us. We were in the end zone, and the student section was on the other end of the stadium, on either side of the opposite end zone.

They do like their band around here, the Pride of West Virginia. They played well and had some good moves on the field when they were there.

The game itself was so much fun. The visitors, NC State, were projected to win by basically every measure. Vegas had them as 7-point favorites, and the FPI gave them around a 75% chance to win. The first quarter was all West Virginia, though, ending with a score of 14-7. By halftime, the game was tied at 21. But the crowd was into it the entire time. Before the game, we overheard people lamenting that their team wasn’t all that good, yet they still showed up, and in force.

Once the game started, the guy on the other side of Jack began chatting with him as if Jack was a die-hard WVU fan. I guess the fact that both of us were wearing WVU gear, and in gold for the Gold Rush (everyone was supposed to wear gold/yellow), would make that impression. But by halftime, we had disabused him of that impression. My UGA hat helped. Turns out, this guy’s name is Nick, and he is from New York. His mom is originally from West Virginia, so they occasionally make the trip to Morgantown. He claimed to be a die-hard WVU fan, and I believe him.

It was supposed to start raining in the first half, but we never saw a drop. In fact, the sun came out just before the second half, and it was brutal (though not nearly as hot as Athens last week). Despite the heat, though, the second half of the game was even more exciting than the first. West Virginia scored ten points before NC State got a pair of field goals. But after that, West Virginia dominated. It had been close for the first half, and at this point, West Virginia was leading only by four. In the fourth quarter, however, WVU scored two more touchdowns and kept NC State off the scoreboard to seal the deal. The final score was 44-27. (For some reason, WVU took a knee—or at least that’s what appeared to happen—on the final PAT.)

There were some fun plays during the second half, though. A turnover, a fake field goal, some big pass plays. It was really cool to watch the fan base never give up on their team (well, they would complain sometimes but never give up) and stay for the whole thing. Nick kept saying that they wouldn’t be in field-goal range until they were inside the 5-yard line. And any time the Mountaineers looked like they had it in hand, there was the fear that they would do the exact opposite and give it to NC State. For instance, the turnover. When WVU was up 37-27, I said that they might be able to put the nail in the coffin if they got the next play. Nick, however, was quick to point out that they still had to make the play, to which I responded that that’s just West Virginia. At that moment, I was conferred official WVU-fanhood by Nick, because I understood and made the comment without hesitation. I felt blessed.

And finally, when the clock struck 0:00, everyone in yellow/gold began singing “Country Roads” along with the lyrics being displayed on the big screens. They played the whole song, and everyone sang along, By the second verse, people were swaying together with their arms on their neighbors’ shoulders. What a moment!

Definitely the best game experience I’ve had all season. Easily. Sorry, UGA fans. Perhaps the quality of the opponent, the heat, and the lack of worry kept us from feeling so electric. But the WVU fans were loud and energized the whole time. This game has set a high bar for the rest of the season.

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19th September 2019
Now let's all sing "Country Roads"

Nice shot
Love college ball.

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