My father died on July 1st.
This will be the first season of Mountaineer football since the birth of my fandom in 1980, as a 10-year old, where my father, and his love for the state, the University, and the team, won't be a speaking part in the narrative of the Fall. It is a hard concept for me to fathom. Those of you who were close to your father and have lost him know of what I am writing. There are no words.
He was so disappointed in last season. 4-8 had him calling for Holgorsen's head. The loss at Kansas had him spitting expletives and saying things like "the worst loss we've had since before Nehlen." I had to remind him how we felt after losing to Temple in Rich Rodriguez's first year. I remember him saying..."well, maybe you are right...maybe these are the ashes from which a Phoenix will rise."
Mountaineers versus Crimson Tide on Saturday. I can only think of how excited my father was when this game was scheduled, and he didn't live to see it. He didn't live to experience the joy or sorrow of the outcome and all I can think about is how passionately I have cared for WVU athletics for almost all of my life because of him; how, as a youth, I sobbed at important losses and how he smirked and chuckled at my emotion. Now it is all put into perspective for me. The tears I shed then seem silly when I think of how nice it would be just to go the game with my Dad, have beers in an asphalt parking lot, watch the band in pregame, cheer the scores, and cheer harder for the defense to get some stops as we hope for a positive ending.
The game isn't life and death. It just feels that way when real death hasn't intervened.
So I say to our legions of fans, enjoy it regardless. The day will be marked in our history by the result. We are playing one of the great teams in the rather short history of collegiate football and, regardless of the result, we are here to see it. We are here to be elated, or crushed, by it. We are here to discuss the what-ifs of play-calling and officiating, to bemoan a rout, to torture ourselves over a narrow loss, to explode in raucous celebration a defining victory.
I think of my Dad, wearing the same old gold and blue Rugby shirt he loved and I say to each of you:
"Let's Go Mountaineers!"