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Why I’m A Fan of the West Virginia Mountaineers: Displaced Redneck Edition

West Virginia University provided all the things I needed in my life: education, friends and most importantly, my wife.

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My Story - Early Life

I was born in Vicksburg, Mississippi in 1982. I lived there for the first ten years of my life. I knew from the moment I could walk I was going to go to the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss). My mom and dad both attended and graduated from Ole Miss. The same was true of my aunt and uncle and my grandfather. I was excited to be the third generation to attend the school.

When I was ten, we moved from Mississippi to Louisiana. Three years of living in enemy territory (LSU and Ole Miss are bitter rivals), I was still sure as sure could be that I was going to attend Ole Miss, but then when I was twelve we moved to West Virginia. I attended middle and high school before graduating in 2000. I was still sure as heck that I was going to Ole Miss.

In 2000, Don Nehlen announced he would retire and the Music City Bowl would be his last game as the Mountaineers head coach. It was against my Ole Miss Rebels. I was excited because Nehlen’s bowl record was abysmal. The Mountaineers jumped out to a 35-9 lead at halftime before Ole Miss conceded and put in freshman Eli Manning. Manning nearly led a comeback but the Mountaineers won, sending Nehlen out a winner in his last game.

I attended WVU Tech my first two years, in part because my mom wanted me close to home and then I met a girl. After my sophomore year at Tech, I transferred to WVU in Morgantown.

Years at WVU

Well the girl and I didn’t work out but I was now stuck in Morgantown. I was living with my best friend in our two bedroom apartment. The football team was coming off a transition year. Rich Rodriguez took over for Don Nehlen and subsequently went 3-8 in his first year. The team started out well, beating Chatanooga, Cincinatti and East Carolina but losing to number 21 Wisconsin and Maryland. They rebounded against Rutgers and Syracuse, winning those two games by a combined score of 74-7.

Number one Miami was coming to town and they were going to slaughter the Mountaineers. I remember asking my roommate, "We should get tickets to the game because its Miami, right?" I remember being in the stands and I kept waiting for Miami to decide they were tired of playing against an inferior team and turn up the talent. Miami never did. Miami won the game 40-23 but it didn’t feel like a 17 point loss. The Mountaineers hung with Miami for 3+ quarters. I was impressed.

During this time I was making friends. Friends who made me laugh, friends who would reply to my sarcastic comments with their own sarcastic comments, friends who stayed up late trying to get that last engineering problem down and friends who hunted, fished and loved the outdoors just like me. By the end of my first year at WVU, I had friends I couldn’t wait to hang out with and a football team that would go 9-4, winning 3-times as many games as the previous year.

The following year in 2003, the game that changed my affiliation for good happened. The team did not start well, going 1-4 in their first 5 games, losing to Maryland and Wisconsin before nearly beating Miami. I remember sitting in an apartment with 10 other friends, cheering on when Quincy Wilson ran over, around and through 5 future NFL players for one of the single greatest plays I have ever witnessed.

Then it happened. The game that cemented that I would always be a Mountaineer fan. WVU vs Virginia Tech, at night, in Morgantown on Wednesday night on ESPN. You couldn’t ask for a better recipe for an upset.

Virginia Tech was number 3 in the nation while West Virginia was 2-4. Everyone kept talking about this game. They kept saying that if we could beat Virginia Tech, maybe the season could turn around. They kept talking about how it had been years since a night game had been played at WVU. They talked about how much they hated Tech. I didn’t get it. I had been to countless Ole Miss games, even while I attended WVU and many were night games. Why was everyone so hung up on this?

As the game progressed, you could feel the energy and electricity in the stadium. You could feel 60,000 people willing this team to pull the upset on national television. You could feel the chants of "Lets go", "Mountaineers" echoing throughout the stadium and into downtown Morgantown. It was the best football atmosphere I have ever attended. Friends I have spoken to compare other big games (LSU - 2011) to that ‘03 Virginia Tech game. It was electric, it was unbelievable and it confirmed that I would always be a Mountaineer.

I woke up the next day after the Virginia Tech game, covered in sweat, pepper spray and new sense of fandom. I was in class the next day and the professor and I spoke about the game. Despite the antics that made it into national news, I was so happy to be able to say I was at THAT game.

My senior year was even more unbelievable. The team finally beat Maryland on a great comeback. 2004 also marked the beginning of the new era of college football. Miami and Virginia Tech bolted from the Big East and Boston College was slated to join the next year. 2004 was the year I met the woman who would eventually become my wife. We thankfully met after football season, because I enjoyed running up and down the stairs, high-fiving all of the students, cheering with pom poms and generally being a college student at a football game. She and I met on Halloween at Bent Wiley’s. We met again a few weeks later and started hanging out. Eventually we started dating and the rest was history.

West Virginia University provided me with the best years of my young adult life, giving me friends who I still talk to, a spouse who has provided me with two young, healthy, beautiful boys and a love of the Mountaineers that replaced a familial desire to attend Ole Miss.

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