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The History of the John Denver Bowl: West Virginia vs Texas Tech and Country Roads

If you don’t know, now you do.

John Denver Trophy

If you didn’t know, the battle between the two furthest teams in the Big 12, separated by 1,466 miles of road, a 23 hour road trip or a 7-hour plane ride, involves a fictitious trophy known as the John Denver Trophy.

John Denver Trophy

This trophy, introduced back in 2016, is a creation of the Smoking Musket, but its something both sites (Smoking Musket and Viva La Matadors) takes very seriously!

Henry Deutschendorf Jr., also known by his stage name, “John Denver”, became arguably the most successful musician in the country by the mid 1970’s. He sang folk country songs about all the states he had been to and/or loved so much, which just so happen to be Big 12 country today.

Henry was born in Roswell, New Mexico in 1943, the son of an Air Force officer and his “Oklahoma Sweetheart”. Due to his dad’s job, Henry moved often as a child – Arizona, Alabama, and Texas – and struggled to make friends. The second young man, Kent, was born in 1942 in Dimmitt, Texas.

Henry and Kent both attended Texas Tech in the early 1960’s. As Kent tells it today, the two lived in the same dormitory (I can’t remember if it was Gordon or Bledsoe) and both became members of the Delta Tau Delta fraternity. Kent was focused on his grades, earning top marks before his acceptance into law school at the University of Texas. Henry was more interested in music and impressing young ladies on campus.

“I told that boy to throw that guitar away,” you might hear Kent say today. As a pledge, Henry would play music and sing for Delta Tau Delta members and their dates, as he slowly earned a following on campus in Lubbock.

Ultimately Kent’s concerns about Henry came to fruition. Henry didn’t have the grades to continue on at Texas Tech. Luckily for Henry, he didn’t take Kent’s advice to throw his guitar away. He kept playing and kept making music.

“Almost heaven, West Virginia…”, “Gold was just a windy Kansas wheat field”, “From Colorado, West Texas bound… West Texas cowboys all over town”, “I am the son of a grassland farmer, Western Oklahoma 1943” are just a few. “Take Me Home, Country Roads” was adopted by West Virginia University as the school’s battle cry. 60,000 Mountaineer fans sing it in unison after every home victory. More on that song in a bit…

John attended Texas Tech but became an honorary West Virginia Mountaineer when his song, “Take Me Home, Country Roads” was adopted by the Mountaineer faithful. Denver even christened Mountaineer Field back in 1980 when the new field was first introduced.

As far as the “rivalry” goes, the two teams first played all the way back in 1938 in the Sun Bowl, a game that West Virginia won 7-6.

A fumble by the Red Raiders on their own five yard line was recovered by the Mountaineers at the three. But West Virginia was stopped three times as fourth down approached. However, David Issac picked up his own fumbled while avoiding three tackles and dashed into the end zone, giving them a 7-0 lead. Before the half ended, Tech went on a drive. Led by quarterback Ed Smith, the Red Raiders drove 80 yards, culminating on a Charlie Calhoun one-yard rush for a touchdown. But the extra point was blocked, leaving the game at 7-6. As it turned out, Emmett Moan’s extra point kick for West Virginia proved to be the winning margin. A 92 yard touchdown run by Harry Clarke (who ran for 132 yards) was called back for holding, which would’ve given them the lead. Texas Tech had more yards, completed passes and first downs than the Mountaineers, but their two turnovers cost them dearly.

The two teams renewed the rivalry in 2012 when the Mountaineers joined the Big 12 and traveled to Lubbock, Texas at 5-0 and riding high. Current Mountaineer head coach Neal Brown served as the Red Raiders offensive coordinator that year and helped engineer a 49-14 upset of the Mountaineers.

The following year in 2013, the Red Raiders gained their second victory in the series with a 37-27 win in Morgantown. What followed was the Red Raiders having one of the greatest current NFL quarterbacks in Patrick Mahomes under center but the Mountaineers reeled off five straight wins from 2014-2018. Part of that stemmed from new defensive coordinator Tony Gibson and his installation of the 3-3-5.

That unique defense stifled Mahomes, especially in 2015 when it held Mahomes to less than 200 yards, a year in which he averaged over 350 yards per game. That five game winning streak came to an end in 2019 when Texas Tech began its own three-game winning streak over their former offensive coordinator.

The Texas Tech Red Raiders currently own the John Denver Trophy and bragging rights over the Mountaineers heading into Saturday’s game. Will the Mountaineers be able to bring the trophy back to Morgantown or will it remain in the clutches of the Red Raiders?