I got thinking recently about WVU football (now that basketball season is over), and decided to make a few lists to share with my friends. Here is my list of the dozen best WVU games I’ve ever seen. Not all of them were viewed in person, but all of them have special meaning to me.
1. Orange Bowl 2012 – This was part of a “bucket list” trip for me, as we drove all the way to Key West before coming back to Miami for the game. It was great to see so many things “go right” for my team. While there were many highlights, I was pleased to see Willie Millhouse get a touchdown. He was a walk-on who transferred from Duquesne for his senior season because he felt he could play football at a top level school.
2. Syracuse 1988 – This was the last game of the ’88 season, and Syracuse was having a good year as well. By winning the game, WVU had completed its first undefeated season. The players had already headed to the locker room, but the crowd was still cheering. So Coach Nehlen brought the team back out to take a “victory lap” around the walls of the stadium. It was a magical night!
3. Penn State 1988 – After enduring a loss each season to Penn State since 1955, it was cathartic to finally beat the Nittany Lions in 1984. But this overwhelming victory a few years later included an all-time classic that is referred to simply as “the play,” when Major Harris eluded about half a dozen PSU tacklers on his way to the end zone. Best of all, it was broadcast on national TV, and proved that WVU had a powerful team that year.
4. Oklahoma 1982 – This was an away game, so I didn’t see it in person. However, WVU fans were glued to their radios to hear Jack and Woody call this big game. After defeating the Florida Gators in the Peach Bowl at the end of the previous season, everyone had high hopes for this opener, even if it was against perennial powerhouse Oklahoma (and on their home turf). I was a student then, and walked from my apartment to law school by going by the Facilities Building at the end of the stadium. One day prior to the Oklahoma game, I just happened to cross paths with Coach Nehlen. I got to speak briefly with him, wishing him luck against the Sooners. I spent that Saturday afternoon washing and waxing my 1975 Datsun B-210 hatchback, while I listened to the game. It was so incredible that we knocked off the Sooners!
5. 2000 Music City Bowl – WVU was invited to play nearby Ol’ Miss in Nashville. Coach Nehlen had already announced his retirement, so we were all hoping he could get a victory in his final game. I’ll never forget our big fullback Wes Ours rambling for a long touchdown in the first half. We had a big lead at halftime, and had held their star running back Deuce McCallister in check, but later in the second half, the Rebels put a freshman quarterback into the game who displayed a lot of talent got them back in the game. WVU ended up winning the game, but their quarterback went on to become an NFL star. His name was Eli Manning (his dad Archie had also gone to Ol’ Miss). One thing I remember about this game is how WVU fans were so prevalent at the parade the night before, but the Rebel fans rolled in on gameday, outnumbering us. I also remember freezing at the game! After the game, we walked across the river and went to a Nashville Predators hockey game. It was a fun trip!
6. Pitt 1975 – I’ve written before about where I was during this classic Mountaineer game (see http://inquisineer.blogspot.com/2011/09/my-return-to-rowing.html). Although I wasn’t inside the stadium, we could hear the roar of the crowd. It was great to beat the Pitt Panthers and their star running back Tony Dorsett (regardless of how he pronounced his name at that time).
7. Gator Bowl 2007 – After going to Jacksonville and previously seeing us get beat by Maryland and Florida State, it was fantastic to finally see a victory. It was a close and exciting game with Georgia Tech, which made the win that much better. The best part was stopping in Savannah on the way home, and having more than one native make a comment (when seeing our WVU gear) that it seems we always win (after beating the Georgia Bulldogs the previous year). [By the way, we had not attended that Sugar Bowl game in Atlanta because we were on a cruise ship—which also had a lot of Georgia Bulldog fans. Unfortunately, the game was not televised on the ship, so we were all relegated to reading the scores that scroll through on the bottom of ESPN. I was elated that we won, but it was exasperating to “watch” a game through the score crawler!]
8. Meineke Bowl 2008 – In a packed stadium, WVU and the North Carolina Tarheels put on a close game, but Pat White and company came out on top in his final game as a Mountaineer. There were enough folks from West Virginia to keep this from being a “home game” for UNC. I’ve written a previous blog posting about this game at http://inquisineer.blogspot.com/2011/03/charming-charlotte.html. One of the best parts of this day was that it was a double victory—the basketball upset Ohio State on television that night.
9. Peach Bowl 1969 – The Mountaineers defeated South Carolina on a rainy night in Georgia. What makes this game so memorable to me was that it was the first time I ever got to see the Mountaineers. The game was televised, and I seem to remember watching it at my grandmother’s house. I had often listened to the Mountaineers on the radio, but this was my first time to see them on TV. In the coming seasons, I would get my chance to see them play in person at Old Mountaineer Field.
10. USF 2008 – This was the final regular season game of the year, and was Pat White’s final game at Mountaineer Field. Although the visiting team normally wears white, USF had graciously agreed to allow WVU to wear their white jerseys as a tribute to White. The game was designated as a “Whiteout” with fans encouraged to wear white (instead of the normal school colors) to honor Pat White for his outstanding career. Unfortunately, the weather was terribly cold and snowing that night. The ground crew actually swept a large number 5 from the snow on the field as their tribute to him. Luckily, we had prepared for the game by making a run to Gabriel’s to buy cheap and super large white t-shirts to wear over our winter coats. It was great to win the game, but it was even better to get back home and thaw out.
11. Fiesta Bowl 2008 – I didn’t attend this game in person, but watched on TV as the Mountaineers upset the heavily favored Oklahoma Sooners. No one thought we could do it, but we did it. Hopefully, this won’t be the last time we defeat the Sooners, now that we are in their conference. One of my favorite memories from this game was Owen Schmitt running for one of his touchdowns in his last game. He was a very special Mountaineer!
12. The Flutie Games – I’m bending the rules by counting these four games as one, because we beat Boston College star quarterback Doug Flutie each year. His years coincided with my years as a student at WVU. In 1981, he was not a starter, and didn’t factor into the game (I think he did get some plays at the end of the game, which was not televised from Boston, so I listened to Jack and Woody). By his sophomore year, he was already getting some national attention as this short QB with a rifle arm, but we beat him at Mountaineer Field. The next year, he was getting even more attention, and ABC televised the game from Boston (we watched at a sports bar in the Cheat Lake area). I remember them interviewing the House Majority Leader Tip O’Neill, who was in attendance to see another BC win behind the leadership of Doug Flutie. However, WVU pulled the upset that day. Finally, in the 1984 season (when he went on to win the Heisman Trophy), he came to Morgantown expecting to win but lost a hard-fought game. I was there in person, but also listening to the local coverage of the game, and can still recall how excited Jack Fleming was during the numerous sacks we got—“They got Flutie! They got Flutie!” Doug Flutie still admits that he has one regret in his career—that he never beat West Virginia (http://espn.go.com/boston/ncf/story/_/page/heisman-boston-week9/doug-flutie-wants-crack-west-virginia).