When I arrived in Morgantown late Saturday afternoon, I was expecting a mostly friendly but somewhat wary reception with a few really annoying idiots scattered about and a fairly close win. Instead, I received a remarkably warm welcome from virtually everyone I met with absolutely zero complete idiots and, of course, a huge statement win.
Ed. Note: It's late Sunday night and I just got home. I'm writing this now while most things are still fresh in my mind, but it's worth noting I'm running a little low on sleep and may delve deeply into rambling territory as we go on. You've been warned.
Any questions I might have had about the seriousness of the WVU tailgating scene were erased as soon as I encountered the line of cars waiting to exit off Interstate 79 North more than three hours before the game. It's worth noting that from the interstate it's about 2 miles to the WVU Coliseum, where traffic got really backed up, and then another 1.5 to 2 miles from there to the stadium.
As a fairly low-income young person used to walking long distances quickly, the free parking at the Coliseum was a no-brainer, and there was also a $4 shuttle service that started two and a half hours before gametime.. On the walk to the stadium the West Virginia fans who elected to talk to me were all quite nice, with the possible exception of the guy who might have been trying to mock me by saying "hey...KC fan." I don't really know.
Mostly, though, I just drew apathetic or curious looks from the vast crowds of tailgaters who were all quite happy to direct me how to reach my destination whenever I stopped to ask for directions concerning the quickest route. I saw some impressive rows of RVs later, but really, nothing stood out to me until I got to Law School hill and its quaint, daunting wooden staircase, which leads up to the Smoking Musket's tailgate spot and overlooks the stadium from the west.
Ever since I'd learned couch-burning is a felony and only occurs after WV wins, my top tailgating priority had been to sample some quality West Virginia moonshine. This proved to be as easy as getting open against a Mountaineers defensive back.
Not even 10 steps up the aforementioned, surprisingly stable staircase, a West Virginia fan stopped me and called me by name as he was on his way down. It turned out to be The Smoking Musket's Country Roads, who was more than happy to share some of his excellent apple pie moonshine before vanishing, never to be seen by me again.
I'll readily admit to being a little nervous as the only purple-clad fan climbing these steps amongst all the blue and gold, but much like my faith in Bob Huggins, that proved to be unfounded. Any and all insults were kindhearted in nature and said with a smile, while an astonishing number of strangers all day long merely said things like "Welcome to Morgantown" or "Enjoy the game" as if they had taken the same etiquette classes Bill Snyder Stadium ushers.
When I finally got to the tailgate, BOTC commenter CT KStater was already there, beer was readily available, and the Texas Tech-TCU game was on a flatscreen television. Good times ensued, excellent food was served, and I even got to cross a critical item off the Morgantown bucket list when the kind couple at the neighboring tailgate offered us some of their homemade pepperoni rolls. Fantastic.
If you ever get to Morgantown, absolutely make sure you contact the good folks at The Smoking Musket (WVUIE97 and 5th Year Senior will definitely make you feel welcome) for all your tailgating needs, and please show them the same excellent hospitality if any of them ever make it to Manhattan. It seemed to be a mostly intelligent and 100% friendly group of people, even the walking stereotype who joked he wouldn't eat the "Mexican cornbread" without "seeing its papers" and then looked up at me, hesitated, and asked I was Mexican. Or Nicaraguan.
Finally, before heading into the stadium (30-45 minutes before kickoff seemed to be a good recommendation) we had some real, homemade moonshine that tasted absolutely terrible but, as one of our hosts said, probably helped grow a few hairs on our chests. And that was the last thing I remember before waking up in a log cabin deep in the mountains.....
They serve beer inside the gates, but I didn't need any after being persuaded to take a jello shot at the tailgate and then stopped by a random group of WVU fans who offered up their peach moonshine out of a pouch just outside the ticket line. Then some other WVU fans wanted a picture of ‘enemy' fans interacting, and another guy wanted a picture of that picture, and another.....sorry, I'm embellishing here.
Nothing about the pregame show struck me as particularly special, though the band getting into a shape resembling the state was mildly interesting. I'm sure the shows both before the game and at halftime would have been better if I wasn't back behind the endzone in the KSU section, where we had a poor angle on the formations and no view of the halftime fireworks.
I had a surprising number of WVU fans around me, but considering what happened on the field, I'm pretty sure even the most brash of Mountaineers fans weren't doing any gloating or mocking. Other than the kick return that came straight at us and could be seen from a mile away, the only thing that went wrong for KSU was getting the big flag runs through the endzone wrong.....twice. Once it was KSATTE and another time it was KSTAT.
I really can't blame any of the WVU fans for leaving early and the only time I heard significant booing was when Holgo made the (in my mind) inexplicable decision to punt on 4th and 4 from the 50 with the score 17-0. I know the offense struggled, too, and I'm not saying this would have made a significant difference, but by that time, it was painfully obvious to anyone paying attention that defense could not be trusted.
A pretty serious fight that broke out in the third quarter and resulted in an old man being escorted out about five sections over and a fourth quarter appearance by Weird Robert were the highlights of the night as far as crowd interaction goes. Clearly, I can't make an accurate guess as to what a tense, big-game atmosphere would feel like at Mountaineer Field, but the noise level and intensity was pretty high for a very small number of plays in the first quarter, I guess.
The impressive thing about many of the West Virginia fans during and after the game was their willingness to give us genuine complements about K-State or to reach into the deep well of content offered by the team and employ some solid self-deprecating humor. My two favorite postgame reactions were the local television producer who went out of his way to let us know most of the WVU presser was spent praising Collin Klein, and the guys in the van who passed us twice on our walk back to the Coliseum and yelled something to the effect of "Can you give us directions to Touchdown City? We can't find it."
If you park at the Coliseum, you have to go inside and check out the facility, which I had time to do afterwards. As far as a place to go for drinks or food, still more excessively friendly gold folks directed me to Kegler's, which seemed to be a cool hangout, though looking back I may have made a big mistake by not getting the wings.
I sort of feel like this whole report should come with a disclaimer, because it seems highly unlikely such a one-sided affair will happen again and most WVU fans probably still have a desire for this year to make a positive impression on their new conference mates. Honestly, in terms of hospitality and providing an easy but (for now) quality win, it seems to me the good people of Morgantown set the bar way, way too high.
Oh, and for the record, I did not see a single person resembling any of the characters in the notorious K-State Mask video. I did hear some, let's say... bemused references to the Mask, but no one that seemed to be legitimately offended.