When talking about the West Virginia Mountaineers, school spirit and state pride are one and the same. Most universities strive to reach this level, but in Morgantown, it comes naturally to fans. For further proof, consider that “Take Me Home, Country Roads” serves as both the official song of the Mountain State and the soundtrack for thrilling victories on the gridiron.
Folks in Morgantown love John Denver and his catchy tune about the Blue Ridge Mountains and the Shenandoah River, but the celebrated singer/songwriter will always rank second in the hearts of Mountaineer supporters. Since debuting in 1891, football has dominated nearly every facet of life in West Virginia. The phrase “Let’s Go Mountaineers” is said as often as “Good morning” or “Gee, how about this weather?” That kind of devotion may seem strange to people from other parts of the country, but for true West Virginians, cheering on the Gold and Blue is as normal as apple pie or drinking a beer or two on a hot summer’s day.
It’s important to champion the commitment of WVU fans, because for many years, on-field accomplishments were pretty lacking. From 1922 to ‘69, the Mountaineers registered a total of six bowl appearances. However, there were some shining moments. In ‘53, All-American Sam Huff powered West Virginia to a record of 8-2 and a date at the Sugar Bowl. Huff would go on to enjoy a successful career in the NFL and is part of the elite company of athletes who have been elected to both the College and Pro Football Hall of Fame.
Before he turned Florida State into a dynasty, Hall of Fame coach Bobby Bowden patrolled the sidelines in Morgantown. Over the course of six seasons, Bowden would orchestrate five winning campaigns, two appearances on the Peach Bowl stage, and one classic triumph over the dreaded Pitt Panthers. If Bowden set the bar for excellence, then Don Nehlen is the one who cleared it. Nehlen served as field general from 1980 to 2000, guiding WVU to 13 bowl showings in that time.
All the years of climbing the proverbial mountain of success finally paid off in ‘06, when West Virginia downed Georgia at the Sugar Bowl for the program’s first victory in a BCS bout. Subsequent wins at the Fiesta Bowl in ‘07 and Orange Bowl in ‘11 have resulted in fans across the country recognizing that the Mountaineers are truly elite.
On Saturdays, more than 60,000 diehards pack into Milan Puskar Stadium to cheer on the Gold and Blue. Many of those in attendance spend all day gearing up for the gridiron battle. Prior to kickoff, they take part in the Mountaineer Mantrip, the football family’s traditional march to the coliseum. In addition to tailgating and reliving past triumphs, WVU supporters also find time to warm up their vocal chords. Not only will they be hollering words of encouragement for 60 minutes, but they want to make sure their pitch is perfect when the time comes to sing “Country Roads.”