For every West Virginia fan, there’s that feeling of walking up to Mountaineer Field at Milan Puskar that just feels right. The crowd, the fall weather, the grumblings of yet another noon game. All of this is part of the magic of attending a home game in Morgantown. Some fans go once a season, several times a season, but very few fans never miss a game.
That is, until fans aren’t allowed in the stadium due to COVID-19.
Meet Joe Staffileno. Joe is a native of Wellsburg, West Virginia currently living in Michigan. Joe hasn’t missed a West Virginia home football game since 1987 . . . until the September 12 season opener against Eastern Kentucky.
Take a second and think about that. Every game from 1987 through the 2019 season. There’s been a lot of ups and downs on Mountaineer Field that Staffileno witnessed. Saturday’s matchup against the Colonels will truly be a new experience for the West Virginian, as it will for many fans across West Virginia and the country.
Staffileno’s memories of West Virginia football start in 1966 in Wellsburg where a weekly father-son tradition of working on the car in the driveway was carried by the soundtrack of Mountaineer football. Staffileno’s love of West Virginia football started right there at home, with his dad.
The Mountaineer enrolled at West Virginia in 1975, with some of his first official football memories as a student happening that fall. Joe was on the field his freshman year immediately following Bill McKenzie’s game-winning field goal upsetting Pitt. Staffileno went on to graduate from the university in 1979, staying for his MBA through 1981.
Following his MBA, the Mountaineer left his home state for Oklahoma, and later the state of Texas. During his time thousands of miles away, Joe made sure to make a yearly fall trip back to West Virginia, bookended by two home football games in Morgantown. No matter the distance, Joe found that country roads really do lead home.
His career continued to advance and finally settled in Michigan, roughly 400 miles to Morgantown. That’s where his longstanding streak of attending home games (and spring games) started. The Mountaineer has attended every home game since 1987, and every spring game except for three where he was watching his wife run The Boston Marathon.
Speaking of family, Joe married his wife, Bridget, at Woodburn Hall January 12, 2015 at 12:01am, sharing his love of West Virginia with his bride from the start of their marriage. For Bridget, Joe’s love of West Virginia was always “his thing,” much like marathons were hers. The couple happily supports one another’s passions, with Bridget attending games with Joe and Joe being her cheerleader as she runs her marathons.
Staffileno has two children that have carried on his love of West Virginia. Both born and raised in Michigan, Steven and Taylor, also got their undergraduate and graduate degrees. Steven now lives in Morgantown, adding another reason for his dad to come to Morgantown.
Saturday’s game will be his first home game missed since the late 80s. Think of the history seen on Mountaineer Field in 30+ years. Think of the history still to come and the moments that will be made during this 2020 football season that almost didn’t happen.
West Virginia football is so much more than the sixty minutes on the football field, it’s more than the tailgates, the pepperoni rolls, Simple Gifts and Country Roads. It’s all of those things combined with family, friends and loved ones. The memories that Mountaineers, like Joe, from West Virginia and across the nation make are incomparable and irreplaceable. Saturday’s home opener will be one that Mountaineer nation surely never forgets, likely because that 60,000-person gaping hole in the stands as we watch this one on television.
Despite not being in the stands Saturday at noon, tearing up at Simple Gifts (because we ALL do), there is hope of more fall Saturdays in Morgantown in October and November. There is hope of more pepperoni rolls, tailgates and rounds of Country Roads. All of that hope comes from Mountaineer nation’s love of their team, love of their state and love of one another.