There have been a few articles written within the past month regarding both positives and negatives concerning the conduct of Mountaineer Fans. Barry Tramel of the Oklahoman states the Oklahoma fans were very impressed with Mountaineer fans as did Texas fans comment to me personally last year when they came to town. Now I understand there has been an article in a Pittsburgh newspaper stating Pitt does not desire to reschedule us due to our bad fan behavior.
I have been involved with Mountaineer football for many years. I purchased 2 season tickets during my senior year of high school (1967) and hitchhiked the 3 hours from Moorefield to Morgantown. Whoever gave me a ride got a free ticket to the game. I eventually became a very eager member of Don Nehlen’s recruiting club and spent many, many hours annually promoting the Old Gold and Blue. I do recognize a different tone in the fans since we have entered the Big 12, and find it to be an interesting question.
I am not a PHD anthropologist, nor a qualified historian and because of that many people may disregard this article. But as many in West Virginia are aware, within most of us there exists what we call the ‘uneducated intellectual’ of which I profess defines me. We did not go to Harvard or even Pitt, Syracuse, or Boston College but we have common sense.
I proudly graduated from WVU and have read thousands of pages of history, while becoming a successful business person. Many of my friends have asked me to comment on the subject of the mountaineer fan, so I consented to put forth some thoughts concerning the subject.
In attempting to define the mountaineer fan you have to understand the culture from which we come. West Virginia is rural Appalachia, which is rugged mountains which for years was dotted with subsistence farms. We never measured up financially or culturally with our brothers from eastern Virginia.
Nearly all of the southern counties in Appalachia did not vote to leave the union, including those from what is now West Virginia. When we separated in 1863 and formed our own state we were never to be forgiven. Turning north, we have never been accepted by them as we share almost nothing in common. So we have been a little island with no regional identity neither belonging to the south nor the north. This issue has been in the West Virginia physic since our beginning.
How does that reflect on the mountaineer fans? The state of West Virginia has every reason to be extremely proud of their Mountaineers. We have overcome all odds and ended up on top in one of the top two athletic conferences in the country. We earned our right to be here. We have always tried to be part of a major conference. In 1952 we very much wanted to be part of the new Atlantic Coast Conference but we were shut out. Yet over the next 60 years we posted a remarkable record in both football and basketball.
During that time we beat Texas at Texas, Penn State, Pitt, and ruined Syracuse’s undefeated Orange Bowl championship team by beating them in Mountaineer field. We beat teams from every major conference. Since 1950, we have won 65% of our football games and played in every major bowl except the Rose Bowl. All this was accomplished with a very small athletic budget, a state with a population of less than 2 million, no major newspaper, nor league to promote us. We did it all on our own, no one helped us.
It became apparent in the early 1960’s that we needed to be in all sports league with football being the lead. Penn State understood the situation and we worked together for years to create the league. However, Syracuse athletic director Jake Croathemel and Dave Gavit wanted a basketball driven league and along with Pitt they created the Big East and the rest is history.
We knew this business model would not last and in fact it did not last. However, once again we were left out and forced to go it alone. As everyone, knows Big East football came into being and we finally were admitted to the Big East as a full member as a last resort. However, fans are human and we respond in kind as we have been treated.
I cannot condone nor accept how our fans have reacted from time to time, but I must say we have not gotten much respect from fellow league members. The only such case that I will refer to is the 1992 Syracuse / West Virginia football game at Mountaineer Field. It was the worst case of sportsmanship and officiating I have ever witnessed and naturally we were punished. Syracuse got off scott free.
It was documented on film that Syracuse players and coaches initiated an altercation at the Syracuse bench. The now head coach of the Buffalo Bills held a WVU player while Syracuse players beat on him. The league front office never mentioned the situation nor offered a reprimand for Syracuse. West Virginia loves their Mountaineers and they rise to the occasion to support their team. Over the years there has been cause for valid frustration and the opposing teams have taken the brunt of that frustration.
Concerning the Big 12, the members of the league come from totally different and separate points of view. In settling the Great Plains once you crossed the Mississippi, you left your heritage behind. You were accepted according to your value of the day. It did not matter about your birth right or what college you graduated from.
Here lies the match between WVU and the Big 12. We have been accepted as we are, with no preconceived opinions. Just as Teddy Roosevelt had to establish himself when he went west, he had to start with a clean slate and earn the right. We been have given the same opportunity and WVU fans are responding in like manner.
We have great fans, and whatever Oklahoma and Texas get from us it’s because the way we have been treated. The same applied to Pitt and most of our previous opponents, as they were treated the same way they treated us.
In closing, I would not play any of our former rivals. We are on top, we do not need them. We should not attempt to pump up any of these dying football programs. I would say, “Go west young man, go west. That’s the future, and do not look back.”
Written by Don Pownell, WVU Alum and lifelong Mountaineer fan.