Saturday started for me with a doughnut, a glass of Gatorade and a dose of College Football Gameday on ESPN. The first WVU reference on the show left me hanging my head and looking for a place to hide. During the introductory theme music for the show a clip of West Virginia popped on the screen. My eyes lit up with excitement but that quickly faded when I realized the clip was one of Rasheed Marshall being punished by a Wisconsin linebacker in last season's opener. When I finally convinced myself that it was not an omen of things to come, I filed the clip in my ESPN Strikes Again file and went on watching show with a great deal of conviction.
But to my utter amazement, my attitude quickly changed. Every mention of West Virginia on the show was a positive one. The crew talked about West Virginia's talent, stayed away from the normal ‘cupcake schedule' comments and Trev Alberts even went as far as to say that people should stop talking about the schedule because the Mountaineers are for real. With a smile on my face I got up off the couch and headed to the stadium.
Thanks to a creative setup I was able to watch West Virginia's next opponent, UCF, take on Wisconsin. Long-time Mountaineer tailgater Scott Sanders of Williamsburg, Va., along with his brother-in-law James Burke of Lewisburg, WVa., found a way to put his WVU engineering degree to work and rig up a satellite dish to his pickup truck so the members of his tailgating crew could watch the games from around the country while they tailgate. Not being able to watch the other games while tailgating had always been my only criticism of a good tailgate, so I was pleased to find out that I now had the opportunity to do both. I also was given one of the best prime rib sandwiches that I have ever inhaled with the only stipulation being that I mention the setup in this write-up, so the rest of you will have to forgive me for this tailgating advertisement.
But this story does have some relevance. Watching the game was a great way to find out a little more about one of our future opponents, and I have to admit my nerves were calmed somewhat by watching the action. The matchup with the Golden Knights has had me concerned through most of the summer, but after watching the game I am not quite as worried. Although George O'Leary's squad has athletic receivers, a remarkable tight end and a strong secondary, the offensive and defensive lines have more holes than a used target at a shooting range. Their quarterback made some mistakes as well, and I am now confident that the Mountaineers will leave next weekend 2-0.
After my scouting and feasting adventure was over, I walked toward the stadium to see the Mountaineers. The new addition to the stadium again caught my eye, as it had all weekend long. I am usually not big on change, but the new suites are a great addition. The outside of the addition, with the flying WVs on each tower make the stadium look a little less dull and the large logos leave no doubt is to who is playing inside the walls. I did not think it was possible, but Mountaineer Field is now an even better place to watch a game.
Once inside the stadium, the new sound system was my first observation. I could actually clearly understand what was being said, and the music no longer sounded like it was being played on a backyard karaoke machine. With the video board and the new sound system, West Virginia's audio/video presentation is now as good as any I have seen.
Then, as I scanned around the crowd, it was a wonderful feeling seeing all of the gold and blue in the stands. Attendance was certainly a disappointment in 2003, and it was great to see a packed house for a season opener against a team that won just one game a year ago. Attendance impresses recruits, opposing teams and television audiences and there is nothing better than seeing every section filled to the brim. Let's just hope crowds of that size continue to pile in if Rodriguez's troops drop a game somewhere along the way.
My next look around was on the sidelines where many WVU football alumni had gathered. Having guys like Lance Nimmo, Tory Johnson, Grant Wiley and Undra Johnson on the sidelines may not be quite as impressive as when Ray Lewis and "The Rock" fill the out of bounds section of the Orange Bowl, but the fact that those players want to be there says a great deal about the Mountaineer program. The loyalty that former West Virginia athletes have to the program is amazing and it should tell the rest of the country a great deal about what Mountaineer football means.
I promised not to discuss the action on the field any further, so I will fast forward to the game's conclusion. I have loved the new tradition of singing "Take Me Home, Country Roads" since its inception, and it only continues to get better. With every game it seems as though more and more fans are staying in the stands to sing along. It is a great show of loyalty between the team and the state, and the new supplement to the festivities takes that loyalty to another level. Having a national celebrity like Brad Paisley, one of country music's top stars and a West Virginia native, lead the fans in the familiar song is another way of showing the once a Mountaineer, always a Mountaineer attitude.
College football is finally here, and it was a great opening week. If the trend continues, it will certainly be a memorable year for Mountaineer fans everywhere.