Almost Heaven, West Virginia

This year’s football trip brought me to the home of the Mountaineers. But first, we made a stop in Pittsburgh as my brother (Eric) wanted to see an MLB game. I’ll never say no to seeing PNC Park, even in spite of the Pirates being terrible. The journey into the Steel City was fine and a little construction brought me down Route 28 from I-80 as I saw some small towns I wouldn’t normally pass by. We stayed in a hotel within walking distance of the ballpark and I quickly realized that the Tennessee Volunteers were in town. They were playing Pitt at nearby Acrisure Stadium (Heinz Field) the next day. The sea of orange certainly travel well and there had to be a thousand of them that took in the Pirates game too, leading to a weird dynamic in the ballpark (including a few chants). Vols fans, Cardinals fans and Pirates fans saw Pittsburgh grab an 8-2 victory over St Louis on a gorgeous night in the ballpark. This was my second time at PNC Park and the accolades are all warranted. It is a stunning place that I absolutely love.

The next morning, I took advantage of the weather and hotel location to walk along the River while Eric rested his bum ankle. Hard to think of a city that has more photogenic scenery than Pittsburgh. We then said goodbye to Rocky Top after breakfast and made our way to Morgantown. It’s only an hour and a half drive and given that we were in the Mountain State, we had to check out something representative. Not too far from town is Coopers Rock, which provided a spectacular overlook. John Denver’s lyrics were in our head as we hopped back in the car to Morgantown. Feelings waned a little bit as we drove on those terrible city roads, which are tight, littered with potholes and constantly up, down and around hills. We settled downtown and saw the small history museum, walked down High Street and ate a big, satisfying lunch at Iron Horse Tavern.

Given the traffic / driving and overall poor parking situation, we decided on an alternate way to get to the stadium, the Personal Rapid Transit system. Known as the PRT, this cool little automated people mover was the first in the U.S. when it opened in 1975 and it features 69 electronically powered vehicles that connect campus with downtown. Each pod has eight seats and more room for people standing. It’s an 11 minute ride from end to end and the closest station to the stadium is at the Health and Sciences Center, a 10 minute walk to the stadium. The ride up was tame, the ride back….well, we’ll get to that fun in a bit.

We got there pretty early for this 6 PM game so that we could take in the sights and sounds, starting with the huge tailgate scene in the Blue Lot. There was a lot of beer, food and smells in the air. I also saw the most vulgarity on t-shirts in one place that I’ve ever seen (F-bombs were popular and so was “Eat Sh** Pitt”). Still, it was a generally good vibe from start to finish as I didn’t see any problems, fights or stupidity. The few Kansas fans that were around were all treated well and West Virginia has become known throughout the Big XII as a welcoming place for visiting fans. It’s too bad they are in the wrong conference as they should be in the ACC with Pitt, Maryland, Virginia Tech, Virginia and Syracuse. Before heading into the stadium, we went into the Hall of Traditions to see a nice space of Mountaineer Memorabilia.

Milan Puskar Stadium is a simple stadium on the sides with two decks of bleacher seating. Upscale sections are located at each end with a lot of space between the endzone and the start of seats. The fans decked out in their gold shirts made the stadium pop. It’s a great experience as the marching band kick things off with an entertaining pregame show, highlighted by the formation of the state outline. I heard a little bit of Country Roads during it, but the fans didn’t take over and since the Mountaineers lost, I didn’t hear it after the game either, which is kinda disappointing. Fans made decent noise and the “Let’s Go….Mountaineers” at the beginning is a great tradition. The game wasn’t sold out, but most seats were taken as this is a passionate fan base. However, I was disappointed by how many left at halftime and during the 4th quarter of a close game. With 10 minutes left, anybody that was within touching distance of us, were gone. Yeah, it started raining and yeah, they were playing Kansas, but still. You only have 6-7 home games per season and nothing should be taken for granted after the last couple years. Watch the whole thing! Those that left missed quite a finish. After West Virginia moved the ball with ease at the start and jumped out to a 14-point lead, they couldn’t stop Kansas on the other side. With fans understandably restless and calling for the coach to be fired, WV was down 11 late in the game to the perennial doormats. However, the Mountaineers made the comeback and we would go to OT tied at 42. Kansas scored first, thanks to a stupid roughing the passer on 3rd and 5. On the ensuing possession, West Virginia threw a Pick 6 and it was a disappointing ending for a program that has fallen quite far from where they were 10-15 years ago.

The walk back featured a disappointed group, but it certainly wasn’t solemn. The students were still jovial (and generally inebriated) as we lined up to take the PRT back downtown. Amazingly, this thing stops running an hour after the end of the game and given the long line, I was both shocked and panicked to hear that the station would close in 5 minutes (and there were still plenty of people waiting). Not wanting to make a 2 mile walk and knowing that an Uber would be impossible given the traffic, I feared not getting on, while angrily thinking how could they close this? Well thankfully, we made it in to a car as 15 of us crammed in for a rather joyous ride with chants of “Wal-Nut, Wal-Nut” (the station we were going to) ringing. Most onboard were half my age and it was a lot of fun to feel like I was back in college. West Virginia: I’m looking forward to coming back for some basketball in the near-future.

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