By Bob Hertzel
Times West Virginian
It started in 1910, or thereabouts, this American football custom known as homecoming that will be celebrated here this weekend around West Virginia University’s football meeting with unbeaten Texas Tech.
Its birth is debated, although alumni have been invited to return home for “The Game” between Harvard and Yale since the 1870s, with Missouri, Illinois and Baylor laying claim to the first homecoming celebration.
It would seem best to honor Missouri’s claim to the first real homecoming, considering that is recognized as such by experts Jeopardy and Trivial Pursuit, to say nothing of the NCAA. But wherever its roots lie, it has spread across the land to become a part of what college football is all about.
It comes complete with a Homecoming parade, Morgantown’s being conducted at 6:30 p.m. Friday on High Street with no less a grand marshal than one-time WVU linebacker Darryl Talley, who went on from being the all-time leading tackler among Mountaineers to one of the greatest linebackers to play in the National Football League with the Buffalo Bills.
Coming along with the homecoming parade is the crowning of the homecoming queen and king, the first homecoming queen having been selected in 1939. That would have been Mary Lou Moore, who was welcomed back 65 years later as the 2004 homecoming parade’s grand marshal.
West Virginia’s first homecoming football game is listed in the media guide as having been played against Temple in 1935, a 19-6 defeat and, to be quite honest, homecoming has not been a particularly success football event at WVU.
While West Virginia has won 82 percent of its home games over the last nine years and 74 percent of its home games since moving into current Mountaineer Field in 1980, it has won just 57.7 percent of its homecoming games.
The record is 45 victories, 30 defeats and three ties.
In truth, WVU actually lost its first two homecoming games, dropping a 28-0 decision to Georgetown in 1936 – talk about the Great Depression — before finally making the alumni happy with a 26-0 victory over George Washington.
This was the latest homecoming game ever played, coming on Nov. 25, while last season’s Sept. 29 homecoming victory over Baylor was the earliest … and one of the most memorable.
Not only was that the game that etched itself into WVU football lore by being the highest-scoring game in school history, WVU winning, 70-63, as Geno Smith passed for 656 yards and eight touchdowns, but it was also the first Big 12 game played by WVU with the conference commissioner, Bob Bowlsby, in attendance and serving as the parade marshal.
WVU’s early homecoming games always seemed to be battles, although with fewer points than the introductory game in the Big 12 would produce. In fact, through the first 43 of them the won-lost record was 21-22.
One thing can be said for WVU, though. While some schools would try to line up patsies as Homecoming vict … eh, opponents, WVU for the most part played tough opponents.
Nine times did the Mountaineers play Syracuse, winning five of them; eight times they battled Virginia Tech, going 4-4; six times did they play Boston College, going 3-2-1.
Playing Miami for homecoming proved not to be a very wise idea, although playing them at any time was not a wise idea, WVU going winless in three starts against the Hurricanes including a most-forgettable 58-14 loss in 1986.
This game had all the makings of this year’s Baylor game, Miami being No. 1 and led by quarterback Vinny Testaverde.
“Miami probably has the best personnel on a football team that I have seen in my 29 years of coaching,” WVU’s Hall of Fame coach Don Nehlen said. “Even without (quarterback) Vinny Testaverde, they would be a Top 10 team. But with him they are a special team.”
WVU saved spots for Pitt and Penn State, too, beating arch-rival Pitt in Backyard Brawls that doubled as homecoming games three of four times but losing four of six to Penn State with a tie.
The only homecoming victory over Penn State was in the first game in 1942 by a 24-0 score. Considering WVU went 9-48-2 all-time against Nittany Lions, that victory becomes a significant game.
The one team that should have passed when lined up as WVU’s homecoming opponent was poor Rutgers, which played WVU four times on homecoming day, lost each time and was outscored, 224-38.
The 2001 game, coming in Rich Rodriguez’s first season, saw WVU beat Rutgers, 80-7, in the highest-scoring game in school history … and it was one of just three games WVU would win all year.
In fact, the 80 points were more than WVU scored in the three previous games and next three games … combined.
And get this. The losing coach was, like Rodriguez, in his first year as a head coach. His name is Greg Schiano, and today he is an NFL head coach.
In recent years, homecoming has produced some significant WVU games.
The 2005 game was against Louisville and went three overtimes before WVU pulled out a dramatic 46-44 victory with a goal line stop of a two-point conversion after a freshman quarterback had come off the bench to lead a second-half comeback.
That quarterback was Pat White.
And then there was homecoming 2009 when WVU opened its heart to a grieving Connecticut opponent who had lost teammate Jasper Howard just days earlier in a campus fight. The Huskies had played an inspired game and led until Noel Devine broke loose on a 56-yard TD run with two minutes to play to steal the victory.
The crowd of 58,106 gave Connecticut a standing ovation when the team took the field. A moment of silence was held prior to kickoff, and the teams exchanged handshakes. Players from both the teams wore stickers on their helmets in Howard’s memory.
Follow Bob Hertzel on Twitter @bhertzel.