By Debra Minor Wilson
For the Times West Virginian
Jaime Naternicola and her husband Aaron admit it.
They bleed Old Gold and Blue.
And even though neither attended West Virginia University, they’ve missed maybe two games each in the past 10 or so years.
Fair-weather fans they’re not.
They love their Mountaineers, win or lose, rain or shine (or even snow).
But they might love tailgating even more.
Every home game you’ll find them in their usual spot at Milan Puskar Stadium, sometimes as early as 8 in the morning, setting up shop in preparation for big eats before the big game.
“We just enjoy the atmosphere,” she said. “We tailgate big time. We have a lot of friends and we just like to spend time with them. We’re there from 8 in the morning to usually late at night.”
The feverish fans. The amazing band. The tantalizing aroma and sound of tailgate food sizzling on the grill.
And, of course, the Mountaineers.
“It’s the whole experience,” she said.
They’ll pack up some drinks and pepperoni rolls or other snacks, and head up the interstate to join their Mountaineer family.
“A lot of people there are from out of state, and they like pepperoni rolls. They can’t get them until they’re here. So we take a bulk,” she said.
A friend from Martinsburg brings a grill, some ovens and other cooking gear, and whips up all sorts of meats and even big pots of soup for the crowd.
“He makes the main courses, but everybody brings a little something ... appetizers, drinks, snacks, covered dishes.
“It wouldn’t be the same without these side dishes.
“Tailgating makes the game go better. All of us are really big fans. And, honestly, some of the big losses make for the best times after the game. That’s when we reflect on everything. And we kind of make a joke about the loss ... eventually.
“We try to hit two or three away games,” she added.
“We do the same for the spring Gold and Blue Game. We celebrate that like any normal game.
“It’s a party atmosphere for the grown-ups and the kids. It’s a family tailgate. Kids are playing cornhole and passing the football.”
The immediate group numbers about 25.
“But we can have more than 100 easy at the big games,” Naternicola said.
“It’s by invitation. As long as you’re part of the group, you can invite people. You bring your own alcohol. And we chip in the bucket for food and stuff.”
Every home game day is gold-and-blue day at their house.
“We wear gold and blue. We’ve got the gold-and-blue WVU flags in the car windows, yeah,” she said. “We always have to have the car decorated. And when we pass others on the interstate, we beep at them. It’s like a family.
“And at the games, it’s really neat to see all that gold (in the stands).”
“We leave early before the traffic starts and leave after the traffic dies down in the evening. This past weekend, we got there at 8 and left at 8.”
Sometimes the games are nail-biters, like last Saturday’s.
“The first half was a little brutal,” she said. “But people forgave (Coach Dana) Holgorsen because the second half went so well.”
They also try to catch the bowl games.
“I remember Pat White’s last game,” on Dec. 6, 2008, she said. “They wanted everybody to dress in white for a ‘white out.’ Our tailgate did a toga party, our version of a white out. It was a good game, cold and snowy, a good way to send him out.
“They wanted the stadium to be white. Well, it snowed, so it really was a white out for Pat.”
As faithful a fan as she is, she missed two big games this year, she admits with chagrin.
“I missed Marshall this year because my best friend got married in Myrtle Beach and I was the maid of honor. And we missed the last game of last year because our son was wrestling for Fairmont Senior.
“So that’s two games in a row I missed,” she laughs.
They could stay at home and the watch the Mountaineers on TV. Why go to all the effort of packing up food and hiking all the way up the interstate?
“We’re like a family,” she said. “We all share the same passion for Mountaineer football. You don’t get that by watching on a couch. When we score, we all share the same high. We celebrate and mourn together. We share the same love.
“Even after a loss, people always express their opinions. They’re quiet for a while, and then they start talking and open up more.”
She glady shares the recipe for her signature chicken wing dip. As for the bologna cake, it’s a little unusual, she said.
“Our friend made it for the tailgate last week and everybody raved about it. My husband is a picky eater and he liked it.”
She grew up eating bologna rolled up with cream cheese. Although she hasn’t tried the cake yet, she’s sure she will like it.
And it will probably be on the menu at the Sept. 24 game against LSU.
Her wishes for the Mountaineers are simple.
To win the national championship.
If not that, then to win the Big East and BCS.
But most of all, to beat Pitt.
“I hate Pitt,” she said.
“It’s always the best game,” she said. “There’s just something special. Pitt Week is like a celebration. I look forward to it. I can’t wait.”
The contest for September is tailgating food. To be featured on the “My Favorite Recipe” page, contact Debbie Wilson at 304-367-2549 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Email Debra Minor Wilson at email@example.com.