By Bob Hertzel
For the Times West Virginian
Summer has melted away and football season has crept upon us, West Virginia football is now less than a week away, so close you can feel the anticipation in the air. Campus is alive with returning college students and a group of freshmen about to learn just what this thing called college life is all about.
A big part of it, of course, begins with this noon opener on Saturday against William & Mary, a game that holds no promise of being closely contested, yet that takes absolutely nothing away from it.
In fact, an informal and highly unsophisticated poll among nearly 4,000 followers on Facebook and Twitter taken Friday and Saturday would seem to indicate that football at West Virginia is far more a social event than a sporting contest, and if the results have any meaning at all, they would make you wonder why the band director Jay Drury isn’t paid at least the equivalent of football coach Dana Holgorsen.
First, let us explain exactly how we conducted our poll. Both days, on the social media, we asked simply for the public’s three favorite things about West Virginia football. It was left vague to elicit an answer on any aspect of the football experience, from seeing Tavon Austin run with the ball to Zul’s Frozen Lemonade.
To give you an idea of how the poll went, Zul’s Lemonade got one more vote than did Austin.
In all, there were 35 responses and they cast a picture of what West Virginia football is all about … that it really isn’t about the playing of the game.
Many of the answers could be considered overlapping. For example, the No. 1 response on 13 of the 37 ballots was tailgating.
But when you consider that the No. 2 answer involved coming together with friends and family, that drawing 10 responses, you can surmise that involves tailgating … with a little bit more than just beer and burgers.
Consider a couple of the responses:
Tom Koon’s No. 1 answer was “Sharing my love for Mountaineer Football with my kids (We drive up from N.C. for a game almost every year)”
Sgt. John Mark Thompson used a couple of Tweets to say “It’s a chance to pass on the WVU legacy to my son despite miles and years removed from the Mountain State. It’s a way to be back in W.Va. on a fall Saturday listening to a WVU radio broadcast with my grandfather one more time.”
The experience of West Virginia football is that special, and not just with fans.
Jeff Braun was a starting guard on last year’s team, not out there in the real world, but he thought he should offer a response.
His No. 1 answer was “The great people of the state coming together for one purpose.”
His No. 2 answer was “the atmosphere.”
Braun is a Mountaineer through and through, even if he did come to Morgantown from Maryland.
To Jennelle Jones it was “memories of watching games with my dad” that grabbed her, memories you cannot replace.
But if even once you leave the Blue Lot and the tailgate, so much of Mountaineer football grabs you before the opening kickoff.
In truth, if you put it together, the band is probably the most popular thing about WVU football, for not only did eight pollsters mention playing “Simple Gifts” at halftime but that same number mentioning the post-game rendition of “Country Roads.”
One person called “Simple Things” and the formation of the state “spine-tingling” and another said “nothing beats ‘Simple Gifts’ at halftime.”
Mountaineer football is more than just tailgating and relationships. It is tradition and fans devour that with love.
The fans like the old … Jack Fleming’s scene setters and the team running out onto “old Mountaineer Field” … to the new, Tony Caridi’s play-by-play and beer, presumed to be the beer now being sold in the stadium.
From the team coming out of the tunnel, which we’re told is being changed this year but drew nine votes, to the Mountaineer shooting off his musket, lower than you may have thought with only four votes, to the first down cheer and the “Let’s go … Mountaineers” chant, the fans wrap themselves up in having fun within the stadium.
But such things as the game itself were overlooked … one vote for the opening kickoff, to match a vote for being out in the morning air; and the “Man Walk” that they have tried to make into a tradition received the same one vote that watching “Dana’s reaction to every call” received.
Email Bob Hertzel at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter @bhertzel