It is a football Saturday in the fall, the air crisp, the tree colors at the height of their beauty.
The air is filled with the excitement of a West Virginia University football game and a whole lot more.
The smell of hot dogs on the grill, the sound of burgers sizzling, of beer can tops popping, of laughter, radios with fans listening in to the pre-game show.
Old friends talk about the old days while, at the same time, making new friends from across the state, the nation and, yes, from even opposing schools.
Tailgating at West Virginia isn’t a recreation.
It’s an art, so much so that earlier this year “Tailgater Monthly,” yes there is even a magazine dedicated to tailgating, ranked WVU No. 11 in the nation for its tailgating atmosphere.
The online September issue said that West Virginia fans are serious about their tailgating, and they hadn’t even met Esmond E. Harper Jr. (everyone calls him Ed) and his gang of Mountaineer fans who may have the longest running tailgate at Mountaineer Field.
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In reality, Harper’s tailgate predates the opening of “new” Mountaineer Field in 1980, predates John Denver and Don Nehlen.
Harper, a one-time Marine flyer from Huntington who is an account manager for Wells Fargo Advisors in Morgantown, first became a season ticket holder in 1976 when the team was at old Mountaineer Field on the downtown campus and the tailgate was held in his driveway.
While the team had a rough time under Frank Cignetti during the late 1970s, the memories were so great built from the tailgate and the seat Harper held on the 35-yard line, so much so that for his birthday one year a friend who worked for the university in facilities and maintenance presented him with the actual seat he sat in at old Mountaineer Field.
“That seat is from 1924,” Harper said. “They never replaced those bleachers. He put a bronze tag on it: ‘Mountaineer Field – 1924-1979.’”
When the current Mountaineer Field opened, the tailgate was moved, and it was one of the first – if not the first – tailgate to go up at Mountaineer Field.
It is located in the Silver Lot, to your left as you drive in, set up on a grassy area just across from the Milan Puskar Facilities Building, which houses the Mountaineer football program. There’s a tent and as many as 100 people coming through each day, talking with – but mostly listening to — Harper, along with the other remaining original members of the tailgate.
They are Dr. Andy Brooks, a dentist from St. Albans; Joe Moser, who owns Ashbrooke Liquor in Morgantown; Joe Subrick, an entrepreneur from New Cumberland; Jeff Davis, a businessman from Wheeling who owns a hospital supply company; Steve Lewis of McCombas, Miss., who runs Croft Manufacturing, which makes windows; Terry Radnozi, news director of a local TV station in Bristol, Va.; and Greg Stamm of St. Albans, retired from the West Virginia State Agriculture Department.
They have lived through all the stories Harper has about this tailgate, wonderful stories of why tailgating at WVU is what it is.