I wasn’t super optimistic when my alarm went off on the morning of November 12. It was 6:00 a.m and I was amid a group of notoriously heavy sleepers. Come to think of it, I could barely drag myself awake coming off of a string of midnight shifts. This was basically bedtime every day prior to this! But self-discipline runs strongly in the Meisters, and eventually I staggered over to the bathroom to take a shower.
As for everyone else, they were doing… fine. Pam was already downstairs by the time I got down there to grab a bagel. Elizabeth and Winston were doing a surprisingly quick job of getting themselves ready to drive to Morgantown for the OU-West Virginia game. Gianna and Jordan were quietly ready before just about anyone else. There was no way all 6 of us were going to hit my stated goal of leaving for the game by 7:00, but we might hit my *actual* goal of leaving by 7:30.
Turns out that even that was a little optimistic, and I hadn’t even considered that we would have to drop Snowball off and then stop for coffee. But really, it’s simple: on a trip with other people, don’t be the guy who’s complaining that we all need to hurry up. You’re not going to just ruin your own enjoyment of the trip, you’ll ruin everyone else’s. And there’s no reason to do that at all. So I resolved (and actually succeeded) to not worry about timing and just let us get to West Virginia when we got to West Virginia. To be fair, I should have considered that if we took two cars, Gianna and Jordan were liable to end up way ahead of me and the Fairchilds. And that is indeed what happened, unburdened with a dog as they were. I also hadn’t put much thought into where we’d park on-campus for the game, so there was a chunk of me thinking that maybe my smug belief that I’d done such a good job of planning this trip was maaaaaaybe a bit overstated. But come on, we could figure it out as we got closer, right?
The morning drive was quite impressive. DC to Morgantown is actually a pretty straight shot on the United States Interstate System – 270 up into Maryland, I-70 west across the state, and then I-68 west from Hancock through the entirety of the narrow part of Maryland and into northern West Virginia. Along the way, we saw the Blue Ridge standing majestically in the late-fall morning sun. A little bit later we drove through the Alleghenies in the late-fall morning gloom. In fact, the further to the west Winston drove, the darker and thicker the cloud cover became. What I failed to mention in my last blog post is that the day that Elizabeth and I landed, the literal remnants of Hurricane Nicole were over western Virginia. It had been exceedingly warm, moist, and windy the night before as the remnants blew threw. Now, on the backside, it was still windy and moist, but much, much colder. The forecast suggested that things would hopefully clear up later in the day in Morgantown, but who knew for sure.
Winston made very good time westward to keep us from being obviously late for the start of the game. Pam thought kickoff was 12:00 central time, which probably explained our extended travel stop at the Love’s in Cumberland, Maryland, but when I mentioned that the game actually kicked off at 11:00 central time (Morgantown is still in eastern time, so noon local), Winston got it rolling. We pulled off of I-68 onto a hilly highway that led from West Virginia mountainside gradually into a mountain college town. Gianna and Jordan were somewhere ahead, figuring out parking. I got the directions to where they were – somehow, West Virginia opens their hospital parking lot on gameday for visitor parking. Seems weird, right? After a false start where we went to the wrong entrance to the parking lot, Winston guided his Subaru into a big lot full of tailgating RVs and other revelers with a large, squat parking garage on a hill in the back. I squinted at the garage until I saw Gianna waving from the second floor. Success!
It was quintessential football weather in Morgantown. A light drizzle blanketed the West Virginia medical campus. It was cool, but not outright cold. A sweatshirt and sweatpants made me feel perfectly warm. Others were more bundled, but they didn’t grow up in Michigan. We walked out of the parking garage and into the lively crowd of footballgoers all streaming like pieces of iron ore toward the magnetic pull of Milan Puskar Stadium a few blocks away. Many of those mustard-yellow-and-blue-clad crowd members were holding beers despite the cold temperatures. Yes, the fans were all saying unnice things about Oklahoma. Yes, I was a red grain of sand in a beach full of Mountaineers. But it didn’t matter, because these are my people. The kind drinking before noon. The kind going to a football game when the weather demands you do anything else. The kind of people who toss a football to Winston because he sticks his hand in the air as he walks by.
About five minutes later, the six of us reached the stadium. Incredibly, we had beaten the opening kickoff with a few minutes to spare. Unfortuately, our seats were almost on the dead opposite side of the stadium than where we had walked in. But at least that gave everyone a chance to go to the bathroom before the game started. I walked into the crowded men’s room ahead of Winston and Jordan and did my business. Then I went back out to wait for everyone else. Winston and Jordan found me standing at the bathroom entrance and we waited. And waited. And waited. For the others. Finally, right as I got fed up with waiting for Elizabeth, she called me and said they were all at the entrance to our section, waiting for us. Classic miscommunication. Fortunately, we still popped out into the bleachers just ahead of kickoff. I had the tickets, so I led us up into the upper-deck and started to climb to our seats.
And I kept climbing. And kept climbing. And kept climbing. The Mountaineers don’t play in a particularly large stadium, but it’s still a Big 12 field, and I still had to go all the way up to the second-to-last row. To be honest, I did not know that I had paid over $600 for nosebleeds of this degree of nosebleed-y-ness. There was nobody seated around us – either West Virginia had not managed to sell the seats, or the weather scared everyone off, or they decided to crowd further down. I can understand all of the options, especially given that the bleachers were more than a little damp.
That may sound negative, but the seats turned out to be fantastic. There were only a few groups of extremely friendly Mountaineer diehards around us. I enjoyed chatting with them, learning of their long-term status as fans, and hearing how much some of them wanted to lose the game so that Neal Brown could finally be fired. I think Elizabeth, Pam, and Winston were willing to go with the flow on the seats. I’m not as sure that Gianna and Jordan were. This is understandable – this high up, the breeze made things quite chilly, and that mist was blowing right in our faces. My reaction to that was to stand up and bounce around the entire game, but if you aren’t as high-energy (squirrely?) as me, that’s not gonna be an effective strategy.
To add to their potential misery, the first half of the game emerged as one of those miserable affairs that Fox likes to run on their networks (the game was on FS1) that have more commercial time than game. In that first quarter, it felt like Oklahoma would get the ball, run a few lightning-fast plays to get to midfield, then get to fourth down in an equally lightning-quick fashion. It was pretty clear to me that Dillon Gabriel, an eh at best QB in normal conditions, couldn’t do a damn thing in the mist. They did get a chance to kick a field goal in that gross first quarter… and it felt far short. It was 0-0 after 1.
Did this disgusting eyesore unfolding beneath us discourage me from enjoying the game? Quite the opposite. With Oklahoma’s season long since reduced to playing for pride, there was much to be enjoyed in a game where nobody could be proud of themselves. Winston and I embraced the “sickos” mentality of the game well.
I don’t think Elizabeth appreciated the sickos-ness as much. I know that Gianna and Jordan didn’t. The mist failed to disperse in the second quarter. In fact, on the distant horizon, mountains that had previously been visible just below the slate-grey cloud bases slowly disappeared behind a curtain of translucent rain. The mist became a steady drizzle. And that drizzle intensified into a light, cold rain that the wind blew directly into our faces. Sickos weather.
Although Oklahoma couldn’t do a damn thing with the ball, at least their much-maligned defense was up to the task. They were making WVU QB JT Daniels into as much of a liability as Gabriel, in fact. West Virginia brought in their backup, a dude named Garrett Greene. He moved the ball well before the Mountaineers fell short and had to punt. So of course WVU went right back to Daniels on the next drive, and it worked just as poorly. Our friends in the stands who wanted Neal Brown fired were having a field day. To add to their ire, Oklahoma appeared to have figured out a revolutionary strategy: “Just let Eric Gray run the ball”. It worked – OU kicked a field goal after having a touchdown negated by OPI. Then, two drives later, Gabriel found Marvin Mims on a busted play for a long gain, and Gray punched it in on the next play. 10-0, Sooners, with just a minute to go in the half.
Well this was fun! The rain had begun to lighten up a little bit – on Elizabeth’s Radarscope, the band over us was getting ready to weaken. The second quarter hadn’t been what I would call “fast”, but it was like a damn breeze compared to that interminable first quarter. I was still bouncing around like an idiot to stay warm in between drives. It was a fun environment. And Oklahoma was winning! Everything was looking up.
Any fan of Lincoln-Riley-era OU knows that a sentence like that is a precursor to a change in the entire tenor of a football game. And indeed the Mountaineers went back to that Garrett Greene dude. I’m not sure he could throw the ball better than anyone else in the game, but he could run the hell out of it. A few gashes of Oklahoma’s secondary later, he was running it in right before the half. In a hilarious “sickos” twist, their holder dropped the snap on the extra point. OU scooped it up and ran it back for 2 points. It was 12-6 at the break.
Thanks to our hustle to the stadium, nobody had had time for a proper lunch. The six of us all headed down from the waterlogged bleachers to the ground level to get some food. Everyone in the stadium had been talking about something called a “pepperoni roll” and I should have gotten one to sample Mountaineer culture. But no, I let Pam and Elizabeth talk me into a boring old hot dog. To be clear, it was a boring and delicious hot dog. But still.
Winston and I had also decided that we needed to have a nice beer to really get into the football mood. Now, if I haven’t made it clear, it was like 38 degrees outside. I think Elizabeth made the sane choice (and let me know that several times) in ordering a hot chocolate instead of the Blue Moon I got. But I was among my people, and had to drink a beer at the game. It was just a thing that needed to happen. It felt like holding onto a literal ice cube in my hand as I sipped from the tall boy, an idiot clad in red amid a sea of yellow-and-blue. Feeling Elizabeth’s eyes on me, waiting to say I told you so, I refrained from comment.
We made it back to our seats just in time for the second half. For whatever reason, it was so much colder back at the top of the stands than it had been in the first half. Maybe it was because the area under the stands had been sheltered from the wind, so stepping back out into it was just more brutal than already being in it. Maybe it was my ice-cold Blue Moon. But most likely, what contributed to the increasingly miserable conditions in the 3rd quarter was the return of the rain. The mountains in the distance disappeared into a shroud of precipitation. Rain weighed down the hood of my sweatshirt. It seeped into my bag of peanuts and into my can of beer. It sprayed my glasses with a fine mist that slowly shut down my vision until I pulled up my sweatshirt, wiped the glasses on my dry shirt underneath, and replaced them on my face to start the whole process over again. And if I was cold, certainly everyone else was even colder. The real wonder was that nobody had floated the idea of leaving the game.
Fortunately, some Fox media director had apparently spent long enough at the game to decide that it didn’t need to drag on for 4.5 hours, because the second half went much faster than the first half had gone. Part of that was because there were less commercials. And part of that was because both teams had had the truly groundbreaking offensive revelation that maybe they should just run the ball in the conditions. That meant that there were longer drives, with the clock running between plays, as opposed to the incompletion-and-punt-laden first quarter. WVU went with Garrett Greene for good, and ran the classic old Mike Stoops-beater strategy of just running the QB once everyone was out in pass coverage. OU had clearly schemed for the immobile Daniels, and immediately lost that edge they’d maintained through the first half. Greene led the Mountaineers down the field late in the third quarter. It looked like Oklahoma might hold WVU to a field goal, but Greene threw a 50-50 ball to his receiver in the corner of the end zone and the receiver made an insane play. Winston and I had previously taught Pam the meaning of the word “Moss’d”; now, we got to comment in real-time as an OU corner got brutally Moss’d for the go-ahead score. 13-12, West Virginia.
This was the first time that I realized that Oklahoma was probably going to lose. My feelings were assuaged briefly by the next Sooner drive. It would be unfair to say that OU couldn’t throw the ball whatsoever. They had one pass play that was repeatedly working – a bubble screen to the short side – and they spammed it as the rain came down ever harder, mixing their one successful pass play with plenty of Eric Gray on the ground. Gray broke loose into the red zone, and the team hustled to get lined up and give the ball to Gray again and again before WVU could get set. It worked. Gray spilled into the end zone at the end of the 3rd quarter, and OU had a nifty little two-point conversion play they could run to turn it into a 20-13 game.
The next drive was where it truly started to fall apart. Greene made throws when he needed to; he ran the ball when he needed to; Oklahoma made critical mistakes when they didn’t need to, including an offsides call to negate an interception on 4th and 15. When Greene scrambled into the end zone to tie the game early in the 4th quarter in front of me, I saw the writing on the wall.
Oklahoma tried their damndest to avoid fate. After the threw the ball three times then quickly punted, they forced a quick punt from the Mountaineers. On their last drive, it became clear that they’d finally learned the lesson. Gabriel never threw the ball. Instead, Gray picked up a few dozen more of his 215 yards on several carries. Then his backup picked up 7 on 2 more. Then Gray got stuffed on third down. Facing 4th and 3 from the WVU 29 with just 6 and a half minutes left, and going into the same wind that had completed destroyed a first quarter field goal, I assumed OU would go for it. I was dead wrong. And poor Zach Schmidt put up a pretty good kick. In surprise, I declared “Oh wow, he got it” as it soared toward the goalpost. Operative word – *toward*. He doinked it.
Gianna’s lips had turned literally purple from the cold by now. My fun-timey yelling, trash talk, and stay-warming dancing from the first-half was gone. But everyone else in the stadium was getting rowdy. How many times had I heard in the stadium that West Virginia had never beaten OU since joining the Big 12? The fans who had stuck it out through awful conditions could smell the reward for their hours at the stadium, their years of being a fan, their decade in the conference. Sure, Oklahoma sucked. Losing this game would drop them to a pitiful 5-5. But the name was still something to conjure with.
And damn if that backup QB didn’t lead the drive of his life. They ate up the last 6 and a half minutes as I watched in dull resignation, too tired and uninvested in the season and too cold to possibly give a rip about Oklahoma winning a meaningless game *now*. On a 3rd and 1 with just 2 and a half minutes left, OU got a tackle for loss that briefly made it appear they could get to OT unscathed. But on 4th and 3 from the 39, Neal Brown coached for his job and Greene hit a 5 yard pass. A few plays later, with Oklahoma desperately taking timeouts to try to stop the clock, he ran the ball straight into a crowd of would-be tacklers and took the pile well past the chains. As the crowd erupted in ecstasy, I muttered to Winston, “That was just an effort thing. One team cares.”
When Greene centered the ball for a chip-shot 25 yard winning field goal, and WVU called timeout with 4 seconds left, he ran off the field hyping up the crowd. The fans *roared* for him. Elizabeth was openly rooting for the kicker to make the field goal and put us out of our chilly misery, and it was hard to blame her. Not sure how I felt myself, I decided to simply watch the kick and react to it as it happened. The snap was good, the hold good, and the kick soared straight and true. The celebration was on in Morgantown.
It was sort of poetic that when Gianna visited us in Norman in 2021, OU won on a last-second field goal. When we visited Morgantown in 2022, WVU won on a last-second field goal. I was happy for her and the long-suffering fans around me, but that didn’t mean I wanted to join Elizabeth in stopping in the stands to sing “Country Roads” with the 30,000 remaining revelers. The cold provided a perfect excuse. Down the stairs we slunk, amid happy frat guys yelling “Fuck OU”. (Don’t take that sentence as me judging them – I love shit talking. But I also did my best to not engage with any of them while wearing my red sweatshirt, since the last thing I needed was a belligerent frat guy trying to fight me like in Waco in 2019). We followed the jubilant crowd in a retrace of our steps back to the medical garage. Jordan did an excellent job keeping contact with us and Gianna, who is a tiny person and could have easily been swept away. We got back to our cars and Winston cranked the heat all the way up. Stripping off my soaked sweatshirt felt like a new beginning on the day. Sure, OU had lost. But that didn’t mean we couldn’t still enjoy our next 24 hours in Morgantown. As it turned out, the fun on that legendary weekend was just getting started.