When it was first announced that the Mountaineers would be playing Alabama to kickoff the 2014 season I immediately called several WVU friends from across the country to gauge their interest in making the trip to Atlanta for the game. As expected everyone was ecstatic at the opportunity to see West Virginia take on a traditional SEC power like the Crimson Tide.
Unfortunately the only thing that could eclipse our excitement for the game was our own expert ability to procrastinate.
Luckily we were able to book a terrific package through the website ProsinTravel.com, which is run by WVSports.com‘s own Vernon Bailey. So after we booked our flights and told our significant others in our own unique ways that no wives or girlfriends were going on this one, the trip was set in stone.
The only thing left to do was wait for the season to get here.
The summer flew by and most of the positive news coming out of Morgantown had to do with the 2015 recruiting class not the 2014 football season. Even with 15 returning starters from 2013 most forecasts for the 2014 edition of Mountaineer football were not kind.
On the flip side however, it could not be disputed that West Virginia would have its deepest team depth-chart-wise in years. Like a Saturday night out on High St., this year seemed to suggest we should expect the unexpected. So as my plane left Newark heading for Atlanta, I watched some highlights of West Virginia taking down Georgia, Oklahoma, and Clemson and hoped for to see a repeat of those memorable performances.
Once in Georgia, I paid a Manhattan-like cab fare to get to the hotel, The Renaissance Atlanta Waverly. The Waverly is a huge 14 story hotel with a gorgeous open lobby located in the middle of the hotel.
As we headed directly to the hotel bar, I noticed nearly everyone I saw wearing blue and gold. WVU fans were everywhere. While catching up, we saw Oliver Luck walk by and politely greet some fans. A short time later President Gee made his rounds though the lobby. President Gee was grinning ear to ear as he stopped and spoke with everyone he could.
As it turned out, the Waverly was the team hotel and a short time later the Mountaineers arrived. I talked to several players and coaches. The coaches appeared confident and relaxed, with the exception being Coach Holgorsen. He seemed to already have his game-face on.
We left the Waverly and headed over the WVU party at the Park Tavern. The cover was steep ($80), but the event was well-organized. The cost included an open bar, food, and live entertainment from the band Haywire. The highlight of the night was undoubtedly when Haywire played Country Roads. After belting out the first few lines the band’s lead vocalist stopped singing and let the crowd take over. A few members of the band even took out their own cell phones to record the WVU crowd.
It’s nights like these when you are grateful to be a Mountaineer.
The next morning we woke up, boarded a charter bus provided by Pros in Travel, and made our way to the Georgia Dome. Once we arrived, we attended a WVU tailgate party which was included in the travel package. The party was indoors and included drinks and food.
After initially arriving in the Georgia Dome area, I noticed most of the fans already there were WVU fans. I was surprised by the lack of Alabama fans, but it was early. As it got closer to kick off the Bama fans flooded the area around the Dome. In the end I would say Alabama fans outnumbered WVU fans 2 to 1, but we definitely get there earlier to tailgate.
Throughout the day, we bumped into all time greats Darryl Talley, Kevin Jones and Amos Zereoue. The atmosphere felt a lot like a major bowl game. Chants of “Let’s Go Mountaineers” and “Roll tide” sounded like they were being played on an endless loop.
With the 3:30 kickoff looming we headed inside the Dome and to our seats located directly behind the Mountaineers’ bench. Luckily, our section was probably 90 percent WVU fans, although I did have four Alabama fans sitting right behind me.
When the Mountaineers took the field, the West Virginia side of the stadium erupted. This made the Alabama fans behind me laugh. To me it looked like they thought we were too amused about the impending blowout that was sure to come.
At halftime the Pride of West Virginia gave one of the most amazing performance by a marching band I have ever witnessed. They performed their medley of the U.S. military themes song which concluded with an inspiring rendition of “America the Beautiful”. It was a powerful performance which brought Bama and WVU fans to their feet.
After the game the Alabama fans behind me sure had a change in attitude. One even went as far as to shake my hand and say, “Good game, your team fought like hell.”
On the walk back to the bus, at least a dozen Alabama fans echoed this sentiment by saying things like “Good game WVU” or “Y’all are going to well this year”
So while the Mountaineers might not have gotten the win, they certainly earned a great deal of respect.
Needless to say, there are still some unanswered questions surrounding this team but the ceiling for success got a whole lot higher Saturday.
The 2014 football season is shaping up to be quit a ride.