The stabbing in the early morning hours of October 18 which left a Connecticut football player dead allowed West Virginia University football fans the opportunity to put some much needed good will in the bank. A week after Connecticut cornerback Jasper Howard lost his life to a single stab wound to the abdomen during an on campus altercation, his Husky teammates were in Morgantown to play the Mountaineers.
A pre game ceremony was planned by WVU officials to honor Howard with a moment of silence. The Mountaineers would wear a decal with Howard's number 6 on their helmets. The Huskies would wear a similar decal on their helmets and they would run on to Mountaineer field led by two Husky players, one carrying Howard's jersey, the other his helmet.
Pretty standard stuff, if there is a standard in this situation. College football players aren't murdered very often, but players do die, so these memorial tributes before football games have been known to happen from time to time.
The X factor in this particular scenario was the Mountaineer fans. Rightly, or wrongly, the WVU fans have a very poor reputation nationally. Much of that is due to the couch burning in the streets following athletic victories deemed by the students to be worthy of such activity. Opposing fans have claimed for years they have been badly mistreated by WVU fans at games in Morgantown. Strong verbal abuse and beer being hurled at them are the primary allegations.
Nationally, the couch burning reputation is most prominent. Those burnings were widely reported on national sports shows when they happened. Yet when a couch burning at the University of Maryland closed down a major highway 10 miles from the nation's capital, the news was pretty much relegated to local news, nary a blip on the national scene. Radio talk show guys ignored it. You know, the same guys who use a couch burning in Morgantown to smear a fan base.
The fan abuse is another issue. I have been told about, and read about, many instances of this, but I just haven't seen the kind of abuse which is being described. Not saying it does not happen, just saying I have rarely seen anything more than mild heckling, and usually good natured at that. Suffice it to say something wrong is happening, but let's save the rest of that discussion for another time.
Today is about how the Mountaineer fans stepped up and handled themselves with class, dignity and compassion last Saturday. I don't think anyone thought West Virginia fans would do anything classless during the pre-game, but what they did do was seen and appreciated by many observers as going above the call of duty.
A banner saying "Today We Are All Huskies" was outside the UCONN locker room. Some WVU students put it there and it was signed by hundreds of fans. The banner is earmarked for Howard's family. While the banner was not readily evident to the majority in attendance, the banner was shown throughout the day on the highlight shows. A very nice touch indeed.
The one thing I think touched everyone, those in attendance as well as those watching on television, was the standing ovation the Mountaineers gave the Huskies as they ran onto the field. While certainly appropriate, that was somewhat surprising. The typical response to an opposing team running onto Mountaineer field is a rousing chorus of boos. Saturday, West Virginia fans rose above their tarnished reputation and people noticed.
A columnist in Ann Arbor wrote a very complimentary piece and there were more, many more. John Kincade, who has a Sunday morning talk show on ESPN radio, paid a nice tribute to WVU fans. Kincade mentioned that he had been turned off by West Virginia fans when he was a student media type in college and had two bad experiences at games in Morgantown.
Kincade then went on at some length how he was moved at the WVU fans' response on Saturday. He said if he had a West Virginia shirt, he would be wearing it and if you are a West Virginia fan, you should wear your gear all week. Have to admit that it is very strange to hear such praise from ESPN talking heads. Now might be a good time for some of the fans to maintain the good will and continue banking it.